Thursday, June 11, 2015

You're Only A Day Away

Year: 2015
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie
Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

Brad Bird was offered a chance to direct the new Star Wars film.When he said no and decided to make a passion project of his own, the reverberations were felt all around the physical realm. Somebody turned down Star Wars? And all that money? They must really care about their art!

And while I'm certain that Bird is a genuinely decent human being to be able to turn down an offer like that, the fact remains that his passion project, which became Tomorrowland, is about as artistic and personal as a Bazooka Joe comic. It's certainly one of the more messily intriguing blockbusters of the summer, but it's about as drearily generic and painstakingly earnest as they come.

Kind of like how an E.R./House crossover would be.

Tomorrowland tells the story of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a teen girl whose father used to be an engineer for NASA. She can't handle the fact that NASA is shutting down their space program, in the process rendering her father obsolete. She still has hope for the future, so she sabotages the construction site around a launch pad that NASA has been trying to dismantle. Her repeated criminal activities land her in jail for a night, and when she is released, a pin with an ornate "T" on it is among her stuff.

When she touches it, she is transported to the mystical land of Tomorrowland - an alternate dimension built by snobby aristocrats and intellectuals where they could develop futuristic technology in peace - but the pin runs out of battery before she can fully explore it. Her quest for another pin leads her to a faraway sci-fi shop run by the strange caretakers Hugo (Keegan-Michael Key) and Ursula (Kathryn Hahn), a run-in with young girl android Athena (Raffey Cassidy), and the secluded farmhouse of Frank Walker (George Clooney) a man who, as a young boy, was given the opportunity to visit Tomorrowland, but was kicked out after inventing a machine that predicted the end of the world.

They must reluctantly team together to prevent the apocalypse, using Casey's optimism, Frank's know-how, and Athena's technological prowess to undermine the current, embittered leader of the now defunct Tomorrowland, Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie).

You'd think guns would help too, but they forget to bring any along.

At its heart, Tomorrowland really wants to tell an interesting story about the way humanity has been receiving the portentous messages about global warming and the various other ways we're ruining our own planet. It succeeds intermittently at this, especially in the final ten minutes, but for the most part it's cloying and pedantic, feeling more like one of those smarmy vegans who brags about just how much quinoa they can shove up their nose instead of a genuine, earnest plea for change.

This effect is achieved through an extremely labored script that positively aches for us to feel the full force of the clunky metaphors and heavily Meaningful subtext it pummels us with over and over. On top of it all Casey Newton contracts a lethally severe case of Special Snowflake Syndrome. Common among teen protagonists, it means that even though she is but a simple Ordinary Teen, she and only she has the imagination or creativity or dreaming or whatever to Save The World.

Lo! She can fix her dad's machine by plugging in a super obvious wire! Behold! She can instantly figure out any technology, no matter how futuristic or alien, papered over with the incessant, infuriating line "I know how things work." Oh, and the year Frank was kicked out of Tomorrowland for predicting a dystopian future? 1984. The film is about as subtle as a hippo in a tutu.

Though, come to think of it, the film might be improved if the protagonist was an actual hippo ballerina.

The film gets itself so worked up over teaching its Lesson that it occasionally forgets what it's doing entirely. An emotional beat that is incessantly foreshadowed during the first act of the film collapses at the end of the second with absolutely zero fanfare, and the stakes are never high enough to take the threat (which is integral to understanding the theme and the desperation with which it calls upon humanity) seriously.

But a certain amount of heaving, didactic, distracted humanism is to be expected from a film so utterly, thoroughly in love with Disney its lore. Cheerful easter eggs pepper the film, from small subtle background details to integral plot points (ie. the entrance to Tomorrowland is first discovered on the It's a Small World ride). Your level of Disney admiration will largely influence your appreciation of the film, though its mythology around Tomorrowland itself is entirely original.

In its quasi-religious Disney fervor, the film fails to set out some truly strict rules for its universe, so it becomes difficult to nail down exactly how Tomorrowland and its technology function. The logic is so strung through with holes, you could drive a car through it, but the fact remains that many of the ideas at work in the film are dizzily creative, at least in the idyllic Tomorrowland of the past. And the CGI used in the creation of this world is decent enough, though any and all giant robots look a little too pasted onto the screen. They have no weight and appear to be sandwiched in between the film's dimension and our own. It's highly unsettling.

Even more than the fact that an entire extra dimension houses only one city.

Just like everything else in Tomorrowland, the acting is a smidge uneven. George Clooney does the best of the pack, of course, but even he succumbs to the pulpy influence of the material, playing more of a caricature than a genuine human being with inner life. Cassidy has a hard time at first, but settles into her role, providing one of the best characters of the film in the process. And Robertson does a consistent job all the way through, though the frequent, extremely false bark that she pretends is a laugh is shrilly alarming. The actors playing young George Clooney and Casey's father are weak beyond belief for a studio picture, but they're not in the film enough to harm it. And any ensemble that contains both Key and Hahn will always have a positive average, when it comes down to it.

All in all, Tomorrowland is a strange, tottering behemoth. It's funny enough, the action is decent, and the characters are mildly engaging, but its flaws hang over it like a black mark. The chinks in the CGI armor, the spotty acting, the pedantic dialogue, and the "happy" ending that remains sourly elitist render the film a bit of a tough hunk to swallow. But Brad Bird pours his heart out into this film and a messy, all-over-the-place personal picture is worth a hundred times more than a messy, all-over-the-place studio picture. It's just true. If you feel the need to check it out, don't get your hopes up and you'll manage to have a good time.

Happy travels!

TL;DR: Tomorrowland is a messy, emotional wreck of a movie, but it's decently entertaining through and through.
Rating: 6/10
Should I Spend Money On This? I'd say no, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give my good friend Matt a chance to speak his mind on why you should.
Word Count: 1253

1 comment:

  1. 6/10 = right on. I liked Matt's piece however. Thanks a lot Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof and, also, America; I wanted more John Carter of Mars and TR3N, even if the latter makes me feel like a dope whenever I write it down.