Cut & Print: The Tomorrowland Debacle
Cut & Print is comicbooked’s forum for any cinematic commentary. Movie reviews are often included here, but sometimes it’s important to think beyond the mere reviews.
I will say this upfront: I have not seen Tomorrowland, at least not yet.
The concept, as much as I can tell, is an intriguing one: the idea of there being a place wherein you can see what the progress of man can be unhindered by things like politics and greed. At least, that’s the impression I was getting from the capsule reviews I read.
Just as intriguing were the clips and trailers that had been popping up for months. When the girl picks up the pin, she’s instantly taken to this fantastic place. The transition is as effective as it is jarring. One of the trailers showed the girl visiting the house of the character played by George Clooney. He seems unwilling to deal with her at first until he sees that she has the pin. The two of them must fend off an attack by some robot soldiers, and we see that there’s more to this house than it would appear. The trailer is largely one action scene, directed with the tension and forward momentum that could only come from someone who’s a professional.
That professional is Brad Bird. He’s one of the most-sought talents in Hollywood. He began his career by creating some fantastic animated films (he brought Ratatouille and The Incredibles to the screen, but The Iron Giant may be still be his best). He then made the successful leap to live-action films with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. That film was excellent.
As it turned out, Tomorrowland soft-landed when it hit the theater on Memorial Day weekend. What appeared to be an A+ blockbuster actually turned in turned in mixed reviews. One of my favorite YouTube critics (who will go unnamed here) had placed the film very high on his most anticipated list for 2014, and, while he was pleased with the ambition, vision, and talent that went into the film, he certainly couldn’t give it a stellar grade.
His reasoning matched what a lot of critics had said: the film, in addition to having sudden shifts in tone, got a bit preachy near the end. Critics all across the internet complained that the film tried a bit too hard to bombard the viewer with a heavy message, about what the human race should be accomplishing, and how there’s not much time before there’s no going back. Again, I could be wrong, as I haven’t seen the film.
So what do the disappointing numbers and lukewarm reviews mean for Hollywood? Well, not long after Tomorrowland’s debut, Disney cancelled it’s plans for Tron 3. The second Tron film, Tron Legacy, also had lukewarm numbers despite a cult following and its visual ambition. There had been rumors that Disney had finally decided to green-light Tron 3. Then Tomorrowland happened. It’s also a film in which the protagonists can leave the real world and enter a visually more stunning world. And although Tron is part of a franchise, both it and Tomorrowland occupy a rare space in science fiction film-making: they are not based on comic books or even tried and testing behemoths like Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, and Jurassic Park, and they depended upon their unique visions to sell tickets.
Now that Tomorrowland didn’t sell as many tickets as the powers that be hoped, other more original science fiction films might feel the pinch. It’s possible that many interesting and new ideas won’t even see that green light, and those that do might be restricted in scope and vision by those handling the money.
Though I have yet to see the film, I tend to think that if they’d written it in such a way that it wouldn’t be necessary to preach it’s message – if they’d been able to get this point across through the visuals and action – maybe the response would have more favorable. By the same token, if Tron Legacy hadn’t featured literally of it’s most memorable scenes in the first forty minutes, and given us a story that really delivered, it too would have been more successful.
Does good writing solve everything. I’d like to think so. Yet, despite being smarter than anyone could expect, 2012’s Cloud Atlas turned out to be dead on arrival at the box office. Yet, despite the presence of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, that film was so strange and so out there that it was impossible to market. Tron Legacy and Tomorrowland, along with many good science fiction films, at least have it when it comes to giving their potential audience a hint as to what they might be about.
In conclusion: Hollywood should continue to support the type of science fiction that doesn’t reside within comic book universes. It should trust that there will be an audience for those kinds of films, and it should trust that the audience will be able to accept any notions – as wild as they may be- if they are delivered with good writing and through the actions of well-developed characters. One needs to look no farther than Inception.