‘Tomorrowland’ (With Movie Trailer): Brad Bird Narrates a Scene

22 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Tomorrowland’ review: George Clooney’s latest a bold step in sci-fi storytelling.

I was too busy marveling at the fact that Walt Disney Co. has released a movie placing the blame for Earth’s imminent destruction on corrupt politicians, greedy heads of industry and stupid, lazy voters who think the apocalypse makes a cool topic for films, TV shows and video games – in short, the audience for this picture. Director Brad Bird (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), who co-wrote the script with Damon Lindelof (“World War Z”), sets out to amuse us but ends up scaring us, before the inevitable and rather unlikely rush of hope. All anyone could tell was that it was about George Clooney and a shining jetpack city of the future — Disneyland on steroids — in some dimension next to ours. Swimming pools are uncontained blocks of water suspended in the air — a whole group of them, one above another, so that swimmers can dive into one then pop out the bottom and somersault into the next.

Not to spoil the movie, but the plot involves a jaded George Clooney, jet packs and a mysterious hidden city where people are free to tinker and make wild inventions without the threat of corporate greed or government bureaucracy Written by Damon Lindelof (co-creator of “Lost”) and Brad Bird (director of “The Incredibles”), “Tomorrowland” is one of the rare recent science-fiction releases where technology is a good thing — it’s human nature, not a machine, that is the enemy. They begin at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where middle-aged Nix (Hugh Laurie) and young Athena (the remarkable Raffey Cassidy) recruit inventors who might contribute to a futuristic city. Sharing its title with the name of Walt Disney’s visionary theme attraction at Disney theme parks, the film was directed and co-written by Brad Bird, who won Oscars for two Pixar pictures, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

Rapturous on a scene-by-scene basis and nearly incoherent when taken as a whole, the movie is idealistic and deranged, inspirational and very, very conflicted. Bird is discussing, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is the daughter of a NASA engineer who has been helping tear down a launch site, meaning he will soon lose his job.

Athena, still a “girl”– a girl robot with hilarious Terminator skills, of course – gives such a pin to high-schooler Casey Newton (Charlotte-born Britt Robertson, too old but otherwise first-rate). They make an interesting Hollywood odd couple, but the blend of talents also matches the extraordinary gift each man has for embracing optimism and celebrating hope amid the doomsday messages of the modern world. Most sketchily, it provides a plausible fantasy-movie explanation for what, on the face of it, is a love story between a 54-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl.

Athena pairs optimistic Casey with pessimistic, 60-ish Frank, who was expelled from the future and now calculates our world has less than a year to go before wars, environmental degradation and shortages of resources trigger catastrophes from which we can’t recover. After she is arrested for trying to sabotage the demolition, she gets out of jail and discovers an unfamiliar pin among her personal effects, one with special powers. Albert Einstein’s quote “Imagination is more important than knowledge” can be seen on a wall in the future; Bird and Lindelof criticize people who insist on “practical” education at the expense of creative thinking. (Are you listening, N.C. legislature?) They suggest real genius consists of conceptualizing and solving problems, not simply crunching data.

It tells an epic story that touches upon the possible end of mankind and Planet Earth — and then seeks out a solution for our ills that is rooted in creative people doing exceptional things for the greater good. But the director at the helm, Brad Bird, brought us “The Incredibles” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” and “Lost” writer Damon Lindelof helped with the script.

The film’s sense of wonder and novelty sometimes take it into nutty Dan Brown territory. (Scenes in Paris must affect fantasy writers that way.) The violence, mostly but not entirely against androids, seems excessive for a PG rating. The story follows two modern-day scientific geniuses on a quest to get to the vibrant metropolis of Tomorrowland, a secret world filled with big thinkers and grand ideas. The idea of using pop culture and fiction to show something to aspire to, that was the whole idea of “Tomorrowland.” The city is a monument to what human kind is capable of. The movie jarringly cuts between this nostalgic Popular Mechanics past, a more recent past in which the main story plays out, and a nebulous present from which the grown Frank and the film’s other primary character, an optimistic high school brainiac named Casey (Britt Robertson), narrate the tale.

