One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Cult-Movie Review: Tomorrowland (2015)
(Watch out for spoilers!) When
I was just a student in kindergarten -- way back in 1975 and 1976 -- I read (or
perhaps saw) an interview with Jimmy Carter, who was running for President at
this interview, he discussed the (distant) year 2000, and the possibility that
no cars would be needed; that in the future we’d all be riding in monorails
from destination to destination.
exact details are difficult to conjure today, but I’ve always remembered
connecting (at least in my mind) Carter and futuristic mass transit. I imagined
a future of glittering cities, zooming monorails, and spires that stretched to
the heavens themselves.
roughly the same time, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Space: 1999 (1975 -1977) also
envisioned an amazing future with reusable spaceships called Eagles, and a fully-functional,
self-sufficient moon base, named Alpha.
younger self was certain, absolutely
certain, that the near future was -- to coin a phrase -- going to be
back, perhaps it has been fantastic, in a way, with the development of the
Internet, iPhones, and so on.
the “real future” simply hasn’t been the Space Age Wonder that I imagined as a
kid, either. Not even close.
span encompassing the mid-1970s-through-today hasn’t been some glorious ascent
into that Tomorrow, but rather a period embodied by series of crises, storms, sputters,
Impeachment of a President.
Second Iraq War
and on it goes: a depressing litany of disasters and set-backs.
our politicians endlessly pander to the lowest common denominator and score “gotcha” points wherever they can rather
than taking steps to actually invest in a better tomorrow. The politicians
investigate each other, and they launch ad hominem attacks on their opponents…and the result?
future of monorails and moon bases looks further distant now -- in 2015 -- than
it did when I was six years old. So I bequeath to my nine year old son, Joel, a
future that looks more hopeless, more dangerous, than the one I grew up in.
job, humanity. Heckuva job.
my delight, the Brad Bird science fiction movie Tomorrowland (2015) is
all about the malaise or dissatisfaction that many of my generation feel with
the “future” that we’ve endured since we were kids.
fact, Tomorrowland speaks trenchantly to two generations about this
idea of the future, and what it can still be, if only we help it to bloom.
first is the generation that is young now.
film reminds young kids of today (like my son), to keep dreaming good, bold
dreams, because before that future can become real, someone must first envision
ways captivating and energetic,Tomorrowlandis about recruiting the architects of tomorrow in the realms of
both science and art, and allowing them a space to let their dreams take
the second focus of the picture is my generation, which -- let’s face it -- is largely
disillusioned by modern mankind’s lack of progress since we set foot on the
moon for the first time, in 1969.
Clooney plays a character in the film named Frank Walker who was a kid in the
sixties (a decade or so before I came up…), and imagined a Space Age Tomorrow.
he saw those idealistic dreams wiped away by a dark reality, replaced by the
promise of impending doomsday. He has lost faith in the possibilities of
the character representing my generation, Frank, must finally get over his disappointments
and failures so that he can perform one crucial act: gift a better future to the
first generation I described above, my son’s.
Frank is cynical, caustic, and guarded -- at least at first -- unwilling to
believe in the dream again, until the right dreamer awakens those old, buried
feelings of hope within his psyche.
person, Casey Newton (Britt Richardson) also reminds him that he’s done what --
as a child -- he would have considered unforgivable: he’s given up.
calling-out the hopeless feelings of my generation -- while simultaneously tasking
it to care-take the next generation -- Tomorrowland weaves an optimistic tale
about what, even now, can still be our reality: a better future than the one we see routinely promised in the dystopian
fiction and visual entertainments of the 2010s.
that we don’t have to resign ourselves to a future like the one in The
Day After Tomorrow (2004), or to an endless series of “Hunger Games.”
is that rare bird: an inspiring science fiction film that is joyous, so alive
with the possibilities of the future that it refills the half-empty well of
your hopes and dreams, and reminds audiences that the world is still worth saving.
