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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Tomorrowland

Here we are again, on Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly blog about a movie I own.  This time out, we get to one of Disney's underperfomrers from last year, Tomorrowland.  This is in my notes at October 25, 2015.

I don't know what it is with me and Disney movies these days.  It seems that they play better for me on TV.  The last case was Frankenweenie.  This time out, it's Tomorrowland.  When I saw it in the theatre this past summer, I walked out thinking it was "meh."  But watching it again on Blu-Ray this afternoon, when the end credits started rolling, I felt my lower lip quivering a little bit.

I mean, Tomorrowland has a great message towards it.  Whatever happened to that optimism we used to have the future...that big belief that a technological utopia is right around the corner, all we have to do is roll up our sleeves and build it.  That optimism consumed the pop culture of the 1960s, which is where the movie opens.  But now, most visions of the future tell us that the end is nigh and the world will end before we know it.  Which is why Tomorrowland's message is that we have to start thinking positively about tomorrow again.  Yeah, things are tough.  But we can fix it, and still build that utopia. 

We're just getting over Back to the Future Day, and I felt a few similarities to the future presented in Back to the Future Part II.  That was probably the last time the future was presented as bright and optimistic.  Yeah, Biff was still there, but you'll find jerks in every century. 

But my problem with Tomorrowland remains the same.  It's the same problem with the Matrix Reloaded, actually.  Yeah, it's a great message and a great concept, but there's too much time spent standing around, delivering exposition and debating philosophy to get on with it.  It does get a tad preachy.

So, the film posits that there's this hidden city dubbed Tomorrowland.  It's a place where all of society's greatest scientists, artists, philosophers, and thinkers are free to create without the confines of politics or profit motives.  But...something happened.  They closed their borders.  They stopped innovating. 

Enter our heroine, Casey Newton.  A bright, young student with an almost instinctual knowledge of how things work.  Her Dad is a NASA engineer, about to lose his job thanks to all those cutbacks.  [Addendum:  July 24, 2016.  I did not recognize Tim McGraw as Casey's father, so no one tell anyone at work, k?]  So Casey spends her nights breaking into NASA and sabotaging the demolition equipment.  But soon, she comes into possession of a pin, and whenever she touches it, she's given visions of Tomorrowland.  So, of course, she's off on a quest to get there and possibly save it.

Joining her in her quest are Frank Walker.  This is George Clooney, as seen on all the posters.  He's an exile from Tomorrowland, and has grown up to be quite bitter about the future.  Also joining them is Athena, a robot from Tomorrowland who looks like a 12-year old girl.  Her job was to recruit great thinkers to join them, and even though she was told to stop recruiting, she kept on doing it, bringing herself to Casey. 

Another problem with the film is just kind of drags on too long.  Yeah, we get some great vistas of Tomorrowland that could have easily been pared down.  We wind up going to Paris just for the great visual of the Eiffel Tower turning into a steampunk rocket ship, but we really didn't need it.  We could have gotten to Tomorrowland so much quicker. 

But there is lots of good in it.  As Casey looks to the stars and dreams of a better tomorrow, it's get quite close to the Amblin films of the 1980s, which would have been a great direction to go.  But, a little too much of today's modern cynicism sneaks in, and brings it back to the now.  And did I mention that the visuals are amazing?

When we do get to Tomorrowland, we meet our villain, Governor Nix, played by Hugh Laurie.  He plays the classic "smartest guy in the room, and that makes him an asshole" role that he perfected from all his years on House.  But this time, he gets to use his natural British accent, because villain.  Actually, Clooney and Laurie do provide one of my favourite character moments in the film.  As Clooney is about to get exiled again, he and Laurie begin to throw down, and they go tumbling through the portal back to Earth, landing on a deserted beach.  Suddenly, the portal snaps shut.  Realizing they have nothing to fight over now, they stop fighting and just sit down in the sand.  Clooney begins to laugh, Laurie gets annoyed.  It's a great little moment. 

Another great little moment is when Casey winds up in a comic book and collectibles shop, looking for more information on the pin.  That new synergy thanks to Disney owning Lucasfilm is hard at work, as Star Wars merchandise is figured prominently.  (Director Brad Bird also directed my all-time favourite movie The Iron Giant, so there's a prominent display of Iron Giant merchandise as well.) 

And that's why I wound up picking up this movie on Blu-Ray and gave it another chance.  Because I love The Iron Giant, I'll always check out what Brad Bird does.  And I'm glad I did, because it was better the second time around

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