I am the first to acknowledge that film is a visual medium. I am in the minority opinion on this, but the first thing I care about in a film is not the story, it’s the look. If I want to sink into a really involving, complex story, with layered characters, I can pick up a book. A movie is for taking me somewhere, getting me emotionally involved, riveting me, wowing me somehow with acting or cinematography or any of the other many tools at its disposal, like music, costumes, editing or special effects—and if a great story comes into play, for me, that’s icing on the cake.
However, all that being said, there is such a thing as cheapening the ideal.
I will always applaud a filmmaker who attempts greatness and fails, like Cloud Atlas. The Wachowski siblings made that film from the heart and even though it was a disaster, it was an honest attempt at visionary filmmaking. What I cannot applaud, however, is when a filmmaker puts out a film that has every potential to be a visionary concept film but ends up playing like a hollow corporate publicity reel instead.
There seemed to be some reason for optimism going into Tomorrowland, the new fantasy adventure film from Disney. It’s directed by Brad Bird, who’s had success with animation (The Incredibles) and with live action (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), so he has straddled both worlds of action and whimsy and would seem the prime candidate to navigate a futuristic adventure tale. And it’s co-written by the Hollywood lightning rod, Damon Lindelof, who every fan of pop culture either loves or hates due to his responsibility for the television shows Lost and The Leftovers, as well as his screenplays for the loved-or-hated films Star Trek into Darkness and Prometheus. That doesn’t sound like a positive, but Lindelof certainly has his fans and many were excited at the notion of Bird and Lindelof coming together—a cinematic version of the dark mixing with the light, if you will. Add to it the casting of movie star extraordinaire George Clooney in the lead and Disney was off to the races, happy to have its big summer family movie ready for release on Memorial Day weekend, which would tie in nicely with the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland, which just happens to fall on that same weekend. Coincidence? Not for the Disney marketing machine. Or, apparently, for Bird and Lindelof either.
Tomorrowland has Disney written all over it. Literally, figuratively and emotionally. Let me make this clear: I have no problem with Disney. Like anyone in their mid-40’s, I was raised on Disney. From Bambi to Herbie to Peter Pan to the Rescuers to 101 Dalmatians to The Shaggy D.A., Disney movies were such a loved part of my childhood and feel ingrained in my DNA, almost as if they helped shape who I am as much as my parents did. So it is even more appalling to me when I see that Disney brand cheapened the way it is in Tomorrowland, a film so shallow, blatant, cheesy and lazy that I wasn’t so much angered as I was bored and confused by it. It is a high concept film with nothing underneath. Quite frankly, I was bored and I just didn’t care about anyone or what was going to happen. So much time and effort (and money) was spent just trying to get the audience to go “wow!” that the answers to a key question were forgotten: “why?” Instead of a story, it’s chock full of moments from the Gee-Whiz School of Acting, overblown CGI action sequences that look more fun in the trailer, and a here’s-what-emotion-you-are-supposed-to-feel-HERE score from the normally reliable Michael Giacchino. Did I mention it was cheesy? Did I mention it was preachy and idealistic? Oh, just wait.
Subtlety is not Tomorrowland’s strong suit. It is high-concept and high ideals, but it’s all talk—literally. There is a sequence towards the end that is a five-minute monologue that tells you exactly what the moral of the story is. Here, let us hit you over the head, in case you missed it the last hour and a half.
Overall, Tomorrowland is just massively disappointing, mainly for all it could have been. I love big ideas, but when I see them fail to be carried out with any imagination, it saddens me. Tomorrowland is more concerned with the big effects and the fun action sequences than it is with spending any time creating characters with depth or telling a story that makes one bit of sense. There’s actually a line in the movie where George Clooney’s character says “just be amazed and move along”— or something to that effect. It feels like that’s exactly what the filmmakers were saying to the audience.
For me, the only amazing thing about Tomorrowland was the fact that I didn’t walk out. If you love all things Disney, blindly and without question, then you’ll love this movie. If, however, you are interested in watching something that’s not a two-hour commercial, or anything with some semblance of story, character, dialogue that doesn’t come out of a Crackerjack box or a movie that might not yell at you (literally) at the end of the movie, you’ll want to spend your time and money on something else this summer. Anything else.