Movies - Tomorrowland: first look - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Movies - Tomorrowland: first look

Tomorrowland, the new movie from Brad Bird, which has been a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside a scary non-disclosure agreement since it was first announced back in January 2013.

Back then, this was all we knew about it: it shared a name with the perennially popular Disneyland zone; it starred George Clooney as, according to the official synopsis, a former “boy genius”, “jaded by disillusionment”, and Britt Robertson as a “bright, optimistic teen”, who team up to find an elusive place known as... yes, you guessed it.

And that was that. The film was cast, with Hugh Laurie, Judy Greer, Kathryn Hahn and others signing on, the film was shot, and the film went into post, all with nary a peep since. Hence the excitement as heads backstage to meet Bird and Damon Lindelof, the writer-producer who came up with the idea in the first place, and finally get them to say something about this unknown quantity, this truly exciting blank slate in a summer of reboots and sequels and shared universes. And so we ask that question what is Tomorrowland? and quickly realise that, in order to understand it, we first have to go back to Yesterday ville.

“I was having lunch with Sean Bailey, who’s president at Disney Motion Pictures,” explains Lindelof, “and I was saying that when I first heard about Pirates Of The Caribbean being made into a movie, I was like, ‘A ride? You’re going to make that into a movie?’ But then, there was something almost liberating about not being married to a story. And Sean said, ‘What rides in the park do you think are worthy of exploitation?’ I said, ‘I would go and see a movie called Tomorrowland.’”

As a ride, Pirates Of The Caribbean immediately suggests a world and characters (“You have great images,” says Bird), but Tomorrowland is a more difficult nut to crack. How do you base a movie on an area? On ideals? Lindelof knew he had to start with a question yes, that question!

“We'll start with the idea that it’s a real place somewhere in the world,” says Lindelof of the genesis, “and the movie is about a) learning that it exists and b) getting to it. It’s a Close Encounters model, where you see something that inspires you and it infects you.”

The inspiration/infection point for Lindelof came in the shape of a box, that he swears is real and which was apparently uncovered in the Disney archives by Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jensen, who’d been hired by Lindelof (after they bonded over Jensen’s “crazy theories about Lost” during that show’s run) to do some digging about Tomorrowland. The box contained, among other things, “stuff from the ’64 World’s Fair and a magazine from the 1920s”, yet was labelled “1952” (which became the film’s working title). “There was nobody to explain to us how all these random artefacts ended up in the box,” adds Lindelof. “We looked at it as, ‘Wouldn't it be a fun exercise as storytellers to take this box and say every item is part of the movie Tomorrowland?’”

By this point, “we” included Bird, who came onto the project when Lindelof told him about the idea during rewrite/reshoot work on Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. His inspiration/infection point was one word. You know the one. “It was funny,” says Bird. “When we called the project ‘1952’, before we were ready to call it its name, everyone felt like, ‘What is it? It could be a Marilyn Monroe origin story, it could be a combination of the Roswell crash and Singin’ In The Rain. Everyone
felt like they didn't understand it but when we said ‘Tomorrowland’, everyone went, ‘Oooooh!’ as if we were telling them something. The fact that everyone felt that they understood it somewhat from saying those two words grafted together was basically Exhibit A in why this was an interesting thing to do. It’s about the future, and it’s kinda positive, at a time when that’s not a widely held view.”

The future has often been present in Lindelof and Bird’s work, whether it’s directly set there (Prometheus, Star Trek for Lindelof, while Lost is about escape and other planes of existence, among other things) or aesthetically informed by it (Bird’s animated movies, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, are suffused with retro futuristic concepts), and both men saw in Tomorrowland a chance to present a vision of the future on the big screen that wasn't dystopian, for once. “When I hear that word, Tomorrowland, I think of the future as it was imagined back in the ’60s,” says Lindelof. “It’s so hard to present the future now. It’s always easier to obliterate it.” “It’s like today,” laughs Bird, “only wiped out.” “Was it robots that wiped everything out? Was it a tidal wave?” adds Lindelof. “Something with the Kardashians?” chips in Bird, warming to the theme.

