Tomorrowland

Flabbergasted

I took my youngest to this movie, and he liked it. I wanted to as well because there are some lovely visuals and reams of streaming nostalgia that float around a story desperately wanting to say something important about hope. It just doesn't. The message is sabotaged by a rattling old box car of a plot running on fumes.

In retrospect, the problem is apparent from the first moment. This movie has one of the worst opening scenes you can imagine. It blinks on with George Clooney's face in close-up as he begins to tell us about a story, only to be intermittently interrupted by an almost inaudible female voice off screen. They argue. It's a stunningly clunky artistic device. Then, after a breathtaking flashback vision of Tomorrowland, I'll be darned if we don't pick back up with Clooney and the girl arguing. Yes, yes, they try to wrap this around as a framing device by picking up the conversation again at the end, but that can't work.

Writing 101--start with something happening. It doesn't have to be an explosion, just something that hints at personal conflict and choice. You know, drama. Never ever start with a bunch of exposition. If you have to explain your story up front, you don't know when and where it actually starts, so you don't actually know what the story is. Tomorrowland epitomizes that problem.

The main problem with the storytelling dynamic shows up even in the advertising campaign. One of the criticisms lodged against Tomorrowland's campaign is that it's too mysterious. It doesn't tell you what it is. Or at least give you some solid hook that makes you think, "huh, that looks interesting." That's a huge problem in the movie as well. They're so desperate to hold off the big reveal that you both don't know what's happening and don't get a proper feel for the characters. By the time the big reveal comes, it has to be a letdown. And it is.

Tomorrowland is enjoyable enough for kids due to the visuals. And it does spark to life in places. But it never comes together to be the paean to humanity, big ideas and hope that is buried somewhere on screen. I felt more like an archaeologist than a viewer.

The opening flashback is of young Frank Walker trying to win a prize at the 1964 World's Fair with a semi-functional jet pack. He's dismissed by some guy named Nix. A young girl named Athena nonetheless gives Frank a Tomorrowland pin that transports him to a mysterious place in the cloud after he sneaks on to the "It's a Small World" ride. Once there, his jet pack is properly optimized by some kind of robot. Frank proceeds to soar to the fabulously realized fountains, spires and monorails of Tomorrowland.

You may have noticed that the above paragraph is a mess. There's too much in it. It begs context that doesn't come soon enough, but boy is Tomorrowland a sight to see. You can see where all the money went on screen, which is more than you can say for some summer movies. Too bad the writing doesn't measure up.

We're done with Frank for now. It's time to meet Casey in the present day. She's busy sabotaging her father's workplace, the dismantlement of a NASA platform that Casey finds heartbreakingly short-sighted. Eventually she gets arrested. Unbeknownst to her, however, that same little girl named Athena, not aged a single day, has slipped her a Tomorrowland pin. When Casey touches it, the world around her dissolves into a gorgeous wheat field with the spires of a futuristic city in the distance. Casey's budding exploration of this incredible (and incredibly colorful) world is the highlight of the film. The only competition for top honors is the Eiffel Tower launching an interdimensional rocket built by Nikola Tesla, Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne and Thomas Edison.

You read that last sentence right.

Alas, all the pieces that link these scenes are decidedly inferior. It's all about bringing old Frank and Cassie together as the mystery of Athena is revealed to no particular effect. The end is just kind of there, too, from a movie that doesn't know how to finish. I won't give the specifics away since the producers have made such an effort to withhold them.

If you want to know, go see it. It's not awful, just a disappointment. Tomorrowland is a marvelous, soulless package that's more a ride than a movie.

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