TOMORROWLAND. Imaginative, sincere and unpretentious sci-fi
The challenge for characters is to skillfully navigate between alternative realities and understand the rules governing them. Meanwhile, for the viewer to have a good time, they must give these dimensions internal logic, arrange them properly in relation to each other to provoke as few doubts as possible, to be complementary and coherent. Such scripts are probably dream projects for Hollywood directors. They can then harness the latest technologies to make films, try new narrative and formal solutions, unorthodoxly use editing, explore all the tricks offered by the Muse, and experiment with storytelling, breaking its rules and bending classical structures. After Back to the Future, after Terminator, after The Matrix, after Looper, it’s time for Tomorrowland.
Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland draws heavily from the titles mentioned above. Clear references to Zemeckis’s trilogy mix with the parody of scenes from James Cameron and the Wachowskis’ work. Tomorrowland is also a tribute to the Cinema of New Adventure, entirely direct and unambiguous. In his film, Bird does not hide his fascination with that period; perhaps he reveals what shaped him as a viewer, and only later as a creator. In one of the scenes, Casey – the main character – enters an antique shop where various gadgets and props of popular culture are displayed. Posters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind hang on the walls, a statue with a hibernating Han Solo is placed at the entrance, Zurg from Toy Story 2 quickly passes across the screen, and a Stormtrooper stands at the checkout. Brad Bird suggests to us how we should read his film, trying to play on our sentiment for that cinema. On this level, a lot can be extracted from Tomorrowland: how it processes many motifs, how it draws heavily from popular culture, how it is not afraid of confrontation with inevitable comparisons.
The plot of Tomorrowland is complicated and requires attention, but ultimately, it is clearly laid out. The director avoids expository overload. Step by step, we follow Frank and discover a new world. The action takes place on two timelines, and Bird simultaneously introduces several characters whose fates are intertwined in a non-trivial way. At the beginning, in an elaborate flashback, we learn about Frank’s youth (played by Thomas Robinson as a child and George Clooney as an adult). The boy is an inventor who, in 1965, arrives at the World’s Fair in New York to present the jetpack he created, a backpack-sized machine that allows flying. His project is not accepted by the conceited Nix (Hugh Laurie). However, Frank catches the attention of a certain girl who attaches a mysterious “T” emblem to his jacket, and later invites him to follow her. The boy then goes through a portal and appears in the future world.
Casey undergoes a similar journey several decades later. An identical emblem falls into her hands, and after touching it, she finds herself in a completely different space. These two main characters will finally meet and together have to solve a very serious, impossible-to-downplay problem. It seems to me that even genre-wise, it’s too heavy for the light, youthful nature of Tomorrowland. It’s a pity that Bird didn’t settle for having these characters fight only for themselves. They have to heroically save humanity. Fortunately, the director manages to avoid pathos and loftiness.
Brad Bird’s film has a lavish, sometimes overwhelming formal side. CGI sometimes seems to overflow from the screen, making this world appear artificial and alien. The future world is immersed in holograms displayed everywhere, buildings and interiors are in shades of gray and white. In this case, the director does not propose anything new but replicates the familiar vision of the city of the future from science fiction cinema – a place completely sterile, richly equipped with machines and applications replacing humans in a vast number of activities. These sequences are executed with grandeur and precision but more resemble a computer game than a possible future.
Much more interesting things happen in the present. Bird cleverly moves from one location to another, skillfully stages dynamic sequences. Particularly interesting is the fast-paced evacuation from Frank’s house. It impresses with its choreography, rhythmic editing, dynamic camera work, and elegantly interwoven humor. A gem. This incredibly intense and brilliantly executed sequence requires a wink and understanding. Just like the whole movie.
Tomorrowland is a roller coaster. A combination of the most imaginative moments from the James Bond series with the conventionality and lightness of Back to the Future. Undoubtedly naive cinema, but also sincere and unpretentious. If someone has even a bit of a child in them, they will easily find themselves in this world.