Jetpacks! Robots! ‘Tomorrowland’s’ Awesome Vision of the Future

22 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Tomorrowland’ review: Whiz-bang sci-fi tale an ambitious misfire.

The upcoming Disney film revolves around a futuristic world located in another dimension, which can be accessed by a portal or a time-traveling rocket ship. Prominent on a wall in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city full of twisted skyscrapers and aerial highways, is a nice line from Albert Einstein: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ The youngsters at whom this overlong Disney film is notionally aimed have little or no chance of understanding much of what’s going on. But, unlike the rollicking fun of Pirates of the Caribbean, this one sacrifices story on the altar of gorgeous visuals and impressive special effects. Featuring a jittery and uncomfortable-looking George Clooney as Frank Walker, who went to the 1964 New York World’s Fair as a boy and then became a paranoid recluse living in a high-tech fortress, the film is a bloated, misconceived mess full of bad taste and bad judgment, including the scary abuse of humanoid robots in a film rated a child-friendly PG.

Here are just a few of the futuristic technologies you can expect to see in “Tomorrowland,” which blasts into theaters today (May 22). [Science Fact or Fiction? It’s an original story, helmed by Brad Bird, an alum of “The Simpsons” and gifted director of action sequences, whose resume is studded with a mainstream classic (“The Incredibles”), a cult classic (“The Iron Giant”), a near-classic (“Ratatouille”) and a superb popcorn movie (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”). “Tomorrowland” is Bird’s first dud, an overly earnest, overlong, muddled slab of gee-whiz neo-futuristic throwback sci-fi. Just less than two hours in, the storyline suddenly comes into focus courtesy of the bad guy’s speech, and it is a g-o-o-d speech, but it’s too little, too late.

When we first meet the prepubescent Frank (Thomas Robinson), he is showing his invention, a jet pack with Electrolux fuel canisters, to dismissive World’s Fair official David Nix (Hugh Laurie). That rather significant drawback apart, there is plenty to enjoy, not least a spirited performance by young British actress Raffey Cassidy, who holds her own even in scenes with George Clooney. If that string of descriptors seems complicated and contradictory, keep in mind, it’s in the spirit of the film itself, which rambles on and on with little narrative momentum, squandering its moments of inspired visual invention. The idea is sound, it’s just this film of ideas (the most obvious being Disney’s favourite message of be positive and you will solve all the world’s problems) is not supported by its story and ends up being dull. Frank also meets the perky and mysterious Athena (12-year-old at the time Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a pin and invites him on a water ride, where he is transported to the future.

Then, in one of the film’s many disconcerting narrative lurches, we are introduced to Casey (the excellent Britt Robertson), the teenage daughter of a soon-to-be-unemployed Nasa engineer, who is fed up with her teachers telling her the world is going to hell in a handcart, and wants someone to suggest ways in which the handcart might be directed elsewhere. Newton, as in Isaac, I presume, uses a drone and electronic devices to sabotage a NASA installation because she wants to save her engineer father’s job.

He plays Frank Walker, a cynical shut-in who reasonable people would deem a tinfoil-hat conspiracy-theorist eccentric, assuming they didn’t know better. Finally, the intrepid trio (Athena the robot, played by Raffey Cassidy, makes up the third part) make it to Tomorrowland and this is when the story starts going somewhere. The catch is, the badge teleporters turn out to be nothing more than an advertisement for a version of Tomorrowland that no longer exists — unless Casey can convince Frank that it can be saved. The adult Frank then disappears from the story, which flashes back to 1964, when he was a wide-eyed boy (Thomas Robinson) bringing his homemade jetpack to the New York World’s Fair’s inventor’s competition.

After much mutual suspicion, they find a common enemy in some sinister androids, and a friend in Athena, though she is not quite what she appears to be, either. It’s the oddest of Disney films, terrific action sequences cheek by jowl with philosophical speechifying, as if Bird, who showed his credentials with the delightful 2004 animation The Incredibles, couldn’t quite rein in the impulse to tell us what he thinks about the world. The rocket — which launches, improbably, from beneath the Eiffel Tower — is supposedly powered by “tachyons,” hypothetical particles that can move faster than light. Young Frank is led to a wormhole through the space-time continuum – courtesy a secret waterway in Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride – to an unspecified time and place which I’ll refer to as The Future. A line about the grotesque irony of there being simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation is put in the mouth of Laurie’s character, but plainly it’s the writers speaking.

Of course, it’s fine to festoon even a children’s film with worthwhile messages about humanity, especially the message that theirs is the generation that must finally put right the mistakes of their forebears. The film, which not even the legendary editor Walter Murch (“Apocalypse Now”) could make sense of, suggests we are headed to global destruction because we secretly desire it and all we need to do to change course is think more optimistically.

In the film, Tesla is one of four architects of Tomorrowland, along with American inventor Thomas Edison, French architect Gustave Eiffel and French novelist Jules Verne. Or, perhaps the trains are a reference to the electric car company Tesla Motors, whose CEO, Elon Musk, has developed designs for a hypothetical high-speed transport system based on pneumatic tubes, dubbed the Hyperloop. [Humanoid Robots to Flying Cars: 10 Coolest DARPA Projects] Of course, no futuristic world would be complete without artificially intelligent robots.

Britt comes across a mysterious pin which, when touched, gives her a glimpse of The Future and its brilliant golden wheat fields and majestic city – a far cry from the present, and its melting ice caps, disappearing bees and billboards for an apocalyptic movie titled “Toxicosmos 3.” “Can we fix it?” she asks her instructors, something we wonder if Bird asked in the editing room. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles.

Athena is not meant to have ideas or emotions, but after she meets the young Frank Walker, she finds herself developing feelings — one hallmark of humanlike intelligence, or “strong AI.” Like any good Disney film, Tomorrowland has villains. They fight some robots that look like humans in a sharply directed, enjoyable sequence in which Frank shows off all the booby traps in his house, the camera spinning and stopping, spinning and stopping.

Their three children are engagingly played, with a particularly fine performance by Kyle Catlett as young Griffin, who hears creaks and sees ghosts even where there aren’t any, and then suffers the cosmic misfortune of moving to a house positively stuffed with them. Adding ballast to the basic plot — nice, ordinary family take up residence in seemingly nice, ordinary house, only to find that it has been built over an old cemetery and is besieged by furious poltergeists — are most of the standard horror cliches.

The screenplay, by Damon Lindelof – the scapegoat scripter of “Prometheus” and TV’s “Lost” – and Bird, is heavy with tedious monologues, rendering “Tomorrowland” too much tell and not enough show. But director Gil Kenan tries to justify the decision to breathe life back into the iconic brand with a host of 21st-century accessories — flat-screen tellies, iPhones, iPads and so on, well and truly putting the Apple into apple-pie Americana. And, inevitably, the special-effects — as the youngest child, Maddy, is kidnapped by the grotesque spirits — are much slicker than first time around. It all gets a little silly, though, especially with the arrival of Jared Harris as Irish poltergeist-buster Carrigan Burke, who finds that the house is ‘unloike anything oi’ve ever seen before’.

She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. That’s a noble message, albeit one Bird delivers in a confusion of a film, its narrative bumpy and misshapen, its thrills, funny moments and clever visual flourishes too infrequent. Silliness is almost a prerequisite of horror films, of course, but when they are sillier than they are scary, then they have to be marked down as a fail. He stages a scene in a nostalgia shop and makes a point to put references to “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Planet of the Apes” and “The Black Hole” in the frame, to make clear his inspiration.

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