I was on vacation, and the one movie theatre in town had only two options. It was this, or Pitch Perfect 2. I have not seen Pitch Perfect 1. Also, I like George Clooney. Tomorrowland it was!


If one of those old-school sf fans who keeps trying to make teenagers read Heinlein juveniles was hired to make a big-budget movie as propaganda for optimism, they might well have created Tomorrowland.

The plot, as best as I can summarize it without too many spoilers, is that a little boy tries to build a jetpack in 1964. He is encouraged by a mysterious little girl, Athena, who tells him to hope and keep trying and to believe in optimism and the future. Then the movie jumps ahead to Casey, a genius teenage girl who believes in hope and trying and optimism and the future. We know this because most of her dialogue early on consists of stuff like, “Keep trying! You can’t give up hope! Believe in the future! Cynicism is bad! Optimism is good!”

Then she gets a magic button that transports her to a cool future straight out of Analog circa 1950. (In one of the few actual cool bits in the movie, her physical self and surroundings in the current world continue to affect her self in the future; when she moves, both her selves move, so if she walks into the wall of her present-day house, she smacks into an invisible barrier in the future. Sadly, not much is made of this.)

And then she meets Athena, who proceeds to direct her on a plot coupon collecting adventure. There are random killer robots. And also George Clooney, the idealistic little boy, now grown up and bitter. Casey lectures him on optimism, in case you missed her speech the first time. But even if you missed it the first two times, it’s okay; she gives it about six more times. And if you miss those, you still won’t miss the speech, because other characters give it too. Repeatedly.

I liked the girl who played Athena. She had a surprising amount of technical skill. I did not like the girl who played Casey, but I think that was at least as much the fault of the script as the actress. Clooney had the advantage of playing the bitter guy, which meant he had the least number of paens to optimism.

I appreciated the message – you can change the world, but first you have to believe that change is possible; optimism is not stupidity and despair is not wisdom; the future might be pretty cool – but I did not appreciate that about 50% of the total dialogue consisted of explicitly stating the message. After about the twentieth time some character robotically recites something like, “Optimism is good! Despair is bad! Believe in a bright future!” I started feeling like I was in the Brave New World. Which is not at all what was intended.

Also, considering that the entire movie was about the idea that the future is cool… the future was not actually that cool. It had robots, jet packs, floating swimming pools, and floating trains. The swimming pools were neat, but by now kids have seen lots of movies depicting cool futures, and pretty much all of them have a more comprehensive and appealing vision of future coolness than “things that float.”

And also, the future was not actually the future. It was a pocket dimension. I think. It was explained several times, collecting additional plot holes and confusingness with each iteration.

This was by no means the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It had some good bits. And it was at least bad in a different way than big-budget kids’ movies are usually bad. I normally find Disney movies highly competent but slick. This was not slick. It was a hot mess. I suspect that there was so much interference from so many people, many of them probably trying to make sure the audience could follow it, that it ended up simultaneously convoluted and simplistic, over-explained and confusing. And while it was not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it is very possibly the most anvillicious.
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

I'm getting the sense that Pitch Perfect is fart comedy for a female audience, with music to make it palatable. So. Dire choice!
stranger: rose nebula on starfield (Default)

From: [personal profile] stranger

Glad to have an assessment of Tomorrowland, since the trailer (ubiquitous at Age of Ultron showings) included various somewhat neat stuff, but had certain ominous indications as well. I had no idea if it might truly repay viewing.

Pitch Perfect 2, which I went into without knowing PP1, has minimal substance but it's prime-quality fluff about college singing groups. No SF content at all, but it's an entertaining not-quite-two hours.
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)

From: [personal profile] laurashapiro

Oh, what a shame. The first trailer I saw got me excited about this movie; I was really hoping it would be good.

OTOH, the second trailer, the one that played before Age of Ultron? VIOLENCE VIOLENCE VIOLENCE. I had second thoughts.

Now I'm wondering how they made that second trailer out of the movie you saw.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

Awww, that's too bad, because of the various trailers before Age of Ultron, that was the only one that made me actually want to see the movie. It didn't look great by any means, but it looked really fun. Bleh! It's good to have the warning, though.
Edited Date: 2015-05-26 07:19 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

From: [personal profile] davidgillon

“Optimism is good! Despair is bad! Believe in a bright future!” I started feeling like I was in the Brave New World.

Or Metropolis, or 1984. Scarey that Tomorrowland plays it straight!

From: [personal profile] londonkds

Like everyone's reviews, it sounds like the dubious political subtexts people saw in The Incredibles were justified.

Defeatism in the face of environmental problems may be a bad thing, but the response should not be to stubbornly assert the desirability of a mid-20th-century pop-science future that won't work and even if it could wouldn't be compatible with environmental sustainability.
ide_cyan: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ide_cyan


("Think big, 'sti!" being a catchphrase from a satirical Quebec comedy about a caricatural, America-worshipping buffoon named Elvis Gratton.)

From: [identity profile] jorrie-spencer.livejournal.com

Oh, wow. There sure are benefits to optimism, and I try to be optimistic myself. I prefer ultimately upbeat movies and books. But. There have been times when the just-believe, just-hope message has been pretty dire in movies. And this sounds worse than those times!

