When one hears the title “Tomorrowland,” most would automatically think of the attraction at various Disney parks in which a remarkable future is depicted. Said to be based on Walt Disney’s own hopes and dreams for the future, when they were first unveiled they were places of wondrous imagination and invention that captivated visitors both young and old with their remarkable outlook on how incredible things could be. Indeed it was both visionary and inspirational, which makes it rather ironic that such a title would be given to Brad Bird’s latest project, one that could have used a hefty dose of imagination and inspiration of its own.
The film begins in 1964, where a young Frank Walker is attending the New York World’s Fair, hoping to win an inventors’ competition with a jet pack that he built himself. The only problem is that it doesn’t exactly work, which fails to impress judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie). With his dream seemingly crushed, a young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), takes a liking to Frank, giving him a pin and telling him to follow her. As it turns out, this pin allows him access to a futuristic world known as Tomorrowland, where a robot repairs his jet pack and where he gets to spend the next several years working on other ideas.
The story picks up in the present day, where we meet Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a young girl who seeks to save her dad’s job as a NASA engineer by sabotaging machines that are dismantling a nearby launch pad in Cape Canaveral. However, she eventually gets caught, jailed, and bailed out, after which she finds a mysterious pin mixed in with her belongings. Upon touching the pin, she finds herself transported to a futuristic city, presenting her with a mystery that she tries to get to the bottom of, starting with an attempt to find out more about the pin. However, when she takes it to a nostalgia shop, she gets attacked by its robot owners. Luckily, Athena shows up just in time to save her, eventually leading her to Frank (George Clooney), now an adult living in New York. After some convincing, he finally decides to help them get to Tomorrowland where they must try to prevent the end of the world.
“Tomorrowland” is a tale that should have been filled with incredible wonder, excitement, and imagination to match its namesake, but instead, what we get is a frustrating, plodding, and mostly uninspired story that seems as though writers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof were rather befuddled on what the story should actually be. Their indecision leads to a film in which it takes about 90 minutes (approximately 75% of the two-hour runtime) of setup before finally getting around to explaining what the actual plot is, and when we do finally get there, it’s disappointing to find out that it was all for a flat, nonsensical payoff.
Having a little mystery leading up to the main storyline is fine, but surely they could have foreseen that waiting until the final act of the film to let the audience in on what it’s all about was not a good move. With so much delay, we’re merely left wondering why we should care about any of these characters or whatever it is that they’re working to achieve. Perhaps it was just a case of them knowing full well what they were leading up to and wanting to delay as much as possible in hopes that the film’s visual splendor would cover up the multiple flaws in the story, but even in that area the viewer can only be impressed for so long before they want a little substance with the style.
As far as those visuals go, they are pretty amazing. The designs for Tomorrowland in particular are incredible, creating a landscape that looks as though it could be the setting for a pretty interesting film. It’s just a shame that all they got was this one, where the look is pretty much the one thing it’s destined to be remembered for. It’s all the more a strange misfire with the impressive talent involved. Bird has given us some outstanding films in the past, including penning the scripts to and directing a pair of great Pixar films (“The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”), while Damon Lindelof helped give us one of the most intriguing shows of the last decade with his work on “Lost.”
Whatever the reason behind Bird and Lindelof’s mysterious delays in the plot, the structure simply doesn’t work when arranged like this. They can try to cover it up with all of the beautiful production design that they want, but it’s still not going to cover up the wandering nature of the story or the uninteresting characters that populate it. Sure there’s a little entertainment value here and there, and George Clooney does his best with what little he has to work with, but when it comes right to it, it’ll simply leave you wishing that they had put as much thought into the story as they did into the visuals.
“Tomorrowland” comes to Blu-ray in a stunning 2.20:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that features a beautifully sharp picture throughout the entire presentation and does a great job of showing off the incredible design work that went into the titular city. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally splendid, giving you all dialogue and Michael Giacchino’s thunderous score in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given outstanding treatment that ensures the best experience you could possibly get.
Remembering the Future (7 Minutes): A scattershot featurette that has Brad Bird talking about the real Tomorrowland and a little about NASA. There’s nothing to be learned here, so it’s not really worth watching.
Casting Tomorrowland (7 Minutes): A look at finding the right cast for the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, as well as lots of behind the scenes footage. It’s not particularly in depth, but it’s worth it for the on-set footage.
A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session (6 Minutes): Like with other featurettes of this nature, if it’s an area that interests you, then you may find it worthwhile.
The World of Tomorrow Science Hour – Hosted by Futurologist David Nix (5 Minutes): Fake outtakes from a show that would have been hosted by David Nix (Hugh Laurie). Easily skippable.
Animated Short: The Origins of Plus Ultra (3 Minutes): A short created for the film that isn’t really worth sitting through.
Brad Bird Production Diaries (4 Minutes): A very brief selection of behind the scenes footage shot by Brad Bird, most of which is already seen in the first featurette. This is another one that’s easily skippable.
Blast from the Past Commercial (41 Seconds): Another pointless addition that is just an ad for the fake shop in the film.
Deleted Scenes with Director Commentary (23 Minutes): A selection of deleted material that doesn’t add anything to the story and/or simply slowed it down.
“Tomorrowland” boasts some excellent visual appeal, but sadly it does nothing to mask the multitude of faults found in the story, including a poor structure and a severely underwhelming conclusion. With a little more thought, and a lot more imagination, this could have been an exciting and captivating story. Unfortunately it will have to settle for being a beautifully-designed film that was ultimately lacking in inspiration.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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