It’s the time of the year when the cinema release schedule becomes a touch too crowded. It usually starts and ends with a Marvel film – this year it’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. By that rule this year’s blockbuster is 23rd April to July 16th, although I’d extend that to August 6th to accommodate Fantastic Four.
Anything that falls within this timeframe that isn’t blatant counter-programming has the backing of the studio. It’s the place for sequels and reboots – Jurassic World, Terminator: Genysis, Poltergeist, Ted 2 and Magic Mike XXL – and proven formulas like Melissa McCarthy comedies (Spy), John Green adaptations (Paper Towns) and animated children’s movies (Minions, Inside Out and Hotel Transylvania 2).
So Disney’s original film Tomorrowland is already starting off on the back foot. It’s trying to nudge into the ‘proven formula’ category with the studio logo and the star power of George Clooney to no avail. Keep in mind Disney has lost over half a billion dollars to original programming John Carter and The Lone Ranger in less than five years. That’s not an excellent track record.
Here’s the thing though: Tomorrowland is a pretty good film.
It’s got all the pieces balanced in a way that isn’t instantly recognisable. All the moving parts make some parts feel complex and hurried but are balanced out by the few times Tomorrowland pauses to catch its breath and streamline the plot. It works very hard to make Frank (George Clