Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tomorrowland: Nostalgia of Hope

britt robertson

Sometimes a movie comes along and the premise alone gets me excited. Usually, this will have something to do with time travel, but more broadly, if it's about the future, I'll have some interest, at least initially. I grew up going to Disney at least once a year and Tomorrowland was always my favorite place, until EPCOT (yes, the all caps version is different than what we have now) came along. Getting that glimpse of what was to come at the end of Carousel of Progress, seeing the animatronic dioramas while exiting Space Mountain, Horizons, World of Motion, Spaceship Earth, etc, were like seeing Star Trek in real life. So when Tomorrowland, the movie was announced and I finally saw the trailer, I was all in. Especially since it was Brad Bird directing. The fact that Shayera was excited to see it too, all on her own, since she saw the trailer without me, was an added bonus. 

Where's my jumpsuit?
So what did I think of the movie? I'm honestly not sure yet. I wouldn't say I was disappointed, but it was not exactly what I expected. It's most certainly worth watching and I would highly recommend having kids of all ages watch it since the ultimate message is the most important thing they could hear right now. And that's what confuses me. I don't normally like anything that comes across as preachy but I'm so much on board with the message of this movie that I might be overlooking whether or not it actually was preachy. I don't think it was, since the action was intense enough to have Shayera crying and begging to leave at one point (we need to work on that), but I may not be the best judge of that.  I think also that because of this, I'm more willing to forgive and overlook the fact that the villain's plot, when finally revealed, seems to contradict the whole point of what he was about. But then again, it's his James Bond villain style explanation that results in the most in your face delivery of the film's message and it's a moment that really resonated with me. 

food replicator
What kid didn't dream of this?
Ultimately, the movie is about having the determination to change the path we're on. It's a type of future, a type of science fiction, that's been sorely missing from our popular culture for some time. The thing is, I also like dark, dystopian, apocalyptic movies. Planet of the Apes is my favorite thing after Star Trek, although, maybe in my mind, an ape takeover may not necessarily be dystopian. But I have noticed a difference in dystopian movies lately. I've always responded to the horror of the genre, and while Mad Max: Fury Road certainly captures that, I get the sense that a lot of the YA style, Hunger Games and company type movies are more about individuals starting over in a way that might be glamorizing the apocalypse or at least making it more acceptable. It's extreme, but compare that to something like The Road, which is as dark a vision of the future as I've ever seen. Nobody watches The Road and comes away acting out scenes from it, dreaming of being Viggo Mortensen, the way they do with Hunger Games

the road movie
This is not glamorous.
And there's certainly an overall anti-scientific bent to most dystopian fiction, but more so lately, I think. Increasingly we see the message that science itself is bad. That technology is soulless, as if anyone were claiming otherwise, and that the answers to all our questions lie inside us or in some other mystical, invisible force. We see stories about science running amok and the answer is that science as a concept must be stopped and this both influences and reflects our social discourse. Dystopian fiction is supposed to be our check and balance, not our shutdown switch. 

view of tomorrowland
I want to go to there.
So when Tomorrowland gives us a glimpse of this magical world, based on science, it's like seeing those rides and dreams I loved as a kid brought to life. And by the way, I'm positive that some of the scenes are directly from some of those rides, in a nod to the Disney/EPCOT nerds. They are scenes of what is possible and the power of the imagination to stimulate creativity through science and technology for the betterment of mankind. It's about looking at technology not as a commodity but as a means to end. This is the opposite of the elite future that we get from Apple now. This is basically the Gene Roddenberry future many of us have dreamt about our whole lives. And while we currently have technology that comes right out of Star Trek, it's certainly not as a means to an end. We live in a world of science consumerism. It's technology porn that we all crave: the latest phone or tablet, the newest TV, the fastest gaming system. But we hardly, if ever, hear talk about what we can actually do with these things. I don't mean what apps it runs, but what it can DO in a real sense, to make our lives better.  Not more convenient, but BETTER. And I'm not even saying that they don't. They might. But we don't hear about it and maybe that should be the focus.

epcot 1982
I waited for this day.
I wouldn't go so far as to think Tomorrowland will somehow change all this, but damn if it's not a start to a conversation. At one point early on, Casey (Britt Robertson), our heroine (yet another great thing about this movie), while in school, faced with courses in which teachers are all talking about how bad things are right now, asks one simple question: "Can we fix it?" And while that's certainly somewhat naive, maybe that naivety is a good thing. Maybe a little naive curiosity is what we need to combat our rampant cynicism that leads people to give up. Another word for that is hope.

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