‘Tomorrowland’ succeeds as futuristic cautionary tale
By Tony Rutherford
Science fiction envisions past, present, and future. More often than not, sci-fi futures influenced strongly from 1950s beginnings of the Cold War have apocalyptic and/or dystopian coming attractions. The popular young adult-inspired books turned to film franchises (“Twilight,” “Hunger Games,” “Insurgent,” “Harry Potter”) mix fantasy with science fiction to portray pessimistic days and years to come, ranging from H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine” to “Planet of the Apes.”
Few films suggest a blooming utopia. What is that? Remember, the often re-run animated series, “The Jetsons?” The Hanna-Barbara cartoon series projected George Jetson living with his family in the near distant future, just as Fred Flintstone and his family lived in the Stone Age.
Many science fiction films depict space travel or robots, but “The Jetsons” depicted space stations, interplanetary travel, flying jet cars, space sky scrapers, aerial walkways and highways, holograms, flat screen televisions, and elaborate inventions as the norm for middle class, working families.
Director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and TV’s “Lost”) envisions a future “Tomorrowland,” where inventors, engineers and scientists have optimized living conditions on Earth, overcoming challenges and fears of nuclear war, global warming, and destructive natural catastrophes. “Tomorrowland” capitalizes on a segment of Disneyland theme parks, including that of the same name, Epcot Center and the 1964 World’s Fair.
Teen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), daughter of disgruntled, depressed NASA engineer Eddie (Tim McGraw) dreams of piloting a rocket, yet nearby her home in Cape Canaveral demolition of a launch pad is underway. She believes this to be a tragedy and sneaks in to the fenced area at night attempting to hinder and stop its demolition. One night later she’s arrested but when bailed out mysteriously a circular “T” pin is included in her belongings. When she touches it, she’s transported to a future world where everything appears perfect (think Dorothy to Oz or Alice to Wonderland). When the “T” pin needs recharged, she seeks out another one and more information on it at a retro memorabilia store in Houston.
Robertson tenaciously portrays the strong-willed and physically adept “tomboy” type Casey. However, her gender could be more labeled neutral. For the sake of the story, she could be a he. We are alive in the era of equalizing heroics in attempts to neutralize past and present negative female gender identity stereotypes.
Much of “Tomorrowland” has a fantasy mystery flavor. Casey’s on a mission of discovery about the freaky, geeky, campy future that she has glimpsed. Once the fog lifts, (spoiler) she learns that utopia needs a “fix” and she may be the person needed to accomplish the task which will push back doomsday.
George Clooney plays a hopeless Dr. Who-esque eccentric inventor/scientist that has been banned from Tomorrowland for inventing something prohibited. He gave up on fixing what he started.
Omitting a full discussion of a climax that seems very well familiar, it scored on my list of rare “chills down my spine” films, which includes “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “E.T.”
Unlike “E.T.,” however, “Tomorrowland” does not have a “spiritual” flavor, no, it’s an underdog-can-prevail theme.
Writer/director Bird has attained awesome plus, though for its theme, a partial, success. In order to tell his utopian tale, he must place it at risk that injects apocalyptic threats into Eden that eventually burst from subtle billboards ( Toxic Cosmos III: Nowhere to Go). Structurally, bending time and space has awkward moments, as does the teen fiction aspect that must philosophically appeal to dreaming nerds and geeks old and young.
For his premise to take solid thrust , just like a jet-pack (anyone remember, “The Rocketeer” or “Commando Cody”?), the writer/filmmaker has to tackle an ardent principle – changing the future. A sacred time travel principle states that by changing the past, you change the future. Both “Terminator” and “Back to the Future” achieved classic science fiction status by toying and tweaking the established theory.
When traveling to “Tomorrowland,” snap your seat belt, open your imagination, close out the world, yet ponder its current direction. I’m reminded not of “On the Beach’s” blunt ‘there’s still time brother,” but , no, the “Day the Earth Stood Still,” where an extended hand was offered with a caution: “Come live with us and live in peace. Or, continue at your present course and face obliteration”
Choices are still there. Which ones will you make? Even, the actions of one matter.