‘Tomorrowland’ Is Full Of Wonder But Light On Meaning

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Tomorrowland’ Draws from NASA Past and Future.

“I think it’s time science had a comeback,” says Brad Bird. “To me, science is God. In the new Disney film “Tomorrowland,” now in theaters, NASA provides the launch pad — literally and figuratively — for the movie’s plot to unfold.The best new movie is “Iris,” a lively documentary about 93-year-old New York fashion icon Iris Apfel, whose free-spirited philosophy on clothes, accessories and life make her ageless.The city that gives the new film its name is a secret, otherworldly utopia where the best and brightest can unleash their intellects and imaginations, but it didn’t just spring into existence.

The receipts won’t be nearly as hefty as last year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” or 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6,” but the movie will nonetheless become one of only a few non-franchise properties to debut at No. 1 this summer. The feature film, which drew its initial inspiration from the theme park land by the same name, juxtaposes the end of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011 with the space age future Walt Disney envisioned when he opened the original Tomorrowland in 1955. “Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. And given that this former animator (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) is the man who gave us Tom Cruise scaling the Petronas Towers in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Bird plans on doing this the only way he knows how: via a big-budget summer blockbuster, complete with special effects, CGI landscapes, robot moppets and George Clooney.

This movie spends more than two hours telling you that you’re too dour, that the things you like are too dark, that your negativity is killing the planet. (Quite literally so, in this case.) Which might be an appealing point to make if it had anything to say other than, “C’mon, cheer up!” But it doesn’t. The military drama “Good Kill” stars Ethan Hawke as an Air Force fighter pilot who has been grounded, and now oversees drone strikes from the safety of a base near Las Vegas. In an entertainment landscape where visions of doom and dystopia (The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, Terminator, Divergent, Mad Max, The Maze Runner et al) dominate, Tomorrowland tips the balance — much like Star Trek does — toward a future world where the environmental, economic and social problems we face today have been solved through hard work, technology and, yes, positive thinking. “We live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there -– and it’s not fun,” said George Clooney, who plays a grown-up boy genius, a tech savant of sorts who once thrived in Tomorrowland, a place where like-minded scientists, engineers and other “dreamers” have built an interdimensional utopia. Her reality though, is the dismantling of Launch Pad 39A, the real-life platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from where astronauts left for the moon and shuttles flew for three decades. “The beginning starts off with sort of an empty dismantling of the pad, which one can interpret in different ways,” said Bert Ulrich, NASA’s liaison for the film, in an interview with collectSPACE.com. “But then, what ends up happening, there’s this hat, and it grounds the Casey character in where she comes from, why she is what she is.” Casey attempts to fix her future —starting with the launch pad’s fate —and from there finds herself on an unexpected journey with inventor Frank Walker (actor George Clooney) to the fantastical Tomorrowland that Disney first imagined and that director Brad Bird built his movie upon. Writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca,” “The Host”) creates some chilling images of remote-controlled warfare, but gets too preachy about the pros and cons of America’s drone policy. “Roar,” a relic from 1981, is both unwatchable and fascinating at the same time.

Right before Tomorrowland’s premiere, Rolling Stone spoke to Bird about finding humanity in corporate-tentpole moviemaking, why it may be time for dystopia-chic films to take a break and what The Simpsons taught him about storytelling. The story of an animal researcher (Noel Marshall, who directed) in Africa whose family gets uncomfortably close to his subjects — a pride of wild lions — is ineptly crafted. You can make things from different generations that play well with each other.” So, long before George Clooney’s Frank Walker was a disgruntled, middle-aged inventor-in-exile from this fabulous land, he was the boy genius you see above – piloting a homemade rocket pack (built on the bones of an old vacuum cleaner) through a Tomorrowland that is still under construction after many decades. “To know what that would look like, we need to lock down who the influencers were,” says screenwriter Damon Lindelof, who wrote the story with Bird and EW’s own Jeff Jensen. “If we’re trying to figure out what Tomorrowland looks like, we have to figure out who its architects were.” The science-fiction adventure takes place in the present day and centers on Britt Robertson’s teenage Casey, who seeks out Clooney’s hermit-like inventor to help her find safe passage to this futuristic world. The buzzy $190 million spectacle has two perspectives at its core: that of a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), a precocious kid who attends the 1964 New York World’s Fair to present the homemade jet pack he invented.

But the pad was and is real and provided the filmmakers with the same sense of awe they were trying to capture on screen. “To many of us [who worked] on the film, NASA and the mission of NASA is close to our hearts and so being there and able to film some of the film there was a treat,” Bird said in a statement provided by Disney. But the fact that Marshall cast his own family, including wife Tippi Hedren and stepdaughter Melanie Griffith, and set more than 100 untamed big cats on them and the crew is insane. But that world’s origins begin long ago: the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, where Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Gustav Eiffel formed a secret society dedicated to creating a better future – whether on Earth, or someplace else. We meet Frank Walker (George Clooney), a bitter inventor who has squirreled himself away in a remote farm. “When I was a kid, the future was… different,” he says with a misty eye, as we catapult back to the 1964 World’s Fair, when young Frank was bursting with ideas and wide-eyed hope.

