Ever had your hopes, dreams and ambitions crashed by your own father when you were a kid? No? Well, good for you. In my case, that is exactly what happened. You know how you can create a cynical bastard? By doing exactly that.
This then will come as a surprise, as I am not going to be a cynical bastard about this movie. I could easily be and the film itself gives me plenty of opportunities to go all-out Carlin on it, but I won’t. The only reason for that is simply this fact:
It is a movie about potential, about ideas, about the future and how we can make it worthwhile, how to make it a better one.
This makes it a rare gem indeed in the dumpster pile of re-makes, re-boots, sequels, prequels and every other fucking repetition of the same old tired, pointless story we’ve seen time and time over. The story is fresh and bold, convoluted and demanding from the audience the one thing most movies do not these days: TO THINK!!!. It is in fact one of the few movies that is basing the entire plotline around that concept. Human thought – or more to the point, the lack of it – is what will destroy or save the world in the end. And I’m not talking about you thinking about brushing your teeth or that new hot intern at the office.
For those of you who haven’t seen this flick – and judging by its dismal box office numbers that’s a lot of you! – here is the story in a nutshell…a fucking huge one, fit for Scrat from Ice Age.
During the 1964 World’s Fair a young kid tries to promote his invention, a rudimentary jet-pack, to a scientist (played by Hugh Laurie). Laurie immediately crushes the boy’s dream by saying that his invention is good only theoretically, but useless because it doesn’t work. We see in a flashback the boy in a barn with his father. The later one is telling him that it will not work, you cannot make it work. However the kid doesn’t give up and bravely states that he will make it work. When asked by Laurie “What is the point of a jet-pack? What good will it do to society?” our boy replies with the most profound line you have ever heard from a 9-year old: “It will inspire people, if I saw someone flying with a jet-pack I’d know that EVERYTHING is possible“. Take some time for that line to sink in.
Enter Athena, a young girl that finds interest in the boy, gives him a small pin and tells him to follow her. Boy follows her in a boat down a tunnel, pin gets scanned by a laser, opening a secret door that leads to a much larger than Dr. Who’s phone booth, Tardis-like transport pod and presto: Tomorrowland.
Cut to current time, a teenage girl goes all out IMF-Eathan-Hunt on a NASA base sabotaging some equipment at night. Her father is a NASA engineer, about to become unemployed due to budget cut-backs. The girl – with the quite clearly intended as a reference name of Casey Newton – tries to cheer up her father by quoting a well-known Zen story about which side of your worldview wins, the dark wolf of pessimism and cynicism or the white wolf of idealism and optimism. Yes, it’s cheesy and a cliché and it’s being delivered heavy-handedly here, but it is the core of the film, so deal with it and move on. To better understand why our main character is the true idealist, we see her at school listening to all of her teachers describing the world situation in the bleakest of colours – even making references to dystopian worlds such as Brave New World and 1984! The most important part of that scene goes by undeveloped, when Casey asks the almighty important question: What can we do to change it? Nobody addresses this hard-hitting question, missing out on the opportunity to make this film something much larger than just an adventure movie for kids and teens.
The next night she attempts to do the same sabotage, gets arrested and in the precinct receives a strange pin among her belongings. When she touches the pin she immediately switches from our universe to another, with some peculiar side-effects (her momentum in our universe is maintained in the parallel dimension, obstacles in this side effect her on the other side etc). She goes on to explore this new world that looks like something out of a ST:TNG episode on steroids, only for her pin to run out of battery right when she was about to enter a spaceship and fulfill her biggest dream of travelling to the stars.
She locates a shop where the pin was being sold, goes to ask the owners about the artifact and then all hell breaks loose. The pair of owners turn out to be androids from the other side that try to have her vaporized, Athena intervenes and saves her, takes her along and tries to explain the situation while a clean up squad of androids appear at the now destroyed shop, kill 3 policemen in liquid-nitrogen blood and go after Athena and the girl. The little girl informs Cassy that she needs to meet someone and go with him to the other side, where she can change the situation, albeit she never reveals what the situation is.
Enter Frank Walker – George Clooney in one of his most anti-heroic parts since From Dusk till Dawn and Out of Sight. Frank is the kid with the jet-pack, 50 years old now and exiled from Tomorrowland. He’s living in a self-made fortress house in a state of semi-paranoia. When Casey approaches the place she gets attacked by a holographic dog, then blasted by a non-lethal sonic weapon at the front door. Clearly Frank doesn’t like visitors and is not willing to help Sandi in her cause. This does not deter our heroine from camping outside his door the whole day, finally finding a way to lure him outside, enter the place and shut him out. When he gets back to the house events start to proceed at F1-racing cars speed – which is probably why most of the people who have seen this movie didn’t actually like it. Frank gives out tons of exposition in the middle of a battle with the android clean-up squad that followed Sandi to his house. After a frenetic escape through an elaborate array of booby traps and defence devices against robots, Frank and Casey are reunited with Athena.
This is where Clooney’s character shines as the bitter, old and betrayed idealist who had his dreams and aspirations crushed by cruel reality. When he first met Athena he fell head over heels for her, but she forgot to mention that she was merely an android, programmed to recruit the brightest and most promising individuals for Tomorrowland. This betrayal made him lose all hope in the future and to abandon his dream. This and a tiny plot twist that involves..THE END OF THE WORLD!
