The Difficult Trip to Tomorrowland

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Tomorrowland’ Puts a Disney Spin on the Future.

Britt Robertson stars alongside George Clooney as they embark on a treacherous mission to uncover the secrets of a mysterious world caught between space and time.

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. So cue the super shiny child actors looking hopeful while delivering sappy saccharine speeches about “Life.” But if you can get past those (and there are a lot of them, the most embarrassing of which comes from Hugh Laurie, in a nylon futuristic trouser suit) and feast your eyes on the spectacular special effects and real-life locations, it’s a movie worth seeing. Precious child inventor Frank (played as a child by Thomas Robinson, Clooney as an adult) has made his way to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, jet pack in hand. There he meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a young girl who slips him a mysterious pin that allows him access to Tomorrowland, a future world where all the modern problems have been eradicated.

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. 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). The Walt Disney Studios’ big-budget sci-fi film is set to rule the Memorial Day box-office — though it is a gamble for Disney, it will likely gross $40 million-plus for the three-day weekend and in the high $40 million range for the four days with a chance of hitting $50 million.

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. 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. At the press conference in L.A. earlier this month, director Brad Bird said Tomorrowland has a more hopeful view of the future than many other films. “Any time that there is an empty canvas, there are two ways to look at it; one is emptiness and the other one is wide open to possibility,” he said. “And that’s how I like to look at the future—wide open to possibility. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy calls the film, “A big-budget, futuristic, effects-heavy, star-driven, fantasy-oriented, audience-friendly, beautifully made, would-be summer tentpole looks something like a freak, not to mention a semi-risky proposition, because it is not part of a franchise. But that’s how it is in the summer of 2015 for Tomorrowland, a sparkling work of speculative fiction (and wishful thinking) that could not be more ‘Disney’ in the old-fashioned sense, but is dominated by its philosophical thrust against social pessimism and disenchantment.

Theoretically, the required ingredients for a big summer hit are mostly present and accounted for, but the considerable question remains as to whether the mass audience of the moment is ready to embrace an inventive but less overwhelmingly Marvelous adventure fantasy than is the current norm.” He also asks, “How many sci-fi/fantasy films of recent years have climaxed with anything other than massive conflict and conflagration? Instead he draws out the story for two-hours-and-ten-minutes, taking too long to get to the fairly meagre why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-save-the-world premise. This conundrum is at the heart of the film— how the future isn’t always what you expected. “It wouldn’t surprise me that his time spent there would have rubbed off on his fantastical visions of future space travel, the futuristic yet retro architecture and the general gee whiz eye-popping cultural nods to both the 60’s past and our future as explorers,” Bert Ulrich, NASA’s liaison for Film and TV Collaborations, told PCMag.

Whatever the number, Tomorrowland is one of the few to place far more emphasis on talk than action, which is what will probably contribute to what, for some, will make for a softer experience than the genre norm. 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. It’s clear that the crew got to unleash their inner geek on the sets, props, and VFX, particularly during a sequence with Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn, who play the Gernsbacks, owners of a sci-fi novely shop called Blast From the Past. 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.

As thoughtful and sympathetic as the intentions are here, perhaps it all goes back to the point often made about Dante: What do people read and remember? From the interconnected swimming pool pods to the special effects — You will believe George Clooney can fly! — to the Jetson’s style architecture it’s an eyeful. “Will you stop being amazed!” Frank says with exasperation, and no, we may not as long as Bird is entertaining the eye. 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. Disney opened the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland, California in 1955 and was deep into plans for E.P.C.O.T, his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, before his death.

Scott writes, “Its enormous lapses in narrative and conceptual coherence — its blithe disregard for basic principles of science-fiction credibility — would be less irksome in the fantastical cosmos of animation. Classic science fiction has never shied away from saving the Earth and “Tomorrowland” should be congratulated for its world-is-going-to-heck point of view, but (MILD SPOILER ALERT) it’s preachy ‘The world could get better but no one is willing to put in the effort,” stance and ‘The future belongs to the dreamers” attitude it is naive. “Tomorrowland” is the rare kind of summer movie, one that values its originality and ideas.

All that remains is the theme park version in Florida and various editions of Tomorrowland in five Disneyland parks around the world, including Paris, Tokyo, and Shanghai. 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. The movie doesn’t have anything concrete to do with the park—although teaser trailers hinted that it does—but it’s all from the same imaginative source.

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. But if its diagnosis of what’s wrong with the world is ultimately simplistic and rather hokey, there’s still some truth to it.” The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern writes, “this fractured futurist fantasy waits until almost the very end for a robot to describe an important stretch of the story that didn’t make it to the screen. 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. But for all of its vaulting ambition, its sumptuous eye-feasts and its leapings back and forth in space and time, Tomorrowland never comes together as coherent drama in the here and now.” He concludes, “What this film eventually chooses to be is a flat-footed celebration of the dreamers and doers who will make our future bright. 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. Perhaps the most important piece of hypothetical technology in the film is the so-called “Thinking Machine,” created by Frank Walker’s nefarious counterpart, the brilliant scientist David Nix, played by Hugh Laurie. 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.

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. 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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