Two more movies opening this week weren’t screened for local critics: “Lost River,” a dark fantasy drama that marks the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling; and “Where Hope Grows,” an inspirational drama about a burned-out baseball player who meets a young man with Down syndrome. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were the first conversations like with Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jeff Jensen about what they thought this city should look like? I believe in that.” Tomorrowland mostly takes place on present-day Earth, where teen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is shown a glimpse of that shining city, where jetpacks and space travel and public transportation that doesn’t suck are a reality. Attempting in vain to sell his jetpack to shady scientist David Nix (Hugh Laurie), young Frank befriends a young girl called Athena, who gifts him with a pin that helps transport him to Tomorrowland. That said, the one movie we watched more than anything else for this was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because it involves kids, as well as a hero who chases a vision.

Unlike its twin, 39B, or its “Tomorrowland” version, Pad 39A’s support towers are still standing today, though are being converted for commercial use by the spaceflight company SpaceX under a 20-year lease with NASA. She’s been chosen to come to Tomorrowland in no small part for her skills as a tinkerer, sure – but in larger part because no amount of negativity will crush her can-do spirit.

An even more precocious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) tips him off to an underground lair accessed via Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride, and there he finds a utopian kingdom that’s two or three stylized daydreams removed from the real world. They had nothing but a blank space where any of Tomorrowland’s sequences were going to be, and basically the description in those couple of spots was: “And now they’re in Tomorrowland. At one point early in the film, as Casey and her classmates are being inundated with images of pending global catastrophe and socioeconomic collapse, she eagerly shoots her hand in the air and is called upon. “That’s what this movie is,” Robertson told Mashable. “We’re trying to channel our attention for the better.

I have such a hankering for these dystopian films, mainly because the future always looks so overblown and fun, and in this respect, Brad Bird does not disappoint. Years later, an ageless Athena tracks down Casey (Britt Robertson), a teenager living with her hothead single father (Tim McGraw) and doting little brother (Pierce Gagnon), who does everything she can to protect the nearby NASA plant from being destroyed.

It was fantastic.” The movie’s fictional backstory, which Disney released as part of an exhibition and alternate reality game that began two years ago, explains that “Tomorrowland” was inspired in part by the real collaboration between Walt Disney and NASA’s Wernher von Braun. And good, and in a positive way, and that by taking action, even if it’s just one baby step at a time, then maybe we can change our future.” A relative newcomer to the bigscreen, Robertson (who recently turned CQ) plays Casey with all the pluck and positivity of a Disney teen, but mixes in grit and guile and and a gut-level determination that no matter how bad things get, she won’t be broken. The movie makes much hay of the old story about every man having two wolves that live and fight within him, one representing hate and envy, and the other representing love and hope. There’s a lot of plot in that paragraph, and even if it takes a while for it all to unfold, it only scrapes the surface of “Tomorrowland.” There are Big Themes about apathy and environmentalism and pissy world views and doomsday media culture and loss of imagination stamped all over the film. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that Tomorrowland, in our movie, was constructed over a period of a few decades—three, four decades, something like that.

Why can’t we look to the stars, like him and the young girl and fellow “chosen one” (nicely played by Britt Robertson) trying to save us, and realize that the world is full of hope? Nearing the end, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond runs clean out of steam (no mean feat for a film running at full locomotive pelt) when Hugh Laurie’s power-hungry Nix delivers an unending message-laden monologue. So how do you inject a sense of humanity and originality into what is, among other things, a big corporate blockbuster that a major company is releasing into a summer-movie market?

Clooney and Laurie, if you can imagine such a thing, play second fiddle to the youngsters: Thomas Robinson, in the role of young Frank, is adorable, while Raffey Cassidy is ethereal and kick-ass when the situation calls for it. As the years and the decades progressed, they kept inviting other creative thinkers and engineers and scientists with brilliant minds to join their secret fraternity. The moralizing themes of the titular tract — and the convoluted way the script presents them — weigh down the second half of “Tomorrowland,” but that only barely detracts from the stunning visuals that punctuate a land that looks fittingly like a functional amusement park. We say that they started building in the ‘20s, ‘30s, continued through the ‘60s when we would see young Frank flying over in that phase of construction that you see in the picture that you’ve got. Maglev trains look like roller-coasters zipping around a plaza of skyscrapers, while a pristine blue sky characterizes a utopia that’s both idealistic and utilitarian.

This is a Disney movie about how humanity needs more Disney movies—that sort of vague, empty Disney wisdom where we stop obsessing over the complexity of the world and the legitimate darkness out there, and just all go out into the forest and sing. Brad Bird and production designer Scott Chambliss (“Alias,” “Star Trek”) have created a landscape that begs for dreams to be dreamed and new horizons to be plowed. She finds a Texas memorabilia shop looking for the same item on eBay, and after traveling there, meets the kooky married owners whose robotic mannerisms quickly raise suspicions. All this talk about the 1964 World’s Fair (which I was not around for, but man, considering how often it’s used as the launching pad for American ingenuity and a wistful reminder of What We Once Were, it must have been amazing) and old-timey robots and NASA-driven laments that We Don’t Dream Anymore … the whole thing feels, at times, like Baby Boomers shaking their fists at Those Kids Today.

