Saturday, May 23, 2015


 2.5 / 5 

For 90 minutes, Tomorrowland had me captivated.  For the sake of sharing its unabashedly optimistic vision of a future that never was, for the sake of reliving the Spielbergian charm of its settings and pacing, and with the hope that it was all leading to a climax as gloriously nutty as its concept, I went along with it.

But Tomorrowland winds up in much the same place as the theme-park setting that shares its name, a place that has run out of ideas and lacks the courage of its ambitions.  With a final act that feels cribbed from The Abyss, Tomorrowland winds up as a beautiful, sleek shaggy-dog story, all setup and no punchline.

Still, it's one heck of a setup, one that will likely resonate most with longtime Disney fans -- and director Brad bird and writer Damon Lindelof are clearly fans themselves.  The Disney nut in me felt my heart flutter and my brain spin as Tomorrowland took us back to the legendary 1964 World's Fair, incorporated little notes of the Sherman Bros. "It's a Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow" into its score, and conveyed exactly the right look and feel -- or, at least the one we imagine.  Though his name is barely uttered, Tomorrowland feeds off of the latter-years visions of Walt Disney, who remained defiantly optimistic even while the world flipped its lid and fell off its rocker just about the time he died.

Tomorrowland proceeds from the notion that the Disney vision was exactly right, that the American-led vision of a world filled with sleek, white buildings and lots of angular towers was where we all wanted to head until the damned Sixties and Seventies with their hippies and corporate CEOs mucked it all up.

The spectacularly Utopian vision of the future in Tomorrowland, the kind of future in which men wear jumpsuits and most modes of transportation have the word "hover" in front of them, was one that Walt Disney tried to depict in real life, first with Tomorrowland and then with the impossible (and, it's always been said, slightly sinister) idea of EPCOT, a real-life city of the future.

Tomorrowland approaches all of this with an absolute straight face and no sense of irony.  There's no acknowledgment that the very company that's releasing the film is the same company whose bottom-line-oriented CEOs quashed that idealistic, not-so-vaguely socialist vision because of its economic impossibility.  The future just isn't possible if you also want to make a lot of money.

Yes, this review is rambling, and that's exactly what Tomorrowland does for its first 90 minutes, doing more to convey its story points than actually tell them.  Even if you pay attention very carefully, you will likely have no idea exactly what is happening in Tomorrowland.  In part, that's because the movie is more enamored with the idea of presenting a lot of ideas than actually resolving them.  This may sound familiar to fans of the great TV series Lost, which was guided for a long while by Tomorrowland's Lindelof.  It was a great puzzle-box of a TV show that kept throwing out more and more and more ideas even until the last minute, but couldn't bring itself to wrap them all up.  Tomorrowland falls into the same trap, over and over and over.

The best I understand it, George Clooney's character, Frank Walker, was a little boy with grand ideas in 1964, and during a trip to the World's Fair got an invitation to journey to some parallel-universe futuristic city, but then he lost his hope.  After an extraordinarily long set-up, the movie introduces us to a girl named Cassie (Britt Robertson), who's equally intelligent and optimistic, and also gets a glimpse of this wondrous place, where Space Mountain (but, oddly, given its inspiration, not Spaceship Earth) is an architectural centerpiece.

About every 20 minutes, the plot turns back on itself and heads in a different direction until the screenplay feels like a hopeless jumble.  Eventually, Frank and Cassie and a sassy little British-accented robot make it back to Tomorrowland (apparently that's really its name) and find it in a horrible state of decay, much like the theme-park land or EPCOT Center.

Up until this point, I may not have understood what was happening, but I was reveling in it, having a blast -- the Disney geek and the movie geek in me were both thoroughly entertained, especially by a dazzling scene in which the Eiffel Tower becomes a rocket-launching pad.  In a film filled with visual inventiveness, it's perhaps the high point. But like a roller coaster that climbs and climbs and climbs, it's all downhill from there.

Tomorrowland gets stuck.  Backed into a corner by its own endless cleverness, it has nowhere to go and nothing to do except state its intentions rather than reflect them.  The talky, lumbering final 45 minutes are filled with awkward exposition, as if the moviemakers suddenly discovered that geeing out on Disney-inspired futurism wasn't enough to keep Tomorrowland moving forward.

The Blu-ray release is going to have a lot of bonus material, and that's in large part the problem: Tomorrowland is overstuffed with ideas that never quite expresses in a satisfying, cohesive way.

Viewed May 23, 2015 -- Walt Disney Studios Theater


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