Matthew Kresal goes for a ride into Tomorrowland...
Tomorowland (or as it was originally titled, 1952) has been much talked about for awhile now. Despite a drip and drab social media campaign that dropped hints about the film, little had been revealed about it until close to its release date, which added an air of mystery to it. Opening this weekend with a cast including George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, the latest film from director Brad Bird (who also directed The Incredibles) looks to be an intriguing piece of work. Is it though?
It's certainly got it's share of good performances. Though Clooney has top billing, the real star of the film is Britt Roberston as the young and optimistic Casey. Living in times that stand in stark contrast to her world view, she becomes the soul of the film with everything literally revolving around her. Robertson wonderfully portrays both a sense of awe and also believability as she is thrust into a world which can be as threatening as it is awe inspiring.
Contrasting with her is Clooney as Frank Walker. The film opens with Walker as a boy genius at the 1964 World's Fair (played by the delightful Thomas Robinson) and it is through him that we're introduced to the titular Tomorrowland. From there we, and Casey, find him as a reclusive and cynical adult who she forces to confront his past, and possibly our future. Clooney, who has always seemed to be a bit out of time anyways, is perfect casting for the role, and his world weariness makes for a wonderful contrast to Robertson's Casey. Watching the interactions between the two of them is one of the film's many highlights.
That's not to undersell the rest of the cast. There's Laurie in a role that's hard to easily define but which he fits perfectly, despite his limited amount of screen time which largely comes in the film's last act. Looking like a throwback to live action Disney protagonists of the 1950s and 60s is Raffey Cassidy as Athena, though the role she plays is quite different to any of those characters. The cast also includes Tim McGraw and Pierce Gagnon as Casey's family, Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key as a pair of interesting characters, plus sci-fi fans might spot Stargate franchise actors Paul McGillion, David Nykl and Garry Chalk in small roles. Together they form a nice ensemble that populates the film and surrounds its lead actors.
The highlights of Tomorrowland might be in its production values. The production design and costumes range from a wonderful recreation of the 1964 World's Fair (and a couple of Disney related attractions there), to the near future, before giving us glimpses of Tomorrowland itself. The results are a wonderful mixing of past with present, retro views of the future with a world quite similar to the one we live in now. In terms of design, Tomorrowland itself is a feast for fans of the genre with its wonderful use of everything from jet packs to 1950s rockets. Adding to that atmosphere is the score from composer Michael Giacchino which musically encapsulates what the film does visually while also properly underscoring events unfolding onscreen. The results are a feast for the viewer's eyes and ears.
Tomorrowland is also something that seems increasingly rare: a film you can take the entire family to. While it features plenty of action sequences, there's no real gunplay or gore. The film also proves that one can do an effective science fiction/action film without resorting to dropping foul language in every other piece of dialogue. The results are oddly refreshing to say the least, especially as Tomorrowland counteracts its sometimes dark themes with just the right amount of well timed humor. All of which is important because of what the underlying message of the film is.
More than anything, Tomorrowland is a film about optimism and hope. It's safe to say we live in cynical (if not outright depressing) times where it seems that everything around us is out to kill us and that the world is going to hell. Tomorrowland calls back with nostalgia to a time when that wasn't the case and, using Clooney's Frank Walker character, and shows us how we made the journey from optimistic futurism to the dystopian-fearing world we live in. Yet, through Robertson's Casey, the film shows that maybe we can recover that hope and start moving again. It's a message that seems to be working its way into popular media in recent times, including both the galaxy spanning Interstellar and the time altering antics of X-Men: Days Of Future Past from last year, yet I feel this film expresses that message better than either of those films. It may wallow in that sentiment but it's better for doing so.
None of which is to say that it's perfect though. The film's pacing seems a bit off somehow, with the script by Bird and Damon Lindelof seeming to rush from one bit of spectacle to another. The film raises a lot of questions but only provides suitable answers for some of them, leading to characters and subplots that are underdeveloped (such as Laurie's character for example). Weirdly though, especially given the message at the film's heart, that seems almost forgivable. Bird, his cast and crew are taking us on a ride and we are invited to settle in for it with the underlying message being more important that the plot itself.
In the final analysis, while Tomorrowland perhaps has its faults, the positives far outweigh them. From its performances, strong visuals and stirring score, it calls back to the future that might have been while also addressing the world that we live in now. It's a tale of optimism and hope with a message we ought to be embracing. One can only hope that we do.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.