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Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Like Smoking, You Have To Hook The Kids Early"
4 stars

Tomorrowland is not a film for cynics. As someone who frequently falls into that category it is hard to push back my instinctual necessity to call the movie on all its faults. While I am not a parent, that would still require me to tell the kid who still lives within me who loves amusement parks and sci-fi fantasies to sit in the corner and be quiet so the adult can talk. It is not an effective manner in which to approach a film review, but Brad Bird's film inspires just that kind of tug-and-pull. Viewing it takes one back to a simpler time when ideas just had to be ideas to inspire a kid to seek out knowledge or the visual extension of another filmmaker. Interpreting it afterwards is a job for the grown up and within that brain comes responsibility and a few more decades of experiences. Yet despite all its flaws, this grown up still comes away from Tomorrowland wishing there was more of it to see and would gladly take that trip.

The film awkwardly begins with a bit of flash-forward narration from inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) who recounts the time in 1964 when he tried to invent a jetpack, took it to the New York World Fair (where Disney's It's A Small World ride was on display) and wound up thrust into a futuristic world by a mysterious little girl named Athena (a spirited Raffey Cassidy.) His story is constantly interrupted by another girl named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) whose own story we are about to get to. Her dad (Tim McGraw) is a laid off NASA engineer and she uses her own intellect nightly to sabotage the plans to dismantle the nearby shuttle launch pad. When she is arrested she finds an added trinket amongst her collected belongings; a pin that upon touch seemingly transports her to the very same world that Frank went to.

As Casey begins to trace the origins of the pin she too crosses paths with Athena, still looking as young as she did 50 years ago. For reasons unknown, both the pin and Athena are targets of robots creepy enough to give the Hall of Presidents a run for its money. Now outrunning laserblasts as well, the pair finally catch up with Frank, now a bitter loner living on a farm where his inventor's spirit has not died but all hope for the future has. Not just because it seems that all the dreamers have gone but because he can actually see the end of the world coming.

This may feel like weighty material for a fanciful production aimed at children but that could because the grownups in us have forgotten just how certain cinematic relics have shaped our own lives. If nothing else, Tomorrowland is designed as a great big memory box of the science fiction efforts that still hold a fond place for us, even those that may have not survived our transition into adulthood. (Frank's relationship with Athena is a clear parallel of that very idea.) The destruction of our planet was the basis for countless narratives ranging from "War of the Worlds" to "Flash Gordon" and if the screenplay by Bird and Damon Lindelof takes a turn to the preachy in its third act, consider it as a nod to the warning messages that concluded films of the atomic era like "The Day The Earth Stood Still" rather than some finger-wagging that will drive the talking heads at Fox News nuts.

The one film not provided its own visual shout-out in the nostalgia shop of sci-fi's past they Casey visits (and if it was, I missed it) is perhaps the one that Tomorrowland owes its greatest influence to. Joe Dante's Explorers (having a 30th anniversary this year that should be celebrated) was a film that celebrated the link between science fiction and science fact while also throwing the audience for a third act loop when it suggested humanity was more fascinated with destruction than progress. Tomorrowland does not just arrive at the same conclusion, it feels like Jor-El standing at the Kryptonian counsel with a bullhorn and cue cards that read "LISTEN IDIOTS!" But with a Dante-esque touch that implements some odd humor, wondrous moments and the kind of '80s "PG" violence that would make kids open their eyes with delight while their parents squint and interpret its appropriateness. (One shock moment even had yours truly wondering about its suitability for younger viewers.) "Explorers" also has the unfortunate history of a studio rushing its production and forcing Dante to stop editing and leaving many subplots on the cutting room or unfilmed entirely. This may be the most glaring connection with "Tomorrowland."

Hardly a rushed production (a five-month shoot concluded in January 2014) the film nevertheless has had ample time for shaping and re-shaping. (The wraparound really feels like an add-on.) The sheer amount of questions one is left with after its two-hour running time is enough to wonder if there's a much longer cut that was trimmed back and could help the Honest Trailers folks fill in the blanks when they have another field day with a Lindelof-credited screenplay. (See: "Prometheus," "Cowboys & Aliens," "World War Z" and "Star Trek Into Darkness.") Things like the true bureaucracy involved in Frank's banishment from the futuristic utopia (for being a Negative Nelly?) by its founder (Hugh Laurie) and how soon the new "Starfighter"-like recruits would realize they are taking a long walk off a short pier as established in one of the clever early bits. The most glaring omission of all is reducing Robertson's promising heroine into a reactionary conduit for the audience rather than an active participant in filling in these very blanks. Watching her ostensibly turn into a "ones and zeroes" plot device in the second act is about as disappointing as Disney's last foray with kids and inventions, "Big Hero 6", turn into just another superhero film. Debate over whether the faults lie in Lindelof's or Bird's draft of the script will rage, but there may be little over who crafted the line "Must I explain everything to you? Can't you just be impressed and move on?"

If Interstellar was Space Mountain, the Matterhorn and Tower of Terror rolled into one then "Tomorrowland" is the Rocket Jets ride (which funny enough was removed in 1997 when the "New Tomorrowland" was crafted.) It's a kids ride; the kind that parents can ride along with and enjoy simply fueled by the smile on their faces. Taking issue with Bird's cynical on-point conclusions from "The Iron Giant's anti-weapon message to "The Incredibles"' "if everyone is special than no one is" is too far into the forest to see the holographic trees. This is the guy, after all, who closed Ratatouille with a love letter to criticism that should also hit close to home here about the simple pleasures of remembrance and the hope that the future can be as vivid as the dreams we project in science fiction. Consider how much has become a reality in the 25 years since "Back to the Future Part II." "Tomorrowland" may not be in the same class as that film, Explorers and in no way reinvents the wheel. But maybe, just maybe, it will inspire one person to try.

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originally posted: 05/20/15 01:42:01
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User Comments

8/04/20 Dr.Lao As oveerhyped as Space Mountain and plodding as the Peoplemover 2 stars
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
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  22-May-2015 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Oct-2015

  22-May-2015 (12A)

  DVD: 13-Oct-2015

Directed by
  Brad Bird

Written by
  Brad Bird
  Damon Lindelof

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

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