They’re played by Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key, both game to embrace the silliness of their scene, which whips out the laser guns as soon as it’s clear that these two are not what they seem. “Tomorrowland” is technically an existing property, but it doesn’t squeeze into the same franchise category as, say, “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” two recent literary adaptations with stellar female leads. We know nothing about the “Tomorrowland” players before the movie’s first frame, which makes it all the more rewarding to take this journey with the ambitious Casey at its helm. That was a creative choice we made along the way, and part of that was from experiencing firsthand what planned communities that are planned by a single vision or a single person look like. That shouldn’t need to be something we celebrate, but considering last year’s highest-grossing non-franchise film with a female lead was the very silly “Lucy,” it is.

Katniss Everdeen is worth rooting for, but it’s nice to spend time with a heroine whose action sequences don’t involve murdering other kids or contending with the “faction” to which she must subscribe. That isn’t to say the “I’d Love to Teach the World to Sing”-style ending works, but it does add a certain freshness when a movie doesn’t need to position the female protagonist in terms of her willingness to take no prisoners or content with tragedy.

You’d let more of this go if the driving action were sharper and better-focused, but the strange thing about Tomorrowland is that it’s an annoying social point in search of an actual movie. If there’s any reason to bypass comic-book movies — and apparently there aren’t many reasons, given their box-office stamina — it’s because most of them borrow the same plot beats and resort to similar cycles of endless action sequences sandwiched by slight exposition. And for a movie that’s all about using your imagination—imploring us not to get caught up in the vulgarities of science, but instead crank up our You Can Do Anything Dream Machines—it sure does spend most of its running time explaining everything that’s going on in extended, dull detail. While I wasn’t conscious trying to knock off one specific building to the last detail, there’s certainly areas in the city that have a ‘50s, ‘60s vibe.

Of course, the other half is him staring vacantly into the heavens, wondering how humanity has fallen so far, musing on whether we can hope and dream our way back, so maybe the explanations are a blessing. 5. Let’s just open up our imaginations to something unique, with upside-down park spaces, etc …’ We flash forward to technologies that allow deep, super-crazy computer-generated shapes, and beyond that, just taking that philosophy and pushing it to an imagined place where we can blend nature and architecture together to create yet another foreign language.

It is too busy letting us know that the other movie—the ones full of destruction and chaos and explosions—don’t have the good heart of this one. You get the sense everyone involved patted themselves on the back afterward, congratulating themselves on doing a movie The Right Way, never lowering themselves to the basest instincts of coarse American culture. You’re dealing with this high-quality of writing and juggling several storylines, and you have to make everything work and still boil it down to 22 minutes.

But I’m going with “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” because of a sort-of symphonic sequence where all the kids are forced to turn off their TVs and go play. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. After months of escalating protests and grassroots organizing in response to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, police reformers have issued many demands. The moderates in this debate typically qualify their rhetoric with “We all know we need police, but…” It’s a familiar refrain to those of us who’ve spent years in the streets and the barrios organizing around police violence, only to be confronted by officers who snarl, “But who’ll help you if you get robbed?” We can put a man on the moon, but we’re still lacking creativity down here on Earth.

While law enforcers have existed in one form or another for centuries, the modern police have their roots in the relatively recent rise of modern property relations 200 years ago, and the “disorderly conduct” of the urban poor. Like every structure we’ve known all our lives, it seems that the policing paradigm is inescapable and everlasting, and the only thing keeping us from the precipice of a dystopic Wild West scenario. Rather than be scared of our impending Road Warrior future, check out just a few of the practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing: Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts.

Stop believing that police are heroes because they are the only ones willing to get in the way of knives or guns – so are the members of groups like Cure Violence, who were the subject of the 2012 documentary The Interrupters. There are also feminist models that specifically organize patrols of local women, who reduce everything from cat-calling and partner violence to gang murders in places like Brooklyn. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage.

Decriminalization doesn’t work on its own: The cannabis trade that used to employ poor Blacks, Latinos, indigenous and poor whites in its distribution is now starting to be monopolized by already-rich landowners. To quote investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s remarks on criminal justice reform in his book Lockdown America, what we really need most of all is “less.” Also known as reparative or transformative justice, these models represent an alternative to courts and jails. From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process. Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place.

In Mexico, where one of the world’s most corrupt police forces only has credibility as a criminal syndicate, there have been armed groups of Policia Comunitaria and Autodefensas organized by local residents for self-defense from narcotraffickers, femicide and police. Obviously these could become police themselves and then be subject to the same abuses, but as a temporary solution they have been making a real impact. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. Mental health has often been a trapdoor for other forms of institutionalized social control as bad as any prison, but shifting toward preventative, supportive and independent living care can help keep those most impacted from ending up in handcuffs or dead on the street.

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