If not for your own personal future, then at least for those who come after
my reckoning, we need a film like Tomorrowland at least once in a
while to remind people that fixing the world’s problems is just one dream -- or
one invention -- away.
the film’s lingo, we just need to feed the right wolf; not the one representing
despair and destruction, but the one representing hope and light.
a much more grounded scale, Tomorrowlandis also fascinating as a kind of summation or Master’s thesis on
Walt Disney science fiction movie history, featuring clever nods to The
Black Hole (1979) and The Rocketeer (1991), among other
films. So this is movie that not only imagines what the future could be, but
remembers, faithfully, our past dreams of the future too.
old movies provide us a kind of continuity, in a way. They remind us that we,
as a species, must always dream about the next tomorrow (land). Those older
dreams may fade, or be exposed as silly, but the act of dreaming about a better
tomorrow must remain a constant.
world is ending. It is certain. It is unavoidable.”
being arrested for trying to prevent the demolition of Cape Canaveral, American
teenager Casey Newton (Britt Richardson) is gifted with a mysterious pin, one
apparently given out only at the World’s Fair in 1964. The pin is emblazoned
with the letter “T” for the attraction, Tomorrowland.
learns that when she touches the pin, she travels, at least momentarily, to an
alternate world where the problems of population, technology, starvation,
obesity, and even star travel have been resolved. Trains fly around Tomorrowland, as do
commuters…on rocket packs.
investigates the history of the Tomorrowland pin at a nostalgia store called “Blast
from the Past,” and is attacked by two robots in human form there. She is unexpectedly rescued by Tomorrowland’s
recruiter, Athena (Rafey Cassidy), a robot in the form of a little girl.
takes Casey to meet disillusioned Frank Walker (Clooney), a man who has given
up on the positive vision of Tomorrowland because of prediction that the world
will be destroyed in 58 days.
meeting Casey, Frank believes that she may be the one to “fix” the world, and
sets about getting her to Tomorrowland in a new way, since her pin is no longer
new way to Tomorrowland, however, involves a rocket embedded in the Eiffel
Tower, one dreamed up by Eiffel, Tesla, Edison and Jules Verne…
hard to have ideas. It’s easy to give up.”
an intriguing scene, early in Tomorrowland, wherein Casey and
Athena visit a sci-fi collectible/comic-book store called Blast from the Past.
we see toy robots from yesteryear such as Tomy’s Omnibot, toy spaceships such
as The U.S.S. Enterprise and Kenner’s Millennium Falcon, as well as posters for
Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and even a Planet of the Apes board
sound-track for The Black Hole (1979) -- with artwork featuring the robots
V.I.N.Cent and Maximillian -- is also visible in several shots, placed prominently
on a counter.
Black Hole, as readers may remember, was Walt Disney’s first PG
science fiction film, and Tomorrowland mirrors it with two
intriguing allusions. The first involves a giant robot which, like Maximillian
Black Hole, possesses propellers for hands.
the second case, Tomorrowland’s key nemesis, Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie), suffers
the same accident as the earlier film’s villain: Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian
Schell). Specifically, a wall-sized control panel of sorts falls on him,
pinning him down. Two different eras;
two villains aided by propeller-wielding robots and almost killed by the
technology that they covet. That must be more than coincidence.
scene, set in the miraculous Tomorrowland, features a character
flying about on a kind of fly-by-night rocket or jet pack, and the soaring
imagery will remind any genre fan of Disney’s ill-fated (but delightful) entry
in the superhero cinema sweepstakes of yesteryear: The Rocketeer (1991).
bring up, or reference, two films that are not regarded as hits (and yet are
to remind us, at least a little that not all visions of the future -- visions of
sentient robots or high-flying superheroes -- succeed, prove popular, or can even
be considered prophetic.
we don’t stop dreaming about those futures, or the possibilities suggested by
such films.Indeed, Tomorrowland -- a
commercial failure -- likely finds itself in the same boat as those
aforementioned Disney films. It is a film, like those, that seems out of step
with other visions of “tomorrow,” but which, like The Black Hole and The
Rocketeer will come to be appreciated, in years to come, as a film that
is beloved by science fiction fans and may even inspire the next generation of
inventors and engineers.