I was a big “Star Trek” fan, as well as “Star Wars.” But “Star Trek” was a big one for me, because it felt less like fantasy and more like hard sci-fi. “Close Encounters” was certainly a movie that had a massive impact on me as a kid. Casey’s family name comes from brilliant mathematician Isaac Newton; Hugo Gernsback, who published the first science fiction magazine in 1926 (“Amazing Stories”), lends his name to a wacky purveyor of space-age memorabilia. I was transfixed by the idea that there was another reality just on the other side of this invisible veil and that you could touch something and be there instantly. Casey is a born troublemaker, tired of hearing from her teachers how messed up the world is and who just wants to know “Can we fix it?” Through mysterious means, she’s given a magic World’s Fair pin that whisks her to Tomorrowland, an alternate-universe combination Oz/research lab created some time ago by Earth’s best and brightest. The film also poses an interesting idea: Without exception, all “dreamers” recruited in the future – the people on whom survival depends – are kids, women or men of color.

The early scenes of her discovery are miracles of moviemaking, Casey shuttling between our grimy planet and this sunny otherworld in the blink of a CGI second. Casey winds up at the clutterhouse mansion of Frank, now older, unshaven, and bitter over being kicked out of paradise, and for a solid chunk of its midsection, “Tomorrowland” turns into a wham-bam chase film, with Frank, Casey, and the reappeared Athena running from the bad guys. The boy version of Frank Walker ends up being slyly recruited into a secret society of geniuses by a mysterious girl (ethereal Raffey Cassidy) over the objections of her brusque guardian (Hugh Laurie, a great, multi-dimensional villain). It’s excitingly filmed and there are some nifty surprises, including Frank’s knack for booby traps, an appearance by Keegan-Michael Key of “Key and Peele,” and a surprising use for one of Earth’s more popular civic monuments. Turns out it’s heading for a lecture on our sins of cynicism — on how we’ve traded our New Frontier idealism for bleakness and manufactured destruction.

Eventually, while squabbling, Clooney and Robertson’s characters are obliged to work together and travel to the mythical and/or surreal world of Tomorrowland, which seems to only exist in a parallel universe where time does not function as it does on Earth. Clooney and his new sidekick — with Robertson playing an empowered female who brooks no nonsense from the curmudgeonly Clooney — represent two sides of the same coin. I had an experience on my previous film, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” where we went through a great deal of trouble to get Tom Cruise up on the highest building in the world. This is the kind of thinking Walt Disney himself hoped to explore with the world’s geniuses in his Tomorrowland theme park before he died too young in 1966.

In its climactic scenes, “Tomorrowland” juggles uplift, ideas, plot, characters, special effects, planetary Armageddon — and half the balls land on the floor. When you say, “This is a movie about a better future,” rather than, “This is a movie about a screwed-up future where things are trying to kill you,” moviegoers tend to flock to the latter. The film does not mention Disney by name but his spirit haunts the story — and Bird filmed in both Disneyland and Disney World (other locations include Spain, British Columbia and the John F.

If you do buy into this fantastical enterprise, the ending will offer both an epiphany and a sigh of satisfaction that a Hollywood movie actually celebrates life and hope. With her clear, penetrating eyes, she occupies the precocious kid role without being overbearingly twee: Sure, she says cute things, but she’s also a tiny assassin. Cassidy is quite the performer, freckled and inhumanly self-assured and very British, and she locates an interesting point between the charming and the intensely annoying. Bad guys materialize (though it’s never entirely clear why), including a hilarious robot played by Matthew MacCaull, whose bright, mechanical smile makes him look like a life-size Ken doll. We are not going to smash people over the head with it, but we are going to examine the state of the world now through the eyes of a teenage girl.” Ultimately, it’s a bit reductive, but we think it’s true that there has to be an attitudinal shift toward the positive.

That flatters the movie’s intended audience and may even inspire them to dream big, but it also turns the fetishization of pre-adolescence that is Disney’s (and popular culture’s) way of doing business into something perilously close to scripture. There’s a reason Tomorrowland looks like a bigger version of the theme park ride it’s based on — and also why it looks like the best, most beautiful shopping center in this or any other universe. The narrative is messy and meandering, putting more emphasis on emotional payoffs than driving the plot forward. (It also leads to a somewhat problematic minor thread, as Frank acts like a man scorned whenever Athena is around.) Maybe the ultimate goal of “Tomorrowland” remains obscure because once you know where the story is headed, you realize it’s a familiar tale.

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