‘Tomorrowland’ – Good or Bad?
Here’s the thing that drew me to watching Tomorrowland, the new movie based on a Disney theme park attraction directed by Brad Bird…the 50% it’s got on RottenTomatoes. Smack bang in the middle! It’s caught an equal number of fans and haters! Which side will I find myself? The trailer was…interesting? Honestly I couldn’t make much sense of it. There’s some future city world thing and madcap inventors and…well, let’s see for ourselves.
Halfway through the movie we…still don’t know what it’s about. Let’s recap, shall we? The movie begins with George Clooney and Britt Robinson talking to the camera about the future being in trouble or something and we flash back to Clooney as a young boy attending the World’s Fair in the 1960s where he shows off his awesome home made jetpack to grumpy Hugh Laurie. Unfortunately his remarkable work of amateur engineering gets rejected by grumpy Hugh Laurie because it doesn’t have a great control scheme. Some girl hanging out with Grumpy recognises his accomplishment and gives him a special lapel pin. He wears the pin while riding the ‘It’s a Small World After All’ ride and it takes him down a secret passage, which takes him to a magic elevator thing, which takes him to a futuristic city where he flies around with his jetpack.
Jump ahead to the modern day where Britt Robinson is breaking into Cape Carnaval to sabotage the dismantling of the site because of something to do with her dad. When she sets out to do this a second time she gets arrested. The weird girl from 1964 has slipped another magic pin in with her stuff and it shows he the future city. When it stops working after a while she tries to buy another one off eBay and winds up at a shop with some creepy people. They are robots and try to kill her in between a bunch of Star Wars props by robo-River Tam with a British accent appears and blows them up they go to find George Clooney who will teleport them to France to…to…what the living hell is this movie about?
First things first: this movie has some major plotting issues. Problems that director and co-writer Brad Bird is generally better than. Perhaps writer Damon Lindelof is more to blame, as he’s penned other jumbled messes like Lost, Prometheus and Cowboys and Aliens. This movie feels like a series of dot points presented at a pitch meeting rather than a cohesive story. It’s about an hour before we get the three main characters on screen together and another 40 minutes after that they identify the villain and introduce the main conflict. That’s an unbelievably long time. As to what the titular ‘Tomorrowland’ really is you have to wait until the 1 hour 20 minute mark before that gets explained. Again, just a ridiculously long time to address a major plot point. It’s like The Matrix holding off explaining what the Matrix is until the final act.
Many reviewers have commented on this already, but they have also praised the visuals. The Tomorrowland city itself is fantastic, a truly wonderful landscape and the art and design team should be proud of that they have accomplished. It captures a retro vision of the future (that makes sense, right?), invoking a 50s and 60s era science fiction. During one of the longer stints through Tomorrowland the audience glimpses some amazing things, like the zero gravity swimming pools and jetpack designs. A real highlight.
But in spite of this beautiful science-fiction fantasy visual the movie can feel downright grim. The movie starts out with Clooney talking about the world being rife with political instability, famine, war, climate change…cheerful stuff for a Disney flick. These issues come up again and again throughout the movie, with the central conflict to do with the world going to shit. Apparently in the super-science parallel universe of Tomorrowland where all the big thinkers make a better science world they have a machine that can show the future and it shows the world getting apocalypsy in the near future. Somehow these visions of the future have fed into the subconsciousness of the global population and this has caused the sense of apathy that is leading people down this path. This is pretty miserable stuff for a family film.
By the end of the day hope wins out and everyone strives for a better future, but the consistent bleakness that pervades the film doesn’t leave audiences with the sense of hope and wonder I feel like the movie was trying to inspire. At the end of it all they are on the search for ‘dreamers’, people who have great imagination and dream of a better future. In an era where armchair activism is proving to be doing as much harm as good, where sharing a Kony 2012 video or dumping ice water on oneself gives people enough of a sense of accomplishment that they don’t have to act further. In short we have people with great imagination and big dreams but fewer people than ever acting on them. Encouraging people to ‘dream’ of a better future is not the best message we want to instil in the up and coming generation.
Then again, a movie can just be a movie. It can look good, be fun and not force a message on the viewer. We have some real imagination in this movie, such as when Clooney’s gadget laden house comes under siege from robots and he unleashes endless traps and gizmos to foil them. Lasers, trapdoors and teleports make for a fun action sequence.
Those robots however…they are creepy suckers. I’m guessing they were shooting for comedic villainy but they are unsettling to say the least. They all have this rictus grin that makes them seem like they’re going to bite you in the neck. Or worse, they come off like Matthew Broderick in Inspector Gadget. One early scene has some cops finding a burned up severed head with real looking eyes and mouth yabbering at them before a second robot evaporates the cops. These guys are a touch to creepy for a family picture…especially when one of them gets their face caved in with baseball bat.
This movie isn’t a complete failure, the reviews have been mixed and some people can forgive the clunker of a story and bleak undertones and enjoy it for the visual feast it sometimes is. Perhaps this is the cynic in me speaking, but I fall on the negative side of the 50%. There’s a scene just after the hour mark when Clooney is setting up a teleporter and says to Robinson “why do you need everything explained? Can’t you just be amazed and move on?” I can’t help but feel that this is the attitude behind the film. The film makers want us to be dazzled by the effects and design and not question the massive problems staring them in the face. This dialogue is followed by Clooney explaining that the machine will make you “make you wish you were dead”. Hope and wonder smeared with grimness.
Final note, in a movie where most of the screen time and story focuses on two young girls, why does grizzly Clooney feature on the poster with a kid version of himself? What’s that about, Disney?