terms of real, not imagined history, Tomorrowland also gives the end of
hope -- embodied in the villain, -- a name: Nix.
submit that this name, Nix not only means to veto or forbid, describing the
governor’s function in the film, and his refusal to save the Earth for the
The name is also an abbreviation, of sorts, for a former American leader: Nixon.No discredit or antagonism is intended
towards the man, or the President, but I would suggest that it was during his
presidency that the tide of public opinion turned away from the Space Age. We
landed on the moon in 1969, only months after he took office. But from there,
the downhill slide began. We were locked in Vietnam. We had oil shocks due to OPEC
rationing. And Watergate made so many of our fellow citizens lose faith in
government as a force for good in the world.
is a leader who similarly takes the dimension of creativity and wonder from its
zenith or apex -- in 1964 -- to its abandonment and ruin in 2015. He’s a figure
who shepherds over the collapse of idealism and dreams.
have read that some people wish Tomorrowland featured more time in
that dimension of creativity (a dimension that is away from politics, greed,
and bureaucracy, where dreamers can dream without limits) Yet I would argue
that the film’s judicious use of that space is just right. Dreamers can’t access the future on a regular
or consistent basis, in real life, either. They can do it in the imagination,
and in dreams, and I feel we would lose some of Tomorrowland’s wonder if
the whole film took place there. As it
is now, Tomorrowland is a destination, a place that is attainable, but
not always or continuously accessible. I
submit Tomorrowland would lose its sense of wonder and majesty if the
film was entirely set there, as some critics apparently demanded or desired. Then the movie would be Fantasyland, not Tomorrowland.
write frequently here about the social meaning of films, and even their
political leanings. I realize this
angers and alienates some readers. That
is not my intent or desire, but I find it impossible to consider a film fully
outside its social or political context. Films are created, after all, in a
specific time and place, with specific influences.
so I do believe that Tomorrowland is about today, 2015,
and the fact that our politics have grown so small, so unimportant, even though
major challenges loom around every corner.
I do believe that a future like Tomorrowland-- like the one I
dreamed of, with so many countless others, in my childhood -- is within reach,
but that it will cost a lot of money. We have to do controversial, expensive
things right now, like invest money in NASA, in education, in research projects,
even in local or community libraries.
many modern politicians want to do exactly the opposite, cutting back everything
-- including school art programs -- until our society is entirely hollowed out,
gutted. But we can’t get to Tomorrowland on the cheap, with
gutted infrastructure. If that’s the
future we want, we have to start paying for it, and soon.
that too is one of Tomorrowland’s messages.
film notes that a future of doomsday, dystopia and apocalypse requires nothing
of us today. We don’t have to change our
behaviors, our predilections, or put up money for it to happen. So, in a sense, that’s the easy path:
Tomorrowland, we must change our behaviors now; we have to invest in a
better tomorrow starting, approximately, this minute.
also believe this sentiment to be true.
It is easy to complain about how bad things are right now -- how our
politicians suck eggs -- but such disillusionment, ultimately, gets us nowhere.
We can’t change the present, but we can make the future better if we choose to
invest in its creation. Too many of us
live in a world where we think we can’t change anything for the better. But what if Casey is right, and even “the tiniest of actions can change the future”
for the better? I believe this message
is directed right at me and my generation, right where I live in breathe. It’s a reminder to me every time I lament
that the world isn’t where I want it to be.
Well, why don’t I act?
Tomorrowlandwill make you
consider all of these ideas and leave you breathless, entertained and engaged
at the same time. The film shows us a
golden age of endless wheat fields and monorails and spires, and reminds us
that such a world need not be a fantasy (or even an alternate dimension). Instead
it’s the logical result of action taken right now, right here, to improve our
lot on this Earth, and in the universe at large.
a crying shame that Tomorrowland failed to connect with audiences at the box
office, but the ideas it puts forward possess great currency, and can have
great impact, even if that impact is created one viewer – one dreamer – at a