Tomorrowland (2015) Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy. Directed by Brad Bird. Screenplay by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird. Produced by Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, Jeffrey Chernov Run Time: 130 minutes. U.S. Color. Science Fiction, Mystery
Disney continues to mine its amusement park attractions (Pirates of the Caribbean, Country Bear Jamboree, Haunted Mansion) for film ideas, this time out it is Tomorrowland. Unlike other areas of the park that seem to have rigid and never-changing themes, like Tom Sawyer’s Island and the Jungle Cruise, you never supposed to know what you’ll find in Tomorrowland. This is one part of the park that seems to be ever changing, as promises are made about the future that don’t come true and are replaced by new ones. Myself, I’m still waiting for the monorail to take me home to my Monsanto-made house.
From this looseness, a film was crafted starring George Clooney and directed by Brad Bird, who’s previous films have included The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Going into this movie, I had really tried to avoid reading anything about it. I had seen the intriguing trailers before other films, but I wasn’t anxiously anticipating this one.
Time travel is usually a story that gets told when you’ve run out of other ideas, but in this case, Tomorrowland really isn’t so much the future, but rather another existence that is not dependent on our Present. And yes, the connection is made to Disneyland as well as other Disney-owned properties, some still to come. It is a Small World After All.
Some of the film’s high concepts didn’t completely gel for me, chief amongst them being the idea that our thoughts about the future are somehow controlled by the future. There is plenty cinematic mumbo jumbo say-it-fast-and-don’t-think-about-it-too-hard-concepts that we’re fed and supposed to understand. The film sort of stumbles when it tries to explain itself, but that seems to be the expected considering Damon Lindelof, who was the co-showrunner for the overly complicated TV series Lost, had a hand in the writing and production of the film.
Being a summer film, there are a lot of special effects (expect a wall of names if you watch the credits). The film sets out to amaze, and does, though sometimes the reason for them is lost. Fantastical inventions that seem to have both an ill-defined purpose, but also multiple ways it can be used. And that seems to be the problem with Tomorrowland, it seems to overreach, but you’re never sure what it is reaching for.
While most of the “science” may be hard to follow and swallow, this is really a film about relationships and the possibilities of positive thinking about the future. Despite the many special effects that dominate much of the movie, the strength of the film is the relationships and for that it takes actors and not special effects technicians. And this is the best part of the movie.
Clooney has built a fine track record as an actor. Perhaps the closest thing to a modern-day Cary Grant, Clooney is not only an actor, but a director and producer. In this film, he plays Frank Walker, boy genius turned adult outcast. He is a little too prepared for any possibility to be believable. He seems to meet his match with two women in his life.
Athena (Raffey Cassidy) has known Frank since he was a young boy and theirs is a very difficult relationship to define. As an actress, Cassidy seems to be at the beginning of what promises to be a very long and interesting career. Athena is one of those unpredictable characters, whom the writers play a little fast and loose with. They set certain parameters for her and violate them whenever the story requires it.
The other woman to enter Frank’s life is Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), whom Athena has recruited. We see that’s she’s very computer savvy, but that’s not why Athena is interested in her. Unlike Frank, Casey is less an easy to define genius, but more of an optimist about the future. Her power seems to be that she can think things through that you think Frank would have, but hasn’t. While there is no romance between them, their teaming up is crucial to the film.
If you’ve been missing him since the end of his long-running House TV series, Hugh Laurie is back as David Nix. Nix is the governor of Tomorrowland. Like Clooney, Laurie has become one of those actors that can be counted on to make the most of the role he’s given, even though sometimes his talents seem to be wasted. Another in a long line of British-accented movie villains, Nix represents the ill-defined nature of Tomorrowland, which is less a time, but more of a conceptual place.
Even though I was not really drawn into the message the film was preaching, I still felt emotionally involved. Brad Bird manages to pull off a difficult trick, not drawing me into the story, but still giving me a connection to the characters.
Some of the power of the movie is dissipated by the form the storytelling takes. Precarious and dangerous are only momentary, as we know from the beginning that Frank and Casey will make it. Still, towards the end of the film, I found myself near tears about what transpires.
Tomorrowland is not without its flaws, but still it is an interesting. If you like Brad Bird or George Clooney you will no doubt want to see this film. And even though they’ve left the story open-ended, let’s hope they eschew the temptation to make a sequel. A little ill-conceived, once around the track was enough for this passenger. Tomorrowland is not quite an E-ticket ride.