What Tomorrowland actually turns out to be will be kept under wraps for some time yet, although you can get a rough idea from the concept art displayed on this page. It will be shining, shimmering, and a representation of Walt Disney’s ideals (see sidebar, right) when putting together the park (Disney himself is referenced in the movie, while some filming took place at Disneyland in Anaheim). It’ll also be almost impossible to get to.

The movie kicks off when teenage tearaway Casey (Robertson) finds a pin among her personal possessions at a police station. When touched, it briefly transports Casey to the plane of existence on which Tomorrowland dwells. “The pin is the conduit,” explains Lindelof. “You will get a vision of Tomorrowland for a very brief time. And unfortunately...” “The first one’s free, kid,” concludes Bird. “And once you glimpse it, what do you do with that? You have an experience and you’re driven to act on the experience.”

Inspired/infected by the pin, Casey tracks down Clooney’s Frank Walker, a cantankerous man with experience of the mysterious place. It was the unlikely pair’s first meeting that formed the basis of the clip Bird and Lindelof brought to the New York Comic Con and which gave the first serious hint that
Tomorrowland is really not what we expected at all.

The set-up is simple: Casey, resourceful and intrepid, has tracked down Frank’s seemingly dilapidated home. Approaching it, she holds up the pin and demands that Frank take her “to the place I saw when I touched this”. Then comes the first surprise a force field that bounces her away from the house.

What follows is a fun, playful game of cat and mouse, involving a burning tractor and a freeze ray, that ends with Frank locked out of his own house while Casey explores its interior, discovering an array of surveillance cameras and TVs tuned in to natural disasters happening across the world, clues that there’s much more to Frank than meets the eye. When Frank regains entry via a secret tunnel, the stage is set for a lengthy dialogue scene as he grills Casey about the pin but again, Bird and Lindelof bank left, with the sudden arrival of a sinister cabal of besuited figures who lay siege to the house, forcing a desperate Frank to deploy a series of booby traps, like a technologically proficient Jigsaw, to ward them off. One last twist their assailants are ever-smiling, unfailingly polite but deadly robots, thus allowing Bird and Lindelof to have their PG-13 cake and eat it too as the invaders are pummelled, lasered and destroyed in unceremonious fashion.

“We realised very early on in the plotting process that there needed to be a force of antagonism,” admits Lindelof of the robots (rumoured to be under the control of Hugh Laurie’s David Nix), “that wanted to prevent them from getting to that place. Even Close Encounters manufactures conflict.”

Doesn't recall a scene in Close Encounters where its heroes escape via flying bathtub. But that’s a clear sign that Tomorrowland could stand alone this summer. “It’s not small, but audiences shouldn't expect a big cast of thousands battle massive unnecessary destruction endgame. This isn't that movie. And we’re proud that it’s not,” says Lindelof. “If you were a seven or eight year old kid, you’d go to this movie and come out of it thinking there really is a place called Tomorrowland.”

So we will get a definitive answer to that question? We will get to see Tomorrowland in all its glory ? Lindelof smiles broadly. “It wouldn't be much of a movie if you didn't!”

Go to alton towers, and chances are you’ll have a cracking time. But you’ll still only be riding on mere roller coasters. Go to any one of the five Tomorrowlands at Disney parks around the world, and you’ll be walking around one man’s vision.

That man is, of course, Walt Disney, who was something of a futurist and saw Tomorrowland as a celebration of mankind’s potential for progress and self improvement. Disney’s dedication at the original site in Anaheim describes the place as “a vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man’s achievement. A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come.”

Such predictions, of course, can quickly become outmoded, and Tomorrowland is constantly being revamped (the first zone, for example, predicted what man would achieve by the year 1986). Each zone is subtly different Disneyland Paris doesn’t actually have a Tomorrowland, instead, its futurescape is called Discoveryland. And if you're sick of traipsing round ideals, don't worry it does feature rollercoasters, including one of the most famous of them all: Space Mountain. Although that won’t be around at the Shanghai park, which will open in December 2015, as it’ll be replaced by a ride based on Tron Legacy. That pesky future just won't stand still.

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