Movie Review: Tomorrowland
Let’s face it: when it comes to talking about the future, the majority of humanity is extremely pessimistic.These days, with war, politics, famine, global warming, and several more items too numerous to mention…we’re more willing to accept a future world like that in Terminator 2, than say, Back to the Future Part II (and it is 2015, after all!).
Following World War II, there was the thought that the future would consist of elaborate plastic houses, and pristine-white towers that stretched into the sky. There was optimistic talk of the push-button era, and one thing that still fascinated the young and young-at-heart since the pulp comics of the 1930’s: jetpacks!
Today, that world of optimism seems little more than something one finds in reruns of episodes of Star Trek or The Jetsons…but what if?
That’s what director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) are attempting with one of the most quizzical releases from Walt Disney Pictures in some time: Tomorrowland. Though the film borrows the moniker from the Disneyland realm of the same name, it handles its concepts of Tomorrow in a different way.
Key among the film’s characters, are a former boy-genius named Frank Walker (George Clooney), an optimistic teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), and a bright-eyed girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy).
Clooney plays Frank with a grouchy aplomb when we first encounter him, but then again, he seems very much like I imagine some young dreamers who become adults: that magic may still be inside (somewhere), but the world has hardened him on the outside.
Casey Newton is a new take on the “young genius” characters we’ve seen in the last few decades. Instead of being one of those ‘angsty child prodigies,’ she does some of the most dangerous things a young person can do: she asks questions! Casey is one of those people that is thirsting for knowledge, wanting to actually do something in this world that tells you there’s no hope, which definitely throws a wrench into some people’s thoughts.
Usually in a Brad Bird film, there’s one character that seems to stand out, and here, it feels like Raffey’s Athena will be the one most remembered. What seems like a relatively minor role quickly snowballs into something a little more. Given her wide-eyed innocence and British accent, Athena almost reminded me of Kathryn Beaumont at times…in fact, it was a little fun to imagine Beaumont doing half of what Athena does in this film.
One item marketing seems to almost be ashamed of (at least stateside), is making this world a little more welcome to Disney fans (for those who saw the Japan trailer for the film, you’ll know what I mean). This film at times feels like one of the first that I can recall, that seems to almost speak to those of us who were fans of Walt Disney, telling us about flights of imaginative fancy. Tomorrowland is also the first time I’ve ever heard anyone properly use the phrase “Audio-Animatronics” in a film (sorry Jurassic Park, you missed it by “that much”).
As well, the grand vistas of Tomorrowland really make one wish such a place existed: a world where you do feel that anything is possible, and people have put aside their petty differences, all in an attempt to make a better place. If anything, one hopes that maybe what we see will inspire a new generation of dreamers.
Much like an episode of Lost, you might find yourself disoriented after a few minutes watching the film. A number of ‘pieces’ of the film’s puzzle are thrown at us, and it doesn’t really feel that we have a decent grasp of the world, until maybe 1/4 of the way in. It almost put me in mind of the disorientation first-timers must have felt watching Back to the Future, or Spirited Away.
Writer Damon Lindelof’s work with JJ Abrams helped usher in the ‘mystery box’ style of writing to 21st century entertainment, but it feels that at times, Tomorrowland tries to get a little too deep into how many mystery boxes we unearth. I feel that some people may get a little tired of the mysteries, and just demand that some characters get to the point!
As well, a major revelation in the third act almost feels like you might need to take shorthand in order to understand what someone is proposing.
It’s sad that the cohesiveness of the film doesn’t hold together so well, but even so, the film has little jewels of interesting moments. One that stands out is when young Frank (Thomas Robinson) eagerly shows a jetpack he made out of a vacuum cleaner, to Mr Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nix is not-at-all satisfied with Frank’s thought that a jetpack should just be “fun.” But Frank tells how if he saw someone flying overhead on a jetpack, he’d be excited at what the future of innovation could bring. That seems to be the goal of the film: trying to balance out the pessimism of what the future could be, with the optimism of what it can be.
At times, Tomorrowland did remind me of another rather “cold” film: Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. One might have a little trouble trying to properly make an emotional connection with the characters…though at least here, the human characters seem a little more “human.” As well, don’t be surprised if you find some parallels to Tron: Legacy interspersed throughout.
Probably the most exciting moment from the geek/nerd perspective, was when Casey finds herself in a science-fiction collectibles shop. Though a fun little scene, it almost feels like the audience’s attention will be torn between listening to the conversations, and looking for hidden images in the shop. As well, a certain science-fiction series may seem to overwhelm the moment.
Composer Michael Giacchino returns to be the ‘ears’ to Bird’s ‘eyes,’ scoring the film with his typical retro-bravado. There are a few times, where some of his musical work almost seems a little reminiscent of his retro-future themes laid down for the recent Star Trek films. it even sounds like he borrows a little from John Williams’ Last Crusade score, with a brass melody that sounds a little like the theme for Henry Jones, Sr.
Brad Bird made Ghost Protocol a pretty tight film given the story it told, but Tomorrowland feels like it gets flimsy at times, trying to be mysterious. I can’t help but wonder if given the mystery and clues to met out, if it might have made a better television series than a film. Or maybe, if it had an extra 30 minutes, it might have been a little better. It’s rather surprising that given the story being told, it clocks in just under 2 hours!
One interview had Bird and Lindelof talk about how they had a number of interesting thoughts and theories they wanted to put into the film, but in this case, it feels like they may have gotten a little in over their heads.
Even with its shortcomings, Tomorrowland is a film I cannot easily dismiss. Even a good Brad Bird film is something one should see. Though the big question I think will be, how the film will “speak” to viewers when it is released?
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: Much like the thought of a World of Tomorrow, the film gives forth a valiant attempt to be something different on the face of our movie landscape, but at times, may be a little too smart for its own good. There’s some wonderful ideas and visuals at work within the film, but it feels like all the pieces don’t fit together so well in the end)