With an estimated budget of $190 million and a worldwide-box office tally of $208 million, Disney stands to lose something in the region of $100-150 million on this one summer film. Which is a pity, not because the film is particularly good, but rather because it is an original property rather than a sequel or a reboot. I couldn’t care less that Fox’s Fantastic Four stands to lose its studio much more – that film should never have been made; the world didn’t need another Fantastic Four film anymore than it needed another Terminator film- but I do feel sad about an original film failing to find an audience in an industry where originality is at a premium.
Hopes were high pre-release; Brad Bird is the director of The Iron Giant and Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, three remarkable films. Tomorrowland looked intriguing from the first teasers and trailers. I was rather rooting for Tomorrowland. Yet something seems to have gone wrong, it’s turned out messy and confusing. If I was to suggest that, when I think back on it, too much of Tomorrowland doesn’t really make a lot of sense, then maybe that is sort of explained by Damon Lindelof’s attachment as co-writer to the project. Oh yeah, that guy again.
I just think it needed reigning in- or maybe Lindelof needed reigning in/kicking out the door. It’s such a good concept with a valid Message that is pure Disney. The modern world is going to hell; NASA is shut down, the public buried under the weight of terrorism, global warming, famine, all the problems of the world, with all the hope and positivity of the sixties (and in particular The 1964 Worlds Fair and its Tomorrowland theme park) all forgotten. The solution to our woes is the City of Tomorrow which somehow sits Out There, a symbol of hope and promise, but even that beacon of The Future can’t survive the pessimism and despair which threatens the world with an impending Doomsday.
The central mystery of what/where Tomorrowland is, and what its purpose is, is engrossing, and it has a refreshingly positive message; but the whole thing just flounders towards the end. It sort of collapses under the weight of its lofty ambitions (but hell, at least it has those ambitions, right?) Its just so frustrating, this should have been so great. I hesitate to go much further because I rather like my reviews to be spoiler-free for fairly recent films (its fair game on older films, most readers will have seen them by now, but new films? Nah). I do suspect, like Prometheus before it, that Tomorrowland suffers from the Lindelof factor. It shouldn’t really so simple, film-making is a huge endeavour with many hands involved, but that Lindelof connection is too hard to ignore. The central idea of Prometheus was great but it got too twisted up in ideas that conflict with each other and just confuse, and Tomorrowland rather goes the same way. The more I think about Tomorrowland the less it makes sense, plot-points seem to flounder, so much is left unexplained. But it is so beguiling. Maybe it deserves to find its audience someday.
That all said, I rather liked the film, and a few days after watching it I find myself thinking about it a lot and curious to re-watch it again. Tomorrowland isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t the great film it might have been. It’s funny and thoughtful and the cast are fine. Some sequences are just astonishing, particularly one where a character has an all-too brief ‘visit’ to the wondrous City of Tomorrow and all its wonders (jetpacks, anti-grav pools, giant robots, levitating trains, rockets, all in a retro sixties-future-look) depicted by ILM in breathtaking photo-real CGI. I hate to sound like an effects junkie, but some of the visuals in this film are worth the price of entry alone. It’s all rather bewitching.
Go into this film with cautionary expectations, and you just might fall under its strange spell too.