Poster by Laurent Durieux
I saw TOMORROWLAND opening day at the Bob Bullock IMAX Theater here in Austin. One helluva screen, I gotta tell ya, but a sparse crowd. Of course, I figured that’d be the case at 1:40pm in the afternoon on a Friday. The word I’d heard going in was fairly mixed. That rarely bothers me going into a film, because I always try to my own person seeing a film. Also, I know a lot of the writers I follow and a lot of folks are far more cynical than me. I’m an optimist, and from what I knew about the film’s premise… that could be the exact difference needed to love the film. That said, I had a series of Filmmaker friends that were doing backflips over Brad Bird’s latest film - and yeah, I knew that they went to school with Brad - and a lot of cool filmmakers root for Brad Bird, how could they not after FAMILY DOG, SIMPSONS, IRON GIANT, THE INCREDIBLES, RATATOUILLE? Then he made the best of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films with GHOST PROTOCOL, but to be honest… as great as that was, I would have vastly preferred that Brad do a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film set in the 1960’s about a completely different Spy team - and I’d want it to be a full on SPY FI flick.
Yeah. I have specific fetishes that I want Brad Bird to serve me in his films, and he’s done pretty damn well thus far. With TOMORROWLAND, the second they pulled the ol “MYSTERY BOX” thing, I knew… it could backfire for some folks. Looking into that box, there were a lot of objects that the crafty mind of a geek could explode into a myriad of fantastical dreams of movies. But once you go into a screening of TOMORROWLAND, put out of your mind all that stuff.
After the STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED trailer gave me a full geek chubby, perfect way to lead into a Brad Bird science fiction mystery adventure flick! It was time to have Brad Bird tell me a tale.
As the screen darkened and the special for this movie sci-fi version of the Disneyland logo came to life, I started to giggle quietly in my mind, oh boy, here we go.
Then GEORGE CLOONEY’S Giant IMAX HEAD appears… He’s trying to tell us a story, but a female voice keeps interrupting him, trying to get him to stop being negative. She gets him to remember where the tale began, when he was a boy - and every perfect pore of George Clooney’s face relaxes (this is IMAX, so you can see them all in their exquisite glory). Then… the story begins in earnest.
George Clooney is Frank Walker, but as the story begins in earnest, the part is played by a precocious and wide-eyed boy named Thomas Robinson. He’s working on some manner of contraption that’s partly made out of a vacuum cleaner, this will be a jetpack. That’s what this kid envisions it to be. Just as Alan Arkin’s Peevy thought Howard Hughes’ miraculous jetpack was a vacuum cleaner, now it is reverse. His father thinks he’s wasting his time, that he’ll never make the contraption work, but a boy should never let a parent step on a dream, so he continues. He has a dream, to enter his invention at the 1964 New York World’s Fair in the Inventor’s Showcase and win, I seem to think it was $50, a princely sum to a boy in ’64.
Yup, that means we’re gonna get to go to the 1964 World’s Fair - and it is beautiful. When he tries to admit his invention in the contest, he’s faced with a Hugh Laurie, who doesn’t seem amused in the least at inspecting lame invention after lame invention. But as the object comes out, as young Frank Walker begins assembling it… there is a bit of curious awe at the contraption’s rustic promise. It looks like a jetpack, when Laurie’s Nix asks, “Does it work?” - we see a flashback to the boy testing it - and it goes pretty much the same way as the first test with Charles “Lucky Lindy” Lindbergh’s statue in THE ROCKETEER, but luckily he doesn’t break his fool head in half. We flashback to, little Frank saying essentially that it doesn’t, but that he can make it work. Nix dismisses him, but a young curious girl shows an interest. She’s taken with the boy and the audacity of the invention. She believes in him.
As Frank sits outside the hall with his bag of dreams, she approaches him mysteriously. Introduces herself as Athena and tells him to follow her and a group that Nix is leading, and she gives him the PIN we’ve seen everywhere associated with the movie. The group is headed to Pepsi Presents Walt Disney’s “It’s A Small World” ride, which you can find at DISNEYLAND, but was introduced at this World’s Fair. Along with other examples of Walt Disney’s Audio-Animatronics. Well, he sneaks onto an empty boat, puts on his pin and enters IT’S A SMALL WORLD. It’s weird seeing this happy gleeful full color version, after the scary nightmarish version in ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (2013) in black & white.
