What’s your immediate thought upon hearing about a film called “Tomorrowland?” Another utopian tale, right? Well, apparently we have need of them. We need as many as we can get.
It’s not news that we’ve just about destroyed our planet. As of this writing, there’s yet another oil spill on the California coast, California and Brazil are almost out of water, and there’s an insane amount of volcanic and seismic activity happening around California.
Which is why, maybe, since Hollywood is in California, movies about escaping our sick planet Earth abound.
But, per the typical “Uh-oh, it’s Armageddon, let’s escape to a utopia” movie, this one’s also not what we could really use, namely, a common-sense approach to our global problem, like planting more trees and eating less meat.
“Tomorrowland” is just a variation on the fiddling-with-technology approach. You’ve got your space-station utopias (“Oblivion,” “Wall-E”), your take-a-wormhole-to-a-distant-planet utopia (“Interstellar”), and now we’ve got a parallel-dimension-hopping utopia.
These are all “addiction of geography” utopias (more on that later), which allow us to maintain our same self-centered mindset and continue exploiting resources on other planets, or wherever, since we’ve already hoovered up everything down here.
Brad Bird, best known for “The Incredibles,” and “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” has made a fairly fun, sometimes tedious, sometimes surprisingly thoughtful, Disney adventure movie. It should have been 2015’s summer blockbuster, but it falls far short.
At the outset, inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) stands there complaining to the camera about how, back when he was a kid, the future was different.
We’re introduced to his younger self (Thomas Robinson, a spot-on, look-alike casting choice) at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, demonstrating his jerry-rigged “Rocketeer”-like jetpack (are those vacuum-cleaner parts?). He’s hoping to win the $50 prize money.
But young Frank didn’t count on running up against a sort of 1960s version of Simon Cowell of “America’s Got Talent,” played by Hugh Laurie, as the judge of gizmos, who dismisses young Frank’s ingeniousness with meanness.
Hugh’s character’s freckled, elfin-looking daughter, however, very much approves. Her name is Athena (Raffey Cassidy). She basically leaves breadcrumbs for Frank to follow to Tomorrowland. She’s actually not judge-gizmo’s daughter, but to say why not would spoil the fun.
We discover that “Tomorrowland” is very “The Jetsons,” very 1960s retro-future looking, in the same way “Guardians of the Galaxy” is retro-futuristic 1970s.
The fact that it’s a parallel universe is sort of taken for granted, and we’re not told how this happens. Is it our actual Earth’s future? Is it another space-time dimension altogether? No, but it has something to do with “tachyons,” which allow you to view things with precognition and retrocognition in … the same space-time?
Cue backstory of girl shooting the video of Frank—Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). Casey’s an exceptionally good-looking geek, who gets busted trying to sabotage NASA’s shuttle launch proceedings so her rocket scientist dad (Tim McGraw) doesn’t get laid off.
While Casey is awaiting bail, the duty officer returns her belongings, along with what looks like a blue and orange colored Texas Titan pin. She touches it, and—shazam! She’s suddenly in a cornfield, with an Oz-like metropolis skyline. The T-pin’s a portal to Tomorrowland.
Bulldoze the Parking Lot
Most of “Tomorrowland” the movie takes place on Earth in the present day, as grown-up Frank, Casey, and Athena work to save the planet from environmental destruction, all while being chased by maniacally grinning robots.
It’s never really explained what went wrong with Tomorrowland, which we see first in utopian, and then in dystopian form.
We do know Casey is sort of the Neo in this story (Keanu Reeves’s role in “The Matrix”), the savior-like figure beloved of Armageddon-utopia movies, but we’re not sure why, other than she’s a techno-whiz kid.
We learn that Tomorrowland needs to be restored to its former glory, which is as a new human refuge overseen by more talented people than we presently have on earth today, like Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and Jules Verne, who may or may not have had a hand in its founding.
The best concept in the movie is that thoughts have power, and that we humans, by harboring negative thoughts about the world’s environmental future, thereby directly contribute to its destruction.
An even better thought: What if, in the future, there was a human race with the ability to keep their thoughts clean, righteous, and hopeful? That would lead us to a better Tomorrowland, would it not?
But ultimately, what stayed in my mind was the question of why Armageddon-utopia movies are almost always about running away to somewhere else, where it’ll all be better. The so-called addiction of geography is about trying to outrun your problems by moving elsewhere. Which is probably why Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” became a bestseller.
Would somebody please make that movie where the utopia is right here, right now, and we’ve simply rewritten the Joni Mitchell lyric “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot”? C’mon people, there’s no need for rocket science: “They bulldozed the parking lot, planted some trees instead.”
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Release date: May 22
3 stars out of 5