Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland Poster


I try to go into most movies without any preconceived notions, simply waiting to be impressed. If anything, I was even a little excited for Tomorrowland, because if there’s one fictional sub-genre I can get behind, it’s sci-fi. Despite it appearing in the trailers as a massive Disney advertisement for its own theme park, I saw George Clooney looking grim and Hugh Laurie acting evil, so I though I might as well go in with a good attitude. What a quaint notion that seems now. Lesson learned, though: never have a good attitude about anything, if it can be helped.

As a product of the early 2000s myself, I’ve got a certain amount of nostalgia for director Brad Bird’s work. He directed The Iron Giant back in 1999, which pulled at my juvenile heartstrings even then, as well as The Incredibles in 2004 and Ratatouille in 2007. Though Bird technically made the transition from animation to live-action with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011, I can’t help but feel that something was lost along the way.

From a conceptual standpoint, the art design looks really sleek and cool and sci-fi, and in all honesty, the futuristic city of Tomorrowland seems pretty well realized. In practical terms, however, the CG quickly begins to look laughably fake. I don’t know if I’m just noticing it more frequently now, or if RealD 3D just makes everything look like shit, but I’m appalled at how many 3D films this year look visually repulsive. Seriously, sit too close to the screen and you can see the virtual stitching starting to come undone. It’s like the Star Wars prequels all over again. Maybe I’m being over critical and maybe the sensible, 2D version looks fine, but all I can say for certain is that we badly need to get over this 3D fad before we all contract haemolacria.

Before I get into the minutiae of what ardently destroyed the experience for me, I want to briefly mention the cast. George Clooney, to his credit, really does try the best he can with the pile of trash of a script that he’s insolently been asked to work with.

Likewise, it’s good fun to watch Hugh Laurie hamming it up as the bad guy, delivering the most tortured one-liners ever put to film and slap-fighting Clooney near the end. And even though I was initially down on Ellen Page wannabe Britt Robertson, I kind of warmed to her when I realized that she was trying to act in front of a featureless green screen for ninety-five percent of the movie. She might be forgiven, then, for seeming to over-react to a comical degree in nearly every situation, but one must bear in mind that there was actually nothing for her to react to. Maybe she should have been in charge instead of Bird, since apparently her imagination was way more exciting that whatever was happening on-screen.

And now we’re getting to it, I guess. I’ve danced around this issue long enough. The story. It was only during the credits that I discovered who was responsible for this train wreck: none other than Damon “Prometheus-ruiner” Lindelof. Well, that explains it! I thought. Lindelof’s putrid fingerprints are all over the script, from the insipid, directionless characters to the pedestrian, pseudo-philosophical “fate is what we make it” ending.

The first awful character we’re properly introduced to is Robertson’s Casey Newton: a precocious, tech-savvy young woman, completely without flaw and who, through optimistic energy alone, is able to alter the fabric of space-time. I wish I were making that up. Then we’ve got Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, who’s a bit more well-rounded, being a jaded cynic, basically resigned to the fact humanity is shafted—I found him the most relatable, incidentally. So what happens when you toss these two powder-keg personalities into the same situation? Nothing much at all, frankly, but that might have rather more to do with their dialogue sounding like it was written by someone who’s never interacted with another human being.

My real problem is twofold: 1) neither character is deep or complex enough for me to feel more than superficially invested in their struggles, and 2) neither character really has anything to do, specifically Clooney’s, until right at the very end. The story is your typical “sightseeing tour” affair, with the characters visiting exotic locations with nothing much to do once they get there. In fact, Casey Newton asks at one point, “am I supposed to be doing something?” An appropriate question, to be sure, but I would have extended it to every animal, vegetable, and mineral in the plot up until that point. Hilariously, there’s this ongoing subplot involving the two leads being hunted by kill-droids from an alternate dimension (which sounds way more interesting than it actually is), but it’s blatantly obvious that its entire purpose is to contrive a reason for the protagonists to move along to the next boring set-piece when the story is done cramming exposition down our throats at the current one.

And for a rollicking sci-fi fantasy adventure, there’s a hell of a lot of half-baked exposition that Lindelof insists on spoon-feeding us. The action is so choppy and stop/go/stop because he has to slam on the breaks to crowbar in even more expository bullshit. Show us, Lindelof, don’t just tell us. The indecisive tone doesn’t help the fractured pacing either, as scenes in which multiple people get atomized with no remorse are juxtaposed with scenes in which Hugh Laurie struts around uttering the aforementioned tortured one liners. Speaking of, let’s get around to my other major sticking point, the evil plan.

