Monday, May 25, 2015

Tomorrowland (Brad Bird, 2015)

Tomorrow belongs to me

Talk about optimists: Brad Bird's Tomorrowland was done for a largish $190 million, the makers hoping to make around twice that amount back--despite so-so reviews and a less-than-stellar first weekend

I know the question on your mind though ("Screw the money figures, what about the movie itself?").

The movie isn't bad, is better than I expected. The less interesting story involves lonely teenage girl Casey (Britt Robertson) trying to save her engineer dad's NASA job by sabotaging the demolition job being done on her dad's closed-down launch pad. The more interesting story is of young boy Frank recruited by pretty girl Athena (Raffy Cassidy) to help build the eponymous city; something goes wrong with their relationship, boy goes into exile. They meet again decades later--the girl still the tender age of thirteen, the boy the rough age and unshaven condition of George Clooney. Points to the film for not even considering that this relationship might look the least bit creepy (only way to play it, in my opine). 

Less interesting standard-issue heroine Casey (Disney's got to have some kind of cloning tank where they crank these kids out by the dozens) is unfortunately the protagonist, so we follow her as she touches a pin, is instantly transported to a mysterious land, crosses a field, walks among buildings, boards a train, and...come to think of it the movie (like the actual Disney theme park) is stuffed full of esoteric (becoming quickly obsolescent) modes of transportation, plus screen time depicting said transportation, well, transporting--half the time slowly, with an air of affected grandeur.

Eventually (gradually) we learn that the land is a real land in another dimension and we (eventually, gradually) get to go there (have your E ticket ready?). I'm reminded of another science-fiction narrative, this one with a thousand-year-old Doctor who can in less than sixty seconds ("one minute with me and this thing and it would be over!") identify the problem and apply the cure. Irrepressible optimist, has this thing for bananas, pretty Companions, and (get this) has a blue police box that goes back and forth in time and across dimensions in the blink of an eye, no grandeur affected or otherwise--imagine that!

The old man and the girl, though, that's straight out of Isaac Asimov. Not a big fan of the man, but certain characters inspire in him feelings of genuine affection: mostly robots, and the men and women who love them (Frank and Athena's strictly nonphysical relationship--and only a cad would suggest otherwise--suggests that forbidden-love poignance).

Turns out (and here the reader who wishes to see the movie is advised to skip the rest of the paragraph) the real villain has the same driving motives as everyone else--transformation of the future, and of humanity in general--but has seen more than the rest, and grown cynical accordingly. Interesting idea: the film's bad guy is someone who has learned too much while its hero is blindly stubborn.

What really really bothers me though is the movie's ultimately optimistic ending. Some have called it Randian; not even going to try touch that issue--backing away carefully now--

There nevertheless has been a faint whiff of disdain in Bird's attitude towards naysayers. Early in the picture a teacher holds up George Orwell's 1984 (great harrowing work) and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (not a big fan) and the moment's supposed to be satirical: dystopian fiction, Bird seems to be telling us, is what's destroying this world, whereas sunnier intellectuals (can't imagine who qualifies...this guy, maybe?) are being pointedly ignored. 

That's a hell of a statement right there. Half of science fiction--maybe the majority--is dystopian or cautionary or at least pessimistic in nature; they warn us of possible abuses of science--often as not, that's what science fiction does (and if you're skeptical, just ask the woman who invented the genre). Does Bird suggest we toss Bradbury, Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Anthony Burgess,  Karel Capek, Aldous Huxley, Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, John Sladek, Thomas Disch, Stanley Kubrick, Chris Marker (and those are only the names I can recall off the top of my head) to the garbage bin? To make room for him, p'raps?

Which suddenly reminded me of Bird's attitude towards critics, that (lemme try remember now) "the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." Negativity junk, positivity gold? How positively--and at this point I find that the word has become impossible to avoid--Randian of him. Maybe the naysayers aren't imagining the connection after all.

The movie's ending (again, skip, this time the rest of the article) has an army of recruiters traveling through time and space seeking out the smart folk, the geniuses, the creative sort, the thinkers and dreamers, bringing them to Tomorrowland to build a better future. 

But wait a minute--our best and brightest leaving for a better future? What happens to the world here and now? Are the rest of us to be left here to rot--is that what Bird's suggesting? Pull all these folks out, who gets to save this world? I don't mind escapism--Mad Max Fury Road for all my unkind parodying is arguably the best dystopia and best action film in recent years--but Miller's epic is also an escape into a story that reflects (however lightly and shallowly) this world and its problems, this world and its anxieties, possibilities, whatever. Tomorrowland seems to be suggesting a more radical flight, to a world that will have little to nothing to do with our own, and will save itself in a spirit of enlightened selfishness. 

Oh yeah

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