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Monday
Jun082015

The Tomorrowland Effect

Don’t Screw This Up!

This is what I was thinking as I stepp­ed out of the Magic Eye Theater after watching the Tomorrowland Preview at Epcot this April. 

Okay, I didn’t exactly use the word “screw”, but I did approach the film more with a sense of trepidation and skepticism, than excitement and anticipation. A post-millennial film centered on optimistic futurism, could be a virtual minefield of missed opportunities. However it could also have been the best vehicle to express many of the ostensibly counter-cultural views that are the essence of The Epcot Legacy

During the ensuing month, I felt enormously constricted by forces both within and beyond my control —creatively petrified by the enormity of some upcoming projects. And yet I continued intellectualizing about the possibilities for E82’s evolution but piecing together the fragments of thought was extremely difficult to conceptualize, let alone express. I was missing something to make it all work.

On May 21st, I walked into the theater with the general attitude of a building inspector sent to assess the integrity of a highly speculative structure. By all accounts it could have likely been a vacuous “Space Mountain movie” and wouldn’t possibly meet my deeply personal and extremely unrealistic expectations for a substantive film that could Entertain, Inform and most importantly Inspire. 

At approximately 9:45pm EST, I had walked-out of Tomorrowland Completely Renewed!

From my perspective, something miraculous had just taken place. It was as if somehow all the things I’ve been moving towards, everything that I’ve struggled to create and every thought I’ve had about progress of mankind had suddenly been made self-evident, “A place where nothing is impossible” had just been made possible. As a result, my whole being has changed. Once lethargic and despondent, I’m now more energetic, creative, mentally acute, exuberant and thankful but most significantly, filled with an overwhelming sense of urgency towards nothing less than changing the course of human events. 

But how on Earth could that happen during the process of a couple hours watching a “children’s movie”!? 

There are several answers to that question, most of which unsurprisingly would stem from a resume-style listing of the Director and Writer‘s past accomplishments. Although merely stating that the combined talents of the men that created The Incredibles and LOST would be remarkably shortsighted. Instead, I would argue that what Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen have done is to create the most original and cohesive “meta movie” in cinema history. To put it more succinctly…

TOMORROWLAND IS A PIN!

 

That is to say, that Tomorrowland (the film) functions identically to the “Pins” depicted within it. The most compelling evidence for this hypothesis can be found in its most prevalent criticism. Whether you loved or hated the film, nearly every critic and layperson has complained that you don’t get to spend enough time in the title location. Which I would contend is the entire point! As, (Plus Ultra co-founder) Thomas Edison famously said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress”. Ether by design, or divine intervention, one should leave this movie feeling hungry and not satisfied. 

Analytically I expect that Damon Lindelof, with his innovative and unconventional writing style, deserves most of the credit for the creation of this ingenious cinematic device. And while many deride his esoteric style I would venture that his work is so precise in its depiction of the human condition that it’s undoubtedly the reason for most of his polarizing persona. If anything, there’s more reality in the form of his writing than I see in almost every story of this era that seeks to explain every action on the screen with all the wit and complexity of a 12-year-old’s book report. In real life one simply does not have all of the answers. And also as in reality there’s always a logical reason behind that “missing” information. Just watching an interview with Lindelof will explain most of the essential and elusive elements of the story. In short, Damon’s work… makes you work.

Nevertheless, Tomorrowland is not without its flaws and, as Damon himself points out. The film’s original running time was significantly longer explaining some of its abbreviated appearance. And a few minor examples of popularly perceived (although largely disproven) global calamities blemish the film’s otherwise pristine canvas.    

BUT, I do think this slight imperfection also illuminates our unsustainable “all or nothing” approach to support. We must stop allowing our personal motivations to impede our collective progress! I love Tomorrowland for many powerful reasons, and I’m not going to renounce it simply because it does not perfectly align with my views.      

However, talking about any singular aspect of the film’s technical or artistic achievements/imperfections is tantamount to visiting Disneyland for the first time and fixating on the pavement. Most, if not all of the negative reviews, simply fail to see the forest for the trees (or in this case the wheat field for the stalks).

Much like The Fountainhead (1949), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984), Tomorrowland (2015) is a film made with the specific intend of conveying a timely and impactful message to the audience of its time. But instead of fending-off communism, preventing nuclear annihilation or ending Cold War tensions, Tomorrowland’s message is less about avoiding negative events than it is a call to action. Instead of running away from our problems it commands us to solve them.

At the core of the film there are two overriding messages:

One of condemnation…

“In every moment there is the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. So you dwell on this terrible future and you resign yourselves to it. For one reason, because that future doesn’t ask anything of you… Today!”

 —David Nix/Hugh Laurie 

And the other, of discernment… 

“There are two wolves who are always fighting.
One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope.
The question is: Which wolf wins?”

The answer: “The one you feed.”

—   Casey Newton/ Britt Robertson

Both of these messages are powerful statements that, if used in concert could change the course of civilization. As I’ve stated before, I believe that a cultural renaissance is just over the horizon. And while I could point to several historical similarities and sociological studies, I’ll simply point to the overall attitude of the “Casey” character in the film as a reflection of productive Millennials everywhere and our growing annoyance over the status quo. I hate sounding like “Network” but We Are Over It! And, as the “Frank” character puts it, “We Are Tired of Waiting for Someone Else to Do It!”