For the vast majority of the movie, the Earth is threatened with destruction in a wholly unspecific way, allegedly due to a big machine that George Clooney built while he was bumming around an alternate dimension. Neither Lindelof nor Clooney seem to know exactly what the big machine actually does, but the consensus seems to be that it can predict the future somehow. No one knows why the world is going to end though, so they’ve got to travel to the source to figure it out. Once there, Hugh Laurie reveals that he’s the one who’s seeding trans-dimensional bad-vibes to Earth, which is making everyone get really depressed or aggressive or something. But here’s the thing: Hugh Laurie outright admits that even if Earth gets destroyed, it won’t have any impact whatsoever on Tomorrowland. So my question is, why continue to do it even if you know it won’t make any difference to you and yours? Just for kicks? The whole thing is such a contrived, unintuitive mess from start to finish that it’s making my brain hurt just trying to remember it.

And at the very end of the movie, when George Clooney is giving a bit of an epilogue after the big machine gets destroyed, he says something to the effect of, “this is going to be a lot harder than destroying a big evil tower.” Okay, great. Thanks for drawing attention to how idiotic the plot was, Lindelof. But why don’t you change it and make it less idiotic instead of sitting there, grinning and pointing at the massive shit you just took? Lindelof’s absolute delirious contempt for his audience is nothing new, but this reaches a whole new level of awful.

So, to make a long story short, my hopes of a sci-fi fantasy epic were DOA, Damon Lindelof demonstrated what he thinks of the people who see his movies, Disney gets to masturbate over it’s own intellectual property for a while, and 3D is still terrible. See you, space cowboy…

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Incredibles: Who Cares About John Galt?

Pixar, throughout the years, has produced more than its fair share of exceptional films. In my mind, one movie in particular rises above the others. The Incredibles, released in 2004, has everything I could want in an animated film, and indeed, in any film; action with a sense of something at stake, romance with consequences, and brilliantly written characters and a plot which invites the audience to experience something…incredible.

Moreover, the film possesses an intricate and engrossing commentary on the ethics and values associated with Objectivist philosophy, which may (or may not) have been evident to anyone familiar with the work of philosopher Ayn Rand.

Allow me to provide only the barest background into the admittedly labyrinthian intricacies of Objectivist thought. In its most basic form, Objectivism (as far as values and ethics are concerned) holds that there are three virtues which make it possible to honor the ultimate Objectivist value, that is to say, one’s life. These virtues are rationality, productiveness, and pride*. Rand believed that no man of integrity could live without these three virtues and hope to live his life to the utmost.

Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s magnum opus published in 1957, is also referenced through the film as it remains to this day the most complete and comprehensive guide to Objectivist thought. In it, Rand portrays a world in which society’s most productive members have been demonized and have therefore chosen to go into hiding in order to watch a civilization which champions mediocrity to crumble from the inside.

Now, in the case of The Incredibles, the superheroes have been forcibly driven into hiding and are no longer allowed to use their powers which once set them above their fellow man. From the beginning, Mr. Incredible is punished for using his intimate knowledge of his insurance firm’s inner workings to help people who are in need, because the though the company’s profits may suffer. He is discouraged from that “sacred” virtue, productiveness, in the name of the greater good (at least from the point of view of his tyrannical employer).

Likewise, when Mr. and Mrs. Incredible argue over whether their son, Dash, should be allowed to go out for sports, Mr. Incredible laments the fact that theirs is a world in which the mediocre are heroes while the strong are themselves oppressed. He goes on to say that only those who are truly exceptional should be celebrated and acknowledges the fact that Dash’s superpowers may give him an advantage, but argues that his son’s success should not be limited by the inability of others.

There are, however, natural exceptions which disqualify this film from being about Objectivism. One such exception is the fact that the protagonist, Mr. Incredible, believes that saving people should be done for its own sake, whereas Objectivist ethics would imply that he himself should be gaining something from that endeavor.

If you’ve never read one of Rand’s novels, I do recommend it. The Fountianhead or Anthem is a good place to start. But be warned, do not accept everything you read as fact, even when Rand may present it as such. And would you kindly remember one last thing for me? We all make choices, but in the end…our choices make us.

*Paraphrased from an essay by Rand entitled The Objectivist Ethics. (1961)