IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 130 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1964, a young Frank Walker attends the New York World’s Fair with his failed jetpack invention and attracts the attention of a young girl called Athena who gives him a pin with a ‘T’ symbol and tells him to follow her and some others aboard the fair’s “It’s A Small World’ attraction. He’s transported to a futuristic cityscape called Tomorrowland where his jetpack actually works for a bit. In 2008, teenage girl and science enthusiast Casey Newton, busy trying to sabotage the machines that are dismantling the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, finds another pin which has been secretly given to her by Athena, who hasn’t aged a day since 1964. She is briefly transported to Tomorowland before her timer expires. Athena suggests to Casey that she find Frank because he knows how to get back to Tomorrowland….
Tomorrowland is one of those films that you want to love because it’s idealistic and positive and seems to be another example of an original product which doesn’t seem to be bringing in the crowds in a film world where remakes, sequels and bloody superheroes seem to be dominant and all people are interested in, though actually it borrows from a great deal of sources. There are indeed times when it just manages to soar and provide fine escapist entertainment with a bit of a brain, but overall it’s a mixed bag and something of a mess, which will come as no surprise when the screenplay is co-written by that hack Damon Lindelof [Prometheus, Word War Z], who still doesn’t have a clue how to properly structure a story and finish it well. How this guy is an ‘A’ list writer I don’t know. Here he has a terrific basic premise full of ideas along the way, but his script, even if co-written by director Brad Bird, really needed some considerable work on it before it even came close to fulfilling its potential and becoming the basis for a satisfying film, and unsatisfying Tomorrowland is in quite a big way, not at all because it’s not very good but because parts of it and some of the things in it are very good indeed but the rest of the film, while usually entertaining, just doesn’t live up the good things and badly lets the side down.
The way the story is begun is a little awkward but certainly unusual, with one of the two main lead characters starting to record his part of the tale before the other one takes over because her telling would be far more positive. The brief recreation of the 1950’s is good and one feels like cheering when Frank finally gets his jetpack to work before the citizens of Tomorrowland. There’s one big problem with the sequence though – Tomorowland itself doesn’t look like anything special, especially disappointing when the trailers for the film seemed to suggest that we would see some really amazing stuff. It’s just a boringly generic and soulless melding of various futuristic cities we’ve seen in films over the years. Surely all the scientists and inventors and dreamers who live there would have built something more impressive? But I’m getting ahead of myself, and actually from here on the film really does become pretty good for at least an hour.
There’s a genuine sense of wonder as Casey visits briefly Tomorowland and then tries to find out what it is and why it exists. The film has a rather charming feel reminiscent of some of the great 80’s family movies, and also becomes quite funny when Casey teams up with Athena, who is, and we learn this very early on so I’m not counting it as a spoiler, a robot. Amusing robot characters who have, or try to have, human traits, are a dime a dozen but this one is especially fun, especially with the very sharp acting of little Raffey Cassidy, who has already well played younger versions of Snow White and Angelique in Dark Shadows and is definitely one to watch. She reminds me of a very young Saoirse Ronan. Anyway, Casey and Athena are a great team and they visit a shop which leads to a fight scene with some villainous androids which ought to have any sci-fi fan grinning like a Cheshire cat as sci-fi movie props like Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still and an R2D2 are used in the brawl. Unfotunately Bird employs too much shakycam here, making parts of the sequence hard to make out, though thankfully he doesn’t use this odious, stupid device anyway else so we should be thankful for that!
The film settles in to becoming something of a chase movie for some time, and there’s a a fantastic moment where a bath shot into the air allows Frank and Casey to escape the baddies for a while, a scene done without cuts which is rare these days. There’s also a wonderful section, lasting several minutes, when Casey wonders around Tomorrowland and the camera seemingly refuses to cut, just content to explore the sights and sounds just like Casey. Michael Giacchino’s music, which is impressive throughout and easily one of the incredibly busy composer’s best scores, is especially good here as it transmits a real sense of awe, and almost makes us forgive the fact that what we’re seeing isn’t actually anything special. The variable CGI doesn’t help either, with a laughably unconvincing train being the worst offender. I mentioned in my Poltergeist review how too much is being done with CGI these days and it’s also pertinent to this film, where some model work here and there would have really helped, but no, everything has to be blood CGI. There are a few impressive sights, like a rocket taking off from inside the Eiffel Tower, but the action is disappointingly repetitive and small scale and the story just goes off the rails in the final third as the writers just didn’t know how to climax matters and have to shove some stuff in there which seems like it’s almost come out the blue.
This film really does have a great central message – that if you stop seeing the negatives and start to believe in the positives, than change is possible, and minds need to be opened and inspired to create whatever they desire. However there are times when it seems more like Green propaganda, the filmmakers failing to realise that such messaging works better when seeming like a part of the natural part of the fabric of a movie story [take Interstellar or Mad Max: Fury Road] than having characters shove it down our throats. Tomorrowland is often heartfelt and sincere, and there are a few times where it is genuinely clever, but it sometimes does things in a cack-hander manner and leaves some of its most interesting aspects, like a strange love story involving Frank, which some have called paedophilic but which isn’t [the moaning about excessive violence is ridiculous too, unless you really do love your robots] really if people will just stop and think about it, too much on the sidelines. The film really needed to be another 20 mins or so longer for its story to flow more naturally.
Clooney and Robertson are fine and Hugh Laurie makes the most of a poorly written villain role. There is a lot to like in Tomorrowland, but while I was watching it, and I can’t believe I’m saying this and even that I had these thoughts, I not only often thought of how an alternative version of the story would do things, and better, but started to hope that one day this alternative version could be made. There’s certainly a reasonable amount of fun to be had with the film, but it promised, and should have been, so much more. In the end, the film it most resembles to me is the equally loony, but honest, Jupiter Ascending, which isn’t really that bad a thing I suppose, and helps gives it a certain quirkiness and charm that in years to come may make it seem more appealing than, say, all these identikit Marvel pictures. And it does try hard, even if it doesn’t always do it well, to inspire and get kids to think and create rather than to fight and destroy.