When a laser scans his Pin, suddenly he’s on his way to a whole other ride. Destination, TOMORROWLAND!!!
I don’t like to get heavily into spoilers, all of this is just the opening of the flick, but since I saw the film a bit late, due to unavoidable conflicts early in the week, and because I feel that there’s been too much negativity thrown at a film that at its heart is about that exact subject, I’m going to go a bit more in-depth on this film than I’d ordinarily go. Before I do that, I’ll give a little closing thought here. For me, this film plays me perfectly. Is it what I was expecting? No, in fact, I thought that they where hiding a much larger adventure out into all sorts of sci-fi venues, that aren’t here. Did that disappoint me? Not really, because instead, I got a magical science fiction tale of pocket dimensions, secrets kept since the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. That’s cool! The secret that gets unveiled there is really quite cool - and the adventure this film puts Clooney’s Frank Walker, Raffey Cassidy’s Athena and the best character of the film, Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton all onto a wild and fun tale of youthful wonder and discovery, a battle between the wolves of light & dark that are constantly battling over our lives - and if you’re a parent with kids with wistful dreams in their eyes or someone like me, that dreams wide awake of the spectacular destiny that we as a world is destined for once we put the petty stuff where it belongs and just celebrate our differences, see problems as a reason to shine - not fight - and take the steps towards space civilization instead of mere exploration. So go and smile, then come home and dream of your own tomorrow and then live it.
Poster by Kevin Tong
OK… So what is this fantastic wonderland known as TOMORROWLAND?
Well, as Young Frank arrives - it’s a bit cloudy. You can’t make much of it out. His first encounter with “HOLY WOW” is when a Helper Robot gets ahold of his duffle bagged Jet Pack and starts working on it. When he asks the Bot if he fixed it, he even gets a thumbs up! HOW COOL! Then, the clumsy kid takes a fall off the platform and seems destined for certain doom until he manages to strap in - and suddenly, magically… his invention works better than Hefners! Outstanding! Because we’re now watching this wide eye’d lad fully explore the majesty of TOMORROWLAND as no denizen of the Futuropolis had before. It’s stunning, beautiful and wide-eyed cool. After he spots Athena, he does an ever so slight rough landing, but gets to shoot the Nix fella a “It works now!” and that’s just perfection!
All at once, we see the magic of this place that can take almost realized dreams and perfect them. In this pocket-dimension utopia, intents can be realized without the pain and angst of failure. Build it close enough and it can be refined. So… it’s an idea city. A place where visionaries can envision whatever they think up without the need to weaponize it. Nifty.
Around there is where the story shifts to our other voice we heard and now we’re introduced to the real star of the film, Britt Robertson as Casey Newton. As we meet her, she’s covertly damaging cranes in her own tech savvy manner that would be meant to dissemble the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. I think there’s a crazy Wow about how she circumvents, what I’m sure must be very awesome security at NASA. And we learn that she’s doing this to save her Dad’s job, even though - the problem isn’t losing the launch pad, the problem is the process behind why the thing is being taken apart, which is a lack of vision in this country to understand this… Those stars that have been beckoning mankind since its beginning, these planets in our solar system, these are our destiny. Anyway, I could write all day about that. But I get her frustrations. When her dad tells her they’re just bringing in new cranes… undeterred she returns to her earlier crime scene and this time gets caught.
When we see Casey in the famous pin touching scene when getting released, where a mere touch of the pin transports her, seemingly, to TOMORROWLAND… but there’s something odd, occasionally people seem to address her, but never hear or understand her responses. But her brief time there has captured her imagination at such a level, that she must get to the bottom of this jaw-dropping mystery.
NOW - I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I not only read THE HARDY BOYS, but NANCY DREW books too, (also ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN & TOM SWIFT) and I love precocious kids on fantastical journeys or mysteries. I mean, we all grew up with SCOOBY DOO and there’s a fun part of this movie that is completely a SCOOBY DOO mystery, but instead of there being a monster to unveil, it’s a problem to be solved… There’s a problem with the future. But we’re just about to get to that in a couple more paragraphs.
The internet reveals that there’s a store in Houston, Tx that seems to possibly have more information about the PIN, her only clue to TOMORROWLAND, so she somehow gets a bus ticket to Houston and she’s off. At this point, I don’t question any of Casey’s abilities because I’ve already accepted her breaking into NASA, and I totally believed Matthew Broderick in WAR GAMES. So here we go. She arrives at BLAST FROM THE PAST, a geek shop filled with all manners of cool Sci Fi Ephemera. It’s pretty damn nifty and as my Dad said, “I could watch the film 50 times for that sequence alone!” Not only for the cool stuff filling every pixel of the frame, but because I love the owner, a Hugo Gernsback - a figure in Science Fiction so towering that the Science Fiction awards are called HUGOs and he is deemed the Father of Science Fiction. His introductions to stories in AMAZING STORIES pulps are epic - and his vision of Tomorrow was and continues to be an infection that I never want to shake. Anyway, this character called HUGO GERNSBACK ain’t him, but it is a cute tribute that almost made me squeal with glee! There’s a great little action scene in this place that introduces us to the evil Audio-Animatronics that will be haunting young Casey’s trip here on Earth as she attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery.
As the story leaves Houston headed for New York state, Casey is now joined by Athena, who constantly and is miraculously surprising throughout the film. ATHENA is pretty damn nifty and vague! She pushes the characters in the right directions, but she needs them to make the big leaps for her, because… while being mostly perfect, she does have limitations.
Athena delivers Casey to essentially Clooney’s older and utterly cynical Frank Walker’s doorstep and the story hits a new gear.
I’ll skip a bunch of this, simply because you should discover the twists and turns for yourselves, but just now, we’ll end up in Paris upon the Eiffel Tower for an incredible reveal of a plan hatched by no less than Alexandre Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla and even Thomas Edison. LOVE IT! To get a Vernian rocketship that is modified by Tesla to gain access to a space where dreamers could realize their dreams beyond the peering eyes of mankind… I love it. A scientific Shangri La! And like Shangri La, you can be kicked out, and getting back is a helluva thing.
At this point, having a love of Frank Capra’s LOST HORIZON doesn’t hurt.
Once they return to TOMORROWLAND, we discover that its governor, Hugh Laurie’s Nix… well, despite Eiffel & Tesla & Edison & Verne’s best intention… a bureaucrat somehow arrived. It only takes one dipshit man. Just one to ruin things. The TOMORROWLAND that our characters return to isn’t the one they left. It is no longer bustling with ideas and fantastical concepts. Nope, it has been turned into something along the lines of a bomb shelter from reality from which Nix will live forever.
Like most bureaucrats, he thinks he has warned the people of Earth, but he hasn’t - he’s only created a self-fulfilling prophecy. By not letting people with ideas run this place and invite others, the very inventions and notions that are supposed to fulfill the promise of a TOMORROWLAND have been stifled against an increasing hell of negativity and closed-mindedness that so many run into from everything from science fiction stories to the inventions that they inspire and those that would dream to realize the impossible now.
The good news is, by the time the film is over, we’re no longer 58 days from the apocalypse & a future with jetpacks is back on target, as TOMORROWLAND opens up its borders to new dreamers of a vast variety - and who knows where TOMORROWLAND will go from there! But the fun part is coming home and dreaming about what you could do in TOMORROWLAND - how would you change the world if people didn’t tell you that you were crazy!
It seems the “MESSAGE” of the film distracted a lot of folks from just enjoying the journey. Not me. Not my Dad. And hopefully, you can see the beautiful and fun adventure that if you have dreamers of multiple generations around you… hell, the future has jetpacks! LOVE IT!
Last bit. George Clooney should never make a movie without a jetpack again! He wears it magnificently!
This is a movie for dreamers about dreamers that's made by dreamers!