Tuesday, February 9, 2016

DVD of the Week: Tomorrowland

Before I get onto this weeks film, a quick bonus recommendation. We also settled in with Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, which is a documentary covering the long and (mostly) glorious history of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic from it's inception in 1977 to today. In places it's a bit of a helicopter view, and can't quite decide if its explaining for newcomers or existing fans, but it's full of the actual people behind key moments in the comic's history, speaking for themselves. It's interesting and engaging, and I really enjoyed it, so yeah, go watch that if you've ever picked up a copy of 2000AD in your life. Which of course you should have. So on with the main review, for Tomorrowland: A World Beyond

I think at the heart of Tomorrowland there is an interesting question, an interesting thesis, and possibly even a really interesting film, that we only ever see flashes of. Which is ironic, given that the plot involves an interesting otherworld, glittering and inviting, that again, we only ever see flashes of too. For a story about how an indefinable something got lost from the world, it succeeds in demonstrating that in it's own flaws, which is a pretty neat achievment when you think about it.

So rather than present us with a future dystopia for our Central Casting Young Adult Heroine to rebel against, the dystopia is now, a dying world turned on itself, symbolically demolishing NASA launch facilities and generally being a bit grey and grim. Backgrounded news reports talk about wars and social disintegration, but as presented through our protagonist it's just a dull little world with no real hope for the future. After being arrested for trespass and, I guess, being  young and hopeful, she finds in her possession a pin that gives her a glimpse of shining, 50s-style utopia, and is drawn to curmudgeonly George Clooney to help her get there. 

One of the big questions that were left behind after watching the film was who it was actually supposed to be for. For my generation, we were brought up with a vision of the future caught between the 50s/60s idealistic future and the 70s/80s nuclear dystopias, so the idea that we have lost a sense of hope in what the future could be is something that resonates. We don't, as a popular culture, seem to look forward with much hope anymore, and thats something that perhaps genre fiction is well placed to discuss. I think Tomorrowland wants to discuss that - it's "big villian speech" right at the end of the film explicity talks about cultures willing themselves to destruction and thats right there something to talk about but it's so late it doesn't go anywhere but robot fights and explosions. Even arriving at Tomorrowland itself is far too late in the movie, so the eponymous city doesn't register enough before things start to go wrong. 

On the surface then, you have a more traditional Family Adventure movie, with all the sharp edges filed off for a younger audience. For all the supposed high-stakes nothing feels terribly scary or dangerous, and the spectacle follows a theme-park logic or set-piece to set-piece with a sort of bland familiarity. I'm not saying any of this is bad - it's fun, it's well paced, the design work is fantastic across the board - but I can't help but feel that too many interesting ideas get lost down the cracks. I try very hard to judge movies on what they are rather than the film I want them to be, but Tomorrowland feels like such a missed opportunity it's hard to hold that line. Which is such a shame, because I wanted to like this much more than I ultimately did.