(I sometimes wonder with these ham-handed deliveries: What is the take-home message here? That you just weren't optimistic enough so that's why bad things have happened in your life?)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

It was actually, "If you assume that positive outcomes are impossible, then you won't try to change anything." Which is reasonable. It was just stated in such a ham-handed manner.

From: [identity profile] arielstarshadow.livejournal.com

I saw the trailer and wondered if the film was any good - too bad, because parts of it looked fun.

My last movie seen before I head to Moldova was Mad Max: Fury Road, which I loved. My one issue with it was the lack of POC, but it was an awesome step forward for women in film, and a damn fine film overall.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

I loved Fury Road. While there definitely could have been more people of color, there were several women of color in the main cast, which is at least better than many action movies.
melebeth: (Default)

From: [personal profile] melebeth

When I saw the original trailer, which was just the scenes of her popping into and out of Tomorrowland, I was all "Ooh! Pretty! Want to see!".

When I saw the NEW trailer, with George Clooney and the start of their shared adventure, I moved to, "Eh. Maybe on cable, but mostly I don't care."

From: [identity profile] jennifergale.livejournal.com

Oops indeed. My daughters tried convincing me to take them yesterday. I had already been warned, thank goodness.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

When a movie's as anvillicious as that, I kind of wish an actual anvil would fall.
sovay: (Rotwang)

From: [personal profile] sovay

When a movie's as anvillicious as that, I kind of wish an actual anvil would fall.

Plenty of other things did!

From: [identity profile] a2zmom.livejournal.com

I had seen a trailer and therefore had no desire to see it, but the NY Times review of seems spot on. Here's the opening of it:

My son briefly had a youth baseball coach whose way of inspiring his demoralized players was to stand at the dugout entrance screaming at them to have fun. “Tomorrowland,” Brad Bird’s energetic new film, a shiny live-action spectacle from Disney, reminds me of that guy. There is nothing casual or whimsical about this movie’s celebration of imagination, optimism and joy. On the contrary: It’s a determined and didactic argument in favor of all those things, and an angry indictment of everyone who opposes them.

This was exactly the impression I had from the trailer. Based on the Times and your review, I was obviously correct in my assessment.

What's sad to me is that the 1964 opening takes place at the NY World's Fair. I attended that fair several times and I will never forget it. It was full of wonder and magic and actually made you feel that anything was possible and that the world was truly becoming a better place via the magic of technology. Maybe we're just too cynical now, but it seems that the feeling of endless possibility is sadly missing from this movie.
sovay: (Rotwang)

From: [personal profile] sovay

And while it was not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it is very possibly the most anvillicious.

[livejournal.com profile] derspatchel and I just got back from a showing; we talked story doctoring all the way home. Our problem was less the anvillicious idealism than the fact that the third act completely falls apart. The first act is all backstory and fleeing from androids; the second act is meeting Frank and getting to Tomorrowland; the third act is Tomorrowland, HELLOBOOM. We think if the fleeing from androids and meeting Frank part had been condensed into an act and a half, meaning that they get to Tomorrowland before the last half-hour of the picture, the story (a) would have moved faster and more smoothly (b) there might have been time for an actual thoughtful resolution in keeping with the themes of the story. The closing image, of the dreamers from all across the world (almost none of them white) rising out of the wheatfields to see the city of the future, is beautiful and inclusive and genuinely optimistic, promising a better future than the one Tomorrowland itself was designed to be. It's just that what immediately proceeds it is a mess.

We both really thought the climax was going to involve Casey reprogramming the Monitor, not blowing it up—why else are we shown her casual facility with technology, like fixing her father's circuit board as she walks by? It never comes into play! Instead the climax is apparently Frank's emotional goodbye to Athena, after which her self-destruct sequence destroys the Monitor and with it Hugh Laurie. Which was the other element I really looked funny at, personally. From what we see of him, David isn't a malevolent villain, a grandiose tyrant or a selfish gatekeeper; he's Frank's counterpart, a disappointed idealist who really believed that confronting humanity with its imminent doom would galvanize it to action, not collapse it into fatalism, and after decades of being proven wrong has apparently decided to ride the original plan to its bitter end, all fifty-eight days remaining of it, because he can no longer imagine any other options, either. If Frank can be redeemed by Casey's obdurate optimism, then David should also be redeemable by Frank and Casey showing him there's another way, not automatically squashed by his own falling machine. Rob pointed out that he is responsible for the vaporization of several innocent policemen in two countries, since the robot agents on Athena's trail are not very particular about the means by which they retrieve and/or dispose of her, but he's still drawn with enough sympathy that I didn't expect the movie to kill him. I thought Athena would shut down, she and Frank would have their tender farewell scene, Casey would fix the Monitor so that it broadcast, if not optimism, then at least some neutral frequency—humanity could crash or salvage itself on its own merits—and someone would haul David out from under that chunk of futuristic architecture (and hope the medicine in this city is equally futuristic), after which they'd all set about trying to repair the world, or at least not drive it to suicide. That was . . . not what happened.

