Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I'm Baaaack! With a Review of Tomorrowland

Remember childhood, when summer vacation actually used to be a vacation? Sometimes being an adult almost makes me miss high school. Almost. Between final exams, moving out of my dorm, re-orienting to being back home, hauling bags of trash, Goodwill donations, and yard sale goods out of my room and giving it the first proper cleaning in years, starting my summer internship, starting my actual paying job, helping my mom to throw a surprise party for a family friend, going through post-semester boyfriend withdrawal, and just generally having a lot going on, it's not too surprising that I haven't had a lot of spare time or mental capacity to sit down and just write. Or read, for that matter. And yeah, I'll admit that there have been occasions during my moments of free time when I've simply been lazy, but for the most part the inner workings of my mind have consisted of this:

Pretty much.

So while on the one hand I feel like a terrible blogger for disappearing for so long, on the other hand this month-long hiatus has probably been a good thing. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to write up a post multiple times a week for the next few months, but I can say with relative confidence that after taking some time to get settled in I can press forward with my plans to read/review a book per week on my "Self-Pub Summer" list. So... yeah... that's a start.

It is a relief to get back to blogging, though. Too much of my precious little free time has been spent starting a screen watching something simply to fill empty hours. Things like Tomorrowland.

(Warning: Ranting and foul language in reference to a kids' movie ahead, plus a few spoilers)

Now, I'm not trying to say that this movie was a waste of time, but... well, halfway through I started covertly checking the time. It's not a terrible movie--don't get me wrong--but it wasn't anything special. Which is sad because this movie was trying to hard to be something special. Tomorrowland makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's a film with an agenda; it's not necessarily a bad agenda, but the film delivers its message in such a clunky way while simultaneously trying to pass it off as some big revelation that is anything but. It's black and white and heavy-handed in that classic Disney way that doesn't gel with the sleek style of film that Tomorrowland so clearly wants to be.

 My main issue with the film is that it never quite feels right. It's very obviously Disney's answer to all the dystopian, apocalyptic, and disaster fiction we seem to love, while at the same time trying to compete with those same types of movies. The result is an irreconcilable juxtaposition between the saccharine Disney message that all it takes to save the world is optimism and the cynical dystopias that movie!Earth and the titular Tomorrowland have both become. It's preachy, and yet neither the side of optimism nor the side of cynicism that the characters are divided along ring completely true.

The overall tone of the film was annoyingly inconsistent. Despite all the violence and grim discussions of the impending apocalypse, it still retained Disney's trademarked sickly-sweet, happy-go-lucky core. Yeah, sure, not all live action Disney films are like that, but this was directed by Brad Bird, not Jerry Bruckheimer. And Brad Bird is great and all, but his handling of the film's message and tone was extremely disappointing. The movie itself was entirely too optimistic while at the same time portraying humanity as entirely too pessimistic.

The nostalgia filter was also a little too strong with this one. On the one hand, it was fun and refreshing to see depictions of the kind of bright and happy jetpack and hovercar-filled vision of the future that could once be found in Star Trek: TOS and Back to the Future Part II but aren't nearly as popular anymore. But something about the "everything will be holograms and hovercrafts and chrome in the future" depiction of Tomorrowland seemed a bit to gimmicky and retro for a place that is meant to represent the wonders of science that are the hope for humanity's future. Shouldn't a place like Tomorrowland be more about 3D-printing limbs out of flesh and bone for amputees, or terraforming alien planets, or reversing global warming, or finding a solution to world hunger that isn't Soylent Green? Seems to me like all the brilliant innovative minds of Tomorrowland have been dicking around in their little 1960's nostalgia bubble while the rest of us on Earth are busy trying to find the real solutions.

Newsflash, Disney: This kind of utopian vision of the future doesn't really work unless all the immediate, tangible problems in the world have been tackled first. I mean, I guess the results of real life ensuing in Tomorrow land were seen in the movie: when the main characters finally get to see the real present-day Tomorrowland, it's not nearly as clean, shiny, and bustling with activity as the decades-old "advertisement" proclaimed. Ultimately the attempt at creating a technologically advanced utopia turned into a kind of dystopia. This would've been a great concept to explore if more time had been devoted to it, but sadly the film never really tackles it head-on.

This is really what the movie should have been about, not some convoluted quasi-doomsday device that doesn't get properly explained until the end which is overcome by the power of positive thinking. The biggest missed opportunity was that the plot chose to focus on the optimism aspect, as opposed to the secret society of free thinkers who created a secret location in which they could be free to work on innovations that would have a tangible impact on the world. But somewhere along the line they became misguided, spending too much energy trying to build a jetpack and hoverboard-filled utopia without an equally advanced society to support it. The project is ultimately a failure because the scientists became disconnected with reality and made no real progress that actually matters.

I think the filmmakers knew what they wanted this movie to be, they just didn't know how to sell it to the audience. This was made pretty clear by the trailers, which looked kinda cool visually but revealed jack shit about the plot. Unfortunately, the actual movie played this game as well. While the movie itself is visually stunning and pretty to look at, the inconsistent tone and awkward pacing made it hard to sit through at times. It took roughly 2/3 of the way in to actually find out what's at stake and what the main character is meant to do. But even though way too much time is spent in setting up the actual plot, I'm still confused as to what exactly Tomorrowland is and why it even exists. The movie wastes time on exposition, and the exposition wastes time showing off how cool and shiny Tomorrowland is, when it should be actually fucking explaining it.

Naturally, this lack of crucial information leads to a lot of plot holes. I personally can't wait until the inevitable Cinema Sins video of this comes out, because boy, is this movie sinful. For starters, just where the hell is Tomorrowland? I guess it's not actually in the future, but is it in a parallel universe, or a pocket dimension of our own? And I know that the whole place kind of runs on secret highly advanced technology, but do you really expect me to believe that 19th century engineers build a rocket ship that could travel to this parallel dimension? And why did the bad guy want robots to kill the main characters so badly, when in the end it doesn't even seem to matter? And if Casey's positive thinking alone was powerful enough to make the probability of the world ending in 58 days drop by 1%, then why did she need to be in the same room as the probability monitor to make it drop? And why is she so goddamn special that she is apparently the only person alive who is optimistic enough to make that happen? And most annoyingly, how can the bad guy see exactly when world will end--complete with footage of riots and floods--but then not know how this will all come to pass in the next 58 friggn' days???

And don't even get me started on the main character, Casey. There's not much really wrong with her as a person, but the way in which her optimism is meant to make her special and unique is really irritating and done in such a childish way. Her actions and way of thinking are stereotypical Disney in a way that is more suggestive of a 10-year-old than a 17-year-old. For example, her establishing character moment is when she breaks into a NASA site to sabotage the deconstruction of its launchpad, repeatedly returning again and again in the hopes that what, NASA will finally just give up and see the light? That's not optimism, that's just having no concept of how real life works.

So many nits to pick, so little time. I could go on, but why bother when Cinema Sins is bound to do it for me in a much more eloquent and humorous fashion? But all complaining aside, it wasn't really a bad movie, and it did get a little better towards the end. The visual effects were great, the acting was mostly pretty good (although Clooney looked kind of out of place for most of the movie), and there were some pretty fun and exciting action sequences. I will admit that some of my issues with the film probably stem from the fact that I'm just not the right audience for the film; I'd probably appreciate it a lot more if I was 8-10 years younger and didn't love things like The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica so much. If I had kids I'd take them to see it, although my mom and uncle (who I saw it with) agree that the violence probably isn't suitable for really young kids. A swing and a near miss for Disney in my opinion, but I'll give it a solid three out of five stars.

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