The trio goes through one of the most inventive and over-the-top sequence of gimmicks – being digitalized in a contraption in order to travel to France via satellite uplink and including the use of the Eiffel tower as a missile launch platform! – to get back to Tomorrowland. One key point of exposition here is the reference to the first Plus Ultra group. The 4 prominent historic figures of Tesla, Eiffel, Edison and Vernes – Wells in the conspiracy theory website – are only mentioned for a brief moment, before our heroes launch themselves into orbit, reach almost to the moon and then plunge back to Earth in the parallel dimension of Tomorrowland. This is crucial information to the plot, the original Ultras started the process of selective evolution of humanity by hand-picking only those who were deemed worthy. What were the standards for that selection? What is the apt test that Frank and Casey took with scores of 41 and 73 and why Casey’s score was the highest? And what does that even mean, is she some kind of super-genious?
And now comes the most important part of the film and I’m sure the one missed by the majority of the audience. When they appear in the now abandoned and desolated spaceport, they are greeted by Tomorrowland’s president, Hugh Laurie’s Nix (a clever innuendo on the devil). Downing the stereotypical bad-guy black garments, he accompanies them to the heart of this dystopic world. A device that operates on tachyonic particles and acts as a time-viewing machine, allowing the user to witness the past as well as the future of the world. Which world is that you are going to ask? OUR world, not the one of Tomorrowland. See, Frank has created this device to keep contact with our parallel world. Now this MacGuffin proclaims that OUR world will be destroyed in 58 days, due to a series of events, ranging from nuclear explosions, to polar ice-cap melting, to industrial pollution (get your shitty facts straight people and chose ONE!). The interesting fact here is that Tomorrowland has become a dystopic society, far from the ideal image that Casey sees at first and yet, it is our world that faces annihilation.
In the best 5 minutes of the film, Hugh Laurie delivers the most important speech. In a House-like delivery, he explains why our world will be destroyed and who is responsible for that. It is our collective don’t-give-a-fuck-about mentality and our stupidity that is responsible for our fall. We see all the warnings around us, but we chose either to ignore them or handle them as if they were a spectacle, something to be shared on Twitter and liked on FB. When Casey and Clooney realize that their connection portal is the one that actually affects people and projects a negative image of the future, effectively creating this future destruction in a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, Nix comes back with the most elitist, cynical response since the Nazis issued their Nuremberg laws. “You were warned, you had your chance but you wasted it. Now you will face the consequences. It’s not our world that will be destroyed, we will be just fine.” But our heroes have a different opinion and they consider this game still in play, even if in overtime.
By destroying the portal-antenna they believe that this negative projection will change and our world will be saved, if the people are un-affected by the barrage of negative influence. In a clumsy and very poorly directed climax, (where Athena uses another MacGuffin and sacrifices herself to prove to Frank that even software is capable of evolving and expressing emotions) they destroy the antenna, averting the apocalypse and bringing the film back to its starting point: Clooney is addressing a bunch of kids standing in a semi-circle in front of him. They are all androids like Athena and their purpose is to find new recruits for Tomorrowland. They are sent through the portal to our world, where they give pins to a variety of characters, from a street musician, a ballet dancer, a physicist to a gardener/possibly biologist. They all cross into Tomorrowland at the same time popping up in the middle of a field with the ultra-modern city in the horizon.
Even though the director decided to give a more PC ending by including many different types of individuals as potential Plus Ultra material, the movie is a comment about selective evolution, verging on eugenics. I haven’t seen a more poignant depiction of an “elitist society” since Gattaca and that one was based on much harder science than this movie. One of the things that impressed me was the ingenious use of ash instead of blood for all the kill scenes – used also in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds ( imagine how different that road massacre scene would have been, if it was directed by Dario Argento… Tom Cruise covered in thick blood from head to toe, Dakota Fanning screaming at the top of her lungs when she sees him..). This kept the rating at PG-13, no blood was shown in a Disney film…yet, this is one hardcore film, having more cold blooded kills ON CAMERA than Terminator 2: Judgement Day!
This was one movie with immense potential, that was wasted as a Disney film. I want to see this directed by Steven Spielberg, rated R and hit all the hard questions. I want this to be a starting point for mature Sci-Fi, for movies that will demand from the audience to think and not leave their brain at the entrance. We need more movies like this one, for every Fast and Furious shit we need three Tomorrowlands, for every Jurassic World we need three Interstellars. I recognize the need for a stupid action-fest of a movie once in a while, but lately this has become the norm and the thought-provoking movies are the exceptions – and by lately I mean after the late 80s- early 90s.
If you made it all the way here I would like to thank you. This post is clearly not a typical movie review, it’s personal. It’s a way for me to express my own frustration and bitterness from having my dreams shattered when I was younger. I am no Tomorrowland material. My skills and contribution to this world are minimal and hardly worth mentioning. But like Jules said to Ringo in that dinner in Pulp Fiction: “I’m trying Ringo..I’m trying really hard to be the shepherd”. My idealistic world came tumbling down when I was a teenager, due to a variety of reasons. I blame my father for not supporting me, but I also blame myself for not being strong enough and committed enough to give 110% on something that I loved. Then again, to this day I haven’t found something that I truly love doing… something like what Bukowski said “..find something that you love and let it kill you”.
This is the point of this movie for me. We must not allow others to destroy our dreams, especially ourselves.
The world needs more dreamers, more inventors, more idealists. There is no Tomorrowland – not yet at least, if we ever become a Class III energy civilization we could possibly create a portal to a parallel universe, but this is still in the realm of dreams – except the one we are living. We all are Tomorrowland material, we just need to embrace our potential and do it!