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Overall Rating
3.05

Awesome: 4.76%
Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average33.33%
Pretty Bad33.33%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Tomorrowland
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by Peter Sobczynski

"I've Seen The Future, Brother, And It Is Meh. . ."
2 stars

With the obvious exception of last week's "Mad Max: Fury Road," it is almost a certainty that you will not see another film this summer--at least in the nine-figure budget hoped-for blockbuster category--as ambitious and deeply personal as the family fantasy epic "Tomorrowland." One of the few big films of the season not to have its roots in a comic book property or an older screen franchise, this is a case of a filmmaker, Brad Bird, using the credibility that he has accrued over the years from critics, who have waxed ecstatic over practically everything he has done to date, and audiences, who have similarly embraced his work to the tune of hundreds of millions in box-office grosses, to swing for the fences with something near and dear to his heart and all of the considerable resources required to bring this particular vision to life. The only problem is that the final product just isn't that good--despite Bird's enormous talent and ambition and despite the obvious effort that went into making it, it just never quite pulls together into the kind of groundbreaking and mind-blowing cinematic experience that Bird was hoping to deliver and that which most audience members (including yours truly) were dearly hoping to receive.

If the name Brad Bird does not immediately set off bells of recognition, his filmography certainly will do the trick. He began in animation and got his first big break when he collaborated with Tim Burton on "Family Dog," an episode of Steven Spielberg's overhyped mid-80's anthology series that proved to be one of the few genuine high points in the history of the show. From there, he worked as a consultant on "The Simpsons" and directed two celebrated episodes--the one where Krusty gets framed for armed robbery and where Krusty is reunited with his estranged father--before making his feature film debut with "The Iron Giant," a film that was not nearly the financial success that it deserved to be but which received rave reviews and eventually developed a devoted cult following. His work did not go unnoticed in the animation community and he was eventually recruited by Pixar to make "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," two enormously popular films with critics and audiences alike that would win the Oscar for Animated Feature in their respective years. From there, he moved into live-action filmmaking--a dodgy endeavor in and of itself (as anyone who saw "John Carter," another undertaking by a director moving from ink & paint to flesh & blood and getting lost in the process, can attest) and even more so when the project in question turned out to be another installment in a past-its-prime franchise for which there was little noticeable nostalgia. And yet, "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" turned out to be both a surprise financial success and an even-more-surprising artistic one that was smart, amusing and thrilling beyond all reasonable expectations.

In other words, if you are a film financier ready to gamble a couple of hundred million bucks on someone likely to both return that investment and to make a good movie in the process, Brad Bird is the kind of filmmaker with whom you want to go all in. That was presumably the rationale behind Disney's decision to fund a hugely expensive film inspired by one of their theme park attractions and the idealistic notions that it once represented about the not-too-distant future and our place in it. It all makes sense in theory but in practice, this is one of those weird misfires where the passion that got it made in the first place never quite makes it up there onto the screen--it has been made with the best of intentions and we all know the basic element governing the construction of the road to Hell, don't we?

Following a framing device so awkward that it feels like it was thrown into the mix at the last second in an attempt to smooth over some narrative hiccups in post-production, "Tomorrowland" kicks off in 1964 as young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) arrives at the World's Fair in New York to take part in an invention contest with his latest creation, a jet pack that almost, kinda-sorta works. Though the almost, kinda-sorta aspect causes his creation to be rejected by the man in charge (Hugh Laurie), his efforts catch the eye of a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who gives him a mysterious "T" pin that allows him access to the secret entrance to Tomorrowland, a futuristic city filled with tall buildings, helpful robots and the sort of wonder that used to be a common motif in science fiction before everything took a turn for the cynical in the manner of "Blade Runner" and the like.

Before we can learn anything specific about what Tomorrowland or why Frank has been taken there, we are zapped to the present day to be introduced to Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a super-smart high school student who maintains a certain degree of hopefulness regarding the future in the face of the bleakness in the world but who is nevertheless feisty enough to attempt to sabotage plans to demolish the NASA station at Cape Canaveral where her father (Tim McGraw) works. Before long, she too receives one of those pins and when she touches it, she is instantly zapped into Tomorrowland and the delights contained within that range from flying monorails to multi-level synchronized swimming teams. (Don't ask.) Unfortunately, Casey only gets a few minutes in paradise before being zapped back into the present. Casey becomes obsessed with returning there and set off on a journey to uncover the mystery behind the pin. Before long, she also encounters the still-young Athena and they go off on a journey that eventually leads to the now-adult Frank (George Clooney), a total recluse who is still bitter about being exiled from Tomorrowland years earlier after making a discovery with serious effects for the future of our world--a discovery that, as it happens, Casey may be the only person capable of overcoming provided that she can get back to the future world.

