Tomorrowland may very well deserve some points for being one of the most, if not the most ambitious blockbuster to come out in 2015. For one, it is based off one of the most famous Disney theme park attractions, and its marketing has been Godzilla (2014)-levels of mysterious. All the trailers released so far have given a vague outline of what to expect, but that’s it. And after seeing the film, I can safely say they certainly did a good job with the marketing. There are a lot of legitimate surprises to be found in the film, and some definite twists and turns. Unfortunately, not all of said twists and turns are good, and one in particular does cost the film some quality points. Which is kind of frustrating, because based on the first 90 minutes of this film alone, I was ready to put it in my list of top 10 films of the year. Some of the most entertaining and fun cinema in a while sadly gets followed up with 30 minutes of some of the most banal and unsubtle cinema in a while. I liken it to Doctor Who‘s mixed bag from last year, Kill The Moon, which had a similar effect.
Tomorrowland is definitely one of the most well-crafted films you’ll see all year. It’s directed by Brad Bird after all, and if Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol was anything to swear by, Bird is one of the finest directors around today. This film has all his trademarks- excitingly crafted action sequences, stunning visuals, beautiful camera shots taken from dizzying heights, the list goes on and on. In a bit of contrast that can make one believe in the divine comedy, it’s scripted by Damon Lindelof, who is sadly more known among alien fans for ruining Prometheus than being a good writer. And ironically enough, unlike Prometheus, Tomorrowland is easy to follow. It also has one of the better casts you’ll see this year, and has a truly fantastic score from Michael Giacchino. Where it falls short, however, is momentum. In the film’s final act, a nonsensical twist is brought in, and there sadly isn’t much of a climax.
Warning: Potential Spoilers Follow
“You’re telling me Brad Bird can make a decent theme park movie?“
The film starts with a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) telling the audience his story of how he encountered Tomorrowland; he invents a jetpack and brings it to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. After he gets rejected by the fair’s top judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie, who for once is allowed to keep his British accent), he meets a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a pin with a big blue T on it, and tells him to get on one of the rides. During the ride, the pin is zapped, and he is taken to a beautiful and futuristic utopia. Some years later, Casey Robinson (Britt Robertson) is living with her single father (Tim McGraw– yes, THAT Tim McGraw) and her little brother (Pierce Gagnon). When she gets busted one night for trying to bust into a former NASA launch site, she is bailed out and, among her possessions, is the aforementioned “T” pin. Touching it transports her to the utopia, and that same night, she explores it until time runs out on the pin, and it doesn’t work anymore. So she sets out on a journey to find out where the pin came from, she meets weird droids, encounters Athena who turns out to be an android, meets Frank who is now a handsome but grumpy George Clooney lookalike, they go to Tomorrowland, and you probably know what happens from there on.
Where Tomorrowland succeeds, it succeeds because of its first two acts and its technical aspects. Apparently, this is the first film to shoot in 8K (with Sony CineAlta cameras), and it certainly looks it. Brad Bird has a good eye for a shot, and it shows here. Near the beginning, when Young Frank is taken to Tomorrowland for the first time, we’re treated to some absolutely sweeping views and gorgeous visuals. Tomorrowland is absolutely beautifully realized with both practical effects and CG. Even when Tomorrowland looks abandoned and desolate near the end of the film, it’s still eye-catching. In addition, the film has been expanded to 1:90.1 projection for IMAX showings, and this is the ultimate way to see the film. The bigger picture really makes you feel as though you’re in the world. As for why the first two acts of the film are so great, let’s put it this way: The film’s storytelling is astonishingly well-paced. The film doesn’t waste time in getting to the point right away, and after Frank’s little backstory scene, we get right to the main story. Which is something I wish I saw more in film today- all the backstory you need is limited to a 5 minute scene at the beginning and that’s it. That’s not to say the film’s any slouch in the acting department- Britt and George have absolutely brilliant chemistry together, and you get the impression they had a lot of fun together on set. I’ll admit I’m not used to seeing George Clooney play a grumpy old man, but he managed to pull it off effectively.
Let’s just say he’s… (puts on sunglasses)… crazy prepared.
This makes the third act all the more frustrating- when they arrive in Tomorrowland in the final act, things come to a halt, momentum-wise. There’s some cool elements brought in, like a device that can see into the future and past. Brilliant! But it’s brought in to introduce an absolutely stupid twist which comes out of nowhere and does nothing to advance the story overall. In addition, the film’s “climax” is very anticlimactic. There’s a heart-rending scene to top it all off, but the emotion is ruined when you realize it’s some convoluted way to tie the film together. Which is a shame, because based on the first two acts of the film, I was ready to throw this film high up on my list of the best films of 2015. The cinematography, fascinating concept, amazing acting, and magnificent score from Michael Giacchino was enough to make the film an instant favourite, and it would have been if not for the third act.
Saying Tomorrowland is a bad film would be unfair- it’s stunningly crafted and in terms of direction, it’s one of Brad Bird’s finer efforts. However, saying it’s a great film is a bit of a stretch too. It has potential to be one, but its undermined by the film’s final 30 minutes. The ending seems to leave doors open for sequels, and despite the underwhelming final 30 minutes, I’m interested in seeing where the story goes should Tomorrowland become a franchise. I could definitely see sequels exploring bigger territory with how the first film ended, but let’s hope they are better than the first film. Because the first film came close to being one of my top films of the year, but not close enough.
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