It was like someone filmed a really solid second draft, which is not the same thing as a functional story.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

Obdurate optimism. Such a great phrase and so in keeping with Rachel's review. Thanks for sharing your viewing experience--nice to know some stuff happened along with the calls to embrace the future and keep trying.
sovay: (Rotwang)

From: [personal profile] sovay

Thanks for sharing your viewing experience--nice to know some stuff happened along with the calls to embrace the future and keep trying.

I may have to write a post about this one just to talk about the problems with it. Given the information they needed to convey and the time they could do it in, I don't understand why the third act came out anything like the way it did. I could think of better structures! It's what I spent my shower doing!

[edit] I am now concerned that one of the problems is that too much connective tissue was edited out of the film before release. I found this interview with Damon Lindelof (video-only, sadly) where he talks about the editing process:

The first friends and family, I think that we probably screened a two-hour-and-twenty-five-minute-long cut of the movie, which we as filmmakers acknowledged was way too long, and it was paced incorrectly, and it just didn't have any real flow to it, but we were really curious about which parts of the movie—where were you in and where were you out? Because that's where you lose perspective as a filmmaker, because you wouldn't shoot it if you didn't think it was necessary [. . .] Stuff that we thought was absolutely essential for the movie, certain members of—you know, the consensus of the friends and family was essentially, like, "Don't need it." And we were like, "But if you don't have that—!" and they go, "Don't need it, don't need it, don't need it," and we were like, "Great! Gone!"

Here's one of the deleted scenes, a piece of animated backstory that was taken out during production: "Plus Ultra." I agree that the movie as it stands is exposition-heavy, and I'm perfectly willing to believe that the animation as originally placed killed the narrative's forward momentum dead, but there's exposition in it that appears nowhere in the finished film and is actually incredibly valuable to the audience's understanding of Tomorrowland. First of all, it gives us the mission statement: that Tomorrowland was founded as a sort of pocket universe think-tank where research and invention could flourish without the constraints or threats of global politics. Secondly, that it wasn't supposed to stay secret history: "In just twenty short years, we will share this extraordinary place with the entire world." In the movie, it's all too easy to conclude that Tomorrowland was always intended as a secret by invitation, a private escape for a very select—and traditionally restricted—cadre of Earth's best and brightest, making the city's existence a more uneasily technocratic fantasy than the wide-eyed, free-for-all optimism of the film's prevailing mood should seem to suggest.* Knowing that this wonderful city of the future was always meant to be available to the rest of Earth—and that whatever went wrong in 1984 didn't just derail the course of progress in Tomorrowland, but actively blocked the city from sharing its discoveries—both makes better sense of the film's timeline, which is otherwise rather hazy about the process by which Tomorrowland deteriorated from its glittering World's Fair heyday to its present-day almost derelict state, and signals to the audience that the film's politics are not exceptionalist, which is apparently a critique it's been receiving. I would not have junked this sequence. I would have relocated it. Or at least salvaged those few lines and thrown them elsewhere in the dialogue. And I worry that the original script was full of this kind of thing—cumulative little moments that would have held the plot together so much better than it currently holds itself.
Edited Date: 2015-05-28 01:42 am (UTC)
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)

From: [personal profile] sovay

(I had to put this footnote off by itself because LJ-comment character limits are stupid.)

* I would accept this reading as a critique of 1950's American science fiction, where the future was almost uniformly white and straight and English-speaking and male-dominated, except that there's very little evidence in the film that this undercutting of nostalgia is an intended effect. The fact that past visions of the future were so narrow is one of the reasons the film's ending resonates so powerfully—the new generation of builders, inventors, designers, and dreamers are all from traditionally marginalized backgrounds; if Tomorrowland is now set to achieve its original goal of sharing the means to a better future with the rest of the world, then it will be a better future by more than just straight white mid-century American male standards—but we're still encouraged to view the era in which Tomorrowland was conceived as a golden age of technological optimism, without ever once noting that the actual year 1964 would have had very little to say to a young woman as technically competent and scientifically oriented as Casey.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

By far my favorite part of the movie was the final montage. It actually conveyed the hope and optimism and uplift that the rest of the movie mostly screamed in my ear.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

I can definitely see why (based just on your and [livejournal.com profile] sovay's comments)

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

wow, yeah (speaking based on what you've shared in text; I haven't looked at the video interview or the animation yet--though I want to see the animation next).

In the movie, it's all too easy to conclude that Tomorrowland was always intended as a secret by invitation, a private escape for a very select—and traditionally restricted—cadre of Earth's best and brightest, making the city's existence a more uneasily technocratic fantasy than the wide-eyed, free-for-all optimism of the film's prevailing mood should seem to suggest.

That sounds like a huge miss and huge mistake.
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Default)

From: [personal profile] lokifan

Yeah, this is what I've heard. It makes me sad because I do believe optimism is good, including in stories of a bright future - escapism is not the flight of the deserter but the escape of the prisoner etc etc. But it sounds SO heavy-handed.

Plus as a millenial (she types, wincing) I kind of resent what I've heard - the idea that young people are all about apocalypses and we've all let go of hope.

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