I won't say anything more about the details of the plot, partly to preserve at least some of its mysteries (indeed, this is one of those rare blockbusters that has managed to keep many of its narrative secrets under wraps for the most part) and partly because neither Bird nor co-writer Damon Lindelof seem to have figured out exactly what they are trying to do here. The initial scenes are intriguing enough in the way that they set viewers up for a heady and ambitious narrative but the second act bogs down into an extended chase scene in which our heroes struggle to get to Tomorrowland while being pursued by a group of oddball cyborgs that are willing to destroy anything in the path (including a group of cops) to their quarry. (BTW--although there is no actual blood or gore to be had, parents of little kids should be warned that some of the action beats may be a little too intense for their charges.) This wouldn't be a problem if this stuff happened to be exciting but outside of maybe two genuinely magical sequences (Frank and Casey's escape from his booby-trapped house and the revelation that one of the most famous landmarks in the world holds the key to returning to Tomorrowland), none of the action beats are particularly interesting or imaginative in their staging--during one fight in a memorabilia store, I was more interested in the laserdisc of "The Black Hole" lying on a counter than in the chaos going on around it.

It is in the final act where "Tomorrowland" completely loses its way and becomes little more than a jumble of half-baked ideas. The central conceit--that young people, with their thirst for knowledge combined with an unforced optimism towards the future, are mankind's last and greatest hope to continue to survive and thrive--is a sound one but little of this is borne out in the story itself, which is more concerned with the bickering banter between Frank and Casey and Frank's reunion with Athena, which now unfortunately plays like "Jim Henson's Ex Machina Babies" than anything else, than in bringing its basic premise to life. We are told that only Casey has the power to save the day but the script never quite gets around to fully explaining what it is that has gone wrong in the first place and why Casey is the only one who can stop it before all is lost. I liked the fact that the central character in a hugely expensive fantasy film is a smart girl but it does her no favors by essentially making her a bystander to her own story in the final reels.

Another problem with "Tomorrowland," frankly, is Tomorrowland itself. After that promising that of this future paradise that we are given in the early going, too much of the remaining action takes place in our comparatively humdrum and jet pack-free existence. When we finally get to spend some real time there, the magic is gone in both the story and in the storytelling. We never get much of a sense of what makes the place tick, the great ambitions that once drove it and the disappointments that have caused it fall into disrepair--what begins as a more palatable version of "Walden" eventually turns into what often feels like a slightly more benign version of Galt's Gulch from "Atlas Shrugged" where our heroes can preach endlessly about the importance of mankind to step up and take responsibility for itself instead of hastening its own destruction. This is bad enough but it is followed by a concluding scene that I will not describe except to note that it fails so completely in its attempt to send viewers out on an inspirational note that it boggles the mind that no one stopped to realize just how badly it was coming off.Then again, considering that co-writer Lindelof also helped to create "Lost" and worked on the scripts for the likes of "Cowboys & Aliens," "Prometheus," "Star Trek: Into Darkness" and "World War Z," perhaps it isn't that much of a surprise to discover that it starts off on an interesting note only to fall apart long before its ending. (Yes, I loved "Prometheus" and still do but I will admit that the screenplay is its weakest element by far.)

Although I cannot recommend "Tomorrowland" by any stretch of the imagination, it should be noted that there are things of interest to it. The performances by Robertson, Clooney (who is in the film far less than the commercials might suggest) and Cassidy are good, especially when they are all together, and there are a few visual flourishes here and there that are lovely in their own individual ways. Sadly, it just never manages to cohere into the kind of game-changing film that Bird presumably set out to make in the first place and ends up playing like a lesser version of Joe Dante's criminally underseen "Explorers," a film that, despite the enormous compromises that it endured in its voyage to the big screen, demonstrated more of a sense of wonder and curiosity about the future in the face of a less-than-inspiring present that this one does. I still admire Bird and his enormous ambitions as a filmmaker--I only wish that they had been put in the service of a project more worthy of them than this one.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=26981&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/21/15 08:13:08
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User Comments

6/01/15 Man Out Six Bucks NWO wetdream depopulated and inhabited with terminators 2 stars
5/27/15 Bob Dog Great despite the lack of editing! 5 stars
5/22/15 PAUL SHORTT CHIC AND VISUALLY IMPRESSIVE 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  22-May-2015 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Oct-2015

UK
  22-May-2015 (12A)

Australia
  28-May-2015
  DVD: 13-Oct-2015


Directed by
  Brad Bird

Written by
  Brad Bird
  Damon Lindelof

Cast
  George Clooney
  Judy Greer
  Britt Robertson
  Hugh Laurie
  Kathryn Hahn
  Lochlyn Munro



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