Considering its paradigm shifting rhetoric, it should come as no surprise that critical reaction to the film has been mixed as seems to have a strong tendency to expose our true polarity — severely angering the pessimists, and dramatically empowering the (currently) oppressed optimists.
The truly encouraging part is that the consensus opinion of the film has continued to rise above 50%. And, by extension, one can assume that to spite the oppressive conditions of a 24-hour news cycle and an apocalyptic Cineplex we optimists are not so vastly outnumbered as the media leads us to believe.    That alone should inspire hope for our future.    

Still, many (including myself) are rather concerned about the “returns” of such an amazingly original film. But, the “success” or failure of film is not determined in a few weeks at the box office. Many of the most important and beloved films, were once thought of as failures during their initial release. It’s a Wonderful Life, Blade Runner, TRON, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane and the film that invented originality FANTASIA are perfect companions for Brad Bird’s “optimistic opus”.

This might sound strange but about 2/3rds of the way into the movie I was itching for it to end.  By that time I had already received the message loud and clear, and was eager to start changing the world “…Today”! And by the time Hugh Laurie’s character, David Nix, delivered his Klaatu-esque speech I saw people in front of me literally on the edge of their seats. And before he even finished his diatribe, I heard soft (but nevertheless audible) comments of affirmation in the air.

It was at that point I realized that while this film was a culminating experience for me, it was a genesis for others. And I couldn’t help wondering how many men, women, and most importantly, children would be inspired by this film and work toward creating their own Tomorrowland

And then I thought:

“What if there was real place where people could spend a day absorbed in the wonders of innovation and the diversity of mankind. A place where inspiration and application converged. And when you went home, you could not only relive that experience, but seamlessly continue the journey by activating a Living Blueprint of YOUR Future…”

 

Want to Visit the Real Tomorrowland?
Go Ahead, Touch the Pin… 

Edited by Christine Cryderman

For further reading/listening please visit…

 

 

Reader Comments (5)

After seeing the previews, I had said "I'm going to see it, but I'm not expecting great things". And then (before I saw the movie), I saw on Facebook that you said you loved it, and my expectations for the movie were raised. And I saw the movie, and realized why you said it was excellent. But, although I did enjoy the movie, and agree that it was well done, I don't think that it's quite as original as you make it out to be. It reminded me a lot of a movie that I personally feel is one of the most underrated Disney movies of my lifetime, Meet the Robinsons. Both had the same message, that the future can be whatever you can imagine it to be, and without the dreamers and the do-ers, the future will be bleak.

On a completely artistic note, I love the animation you did for the "pin". That would make an awesome screensaver. Do people still use screensavers?

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I appreciate the optimism of the movie more than anything else in it. I'm not an Rand follower so I don't necessarily buy those parts of the movie (although, again, we see what happens in a Tomorrowland left only to those pursuits and jealously hoarded that Rand's ideas were majorly flawed - much like we saw in the video game Bioshock), but I, like you, love the power of optimism at work!

I gotta say, though, I think what we know of Walt and his commitment to science that he would have followed popular scientific consensus on climate change (and I get the sense that the current Disney agrees, though I know they don't always have Walt in mind when they make decisions). I know he was a conservative guy so maybe he would have followed the conservative trend of denying it (and maybe even evolution, though he definitely supported it in his films and presentations).

Either way, I agree with you that it shouldn't be an "all or nothing" approach and I certainly still support the endeavor! :)

June 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Smart

Great perspective Joshua! I for one am firmly in the "we didn't get to spend enough time in Tomorrowland" camp, the world they created was so richly detailed and beautiful that I wanted to know everything about it and from what I've read in interviews I think much of it had to be edited out for the theatrical release. Perhaps we'll get some great features on the Blu-ray release. That being said I think drawing a parallel between the audience being left wanting more and Casey being left wanting more as motivation is an interesting insight that I will have to consider further. One thing in the film that really emphasized the theme of Optimistic Futurism for me was the opening setting of the 1964 World's Fair, it was a subtle reminder that a positive, hopeful view of the future is not something new but is actually a part of our culture that seems to have fallen dormant in recent times. 17 years after the Fair we would get EPCOT Center and over 30 years later we now have "Tomorrowland" which, while clearly not as grand a statement as EPCOT, is a fantastic reminder that feeding the right wolf can bring amazing results.

Another disappointment to me is that we did not get a "The Art of Tomorrowland" book to accompany the movie, the visual and historic inspirations for the film would be amazing to see and read about in greater depth.

I was at a 5/21 screening as well, this was probably my most anticipated film of the year and I enjoyed it very much. I had a lot of thoughts about the film after leaving and I enjoyed reading your experience with the movie too. Well done!

June 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris D.

The movie goes on sale in less than three days, and I am counting down. So it wasn't Star Wars or Avatar; I don't care. I will take an inspiring message over special effects. That is not to say that it didn't have both, and I must say that I thought the quality of the effects were quite good. However, I am sure that I will not leave the theater in December after watching Lucas' latest with a renewed spirit ready to make a difference in the world.

I agree that Meet The Robinsons had a similar message, but Tomorrowland does a much better job of putting it in your face. I am confident that Walt would have been proud of having his name on this one, because it portrays his faith in humanity and hope for the future. Maybe WDI should think about creating a section in one of the parks for this movie like the others forementioned. Oh, wait..........never mind.

October 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Amazing perspective and elegance.I think we still have more than enough time to visit it once in our life time. Because in Tomorrowland" camp, the world seems a Musical Heaven. They created everything like a theatrical movie release. Perhaps we'll get some great features on the Blu-ray release.

December 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

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