In my review of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I used the phrase, “This is your grandfather’s science fiction.” If that’s true then Tomorrowland is your dad’s. It is a tribute to 60’s SF, an optimistic time, influenced by Kennedy’s new frontier and the nascent space program. The horribleness of Vietnam and Watergate were still ahead of us and things like Star Trek delivered a bright vision of the future. Walt Disney was giving us animations of space stations and Werner Von Braun explained how this was all going to happen in a few short years. We still thought nuclear power was a good idea.
And then, of course, it all went wrong. Our future is now seen as more likely to be Mad Max than Star Trek. The current rage of dystopic novels and movies show that optimism is on the wane.
Brad Bird director and one of the screenwriters of Tomorrowland, examines this dichotomy. Casey Newton played by Britt Robinson, is a smart teenage girl, who’s curious about science and still optimistic despite the fact that they’re tearing down the launch pads on Cape Canaveral near where she lives, and putting her engineer father played by Tim McGraw, out of a job. Despite all this she still believes in the promise of science. One day she finds a pin with the Tomorrowland logo on it. When she touches it she is transported to a plain of wheat fields where she sees a city of towering spires in the distance. Curious, she investigates and eventually shows up on the front porch of Frank Walker played by George Clooney. Frank is a former boy genius, who was invited to Tomorrowland at the 1964 New York World’s Fair by an enigmatic girl named Athena played by Raffey Cassidy.
I would probably spoil it if I went into the nature of Tomorrowland. I’ll just say it was created to be a scientific utopia and something has gone wrong. Athena thinks that Casey can fix it.
Tomorrowland is a pretty movie. The art direction isn’t completely retro as I suspected it would be when I saw vacuum tubes in Frank’s work room. They did a good job of extrapolating the tech and design from the era when Tomorrowland split off from our world. The effects are seamless, although not groundbreaking.
The acting here is fine as well. It’s always fun to watch George Clooney in grumpy comedic mode. He’s not really stretching and the screenwriters didn’t give him much to work with but Clooney is one of those movie stars who can go a long way just on his charisma. Hugh Laurie is sufficiently disdainful and yet not entirely evil as the bad guy. The real revelation is Britt Robertson who turns in a marvelous performance as Casey. Her exasperation with the obstacles placed in front of her and her boundless optimism is believable and firmly rooted in her characterization.
The script has an odd structure. Casey is introduced as our viewpoint character but she really doesn’t know what the plot’s central conflict is until about two thirds of the way into the story. Up until then it’s all set up. And once we do know the plot, it’s a little simple and easily resolved. Fortunately, it’s a really interesting set up and so the movie almost works. The problem is that for all that effort, this world still feels incomplete. I don’t understand how it interfaces with ours, or how the society in Tomorrowland is arranged. And I’m curious. Also considering the secrecy and the large viral marketing campaign for this movie, I was expecting more of an event.
Basically, as one reviewer put it, this is like a live action Disney movie from the 60’s; it’s watchable, enjoyable even, but it has no ambition to be great. I can see what drew Brad Bird, the director of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles to this project. It would seem to right up his alley. But maybe he’s getting bored with retro SF. I’m a baby-boomer and I grew up on those Disney films so Tomorrowland did speak to me but I guess I was expecting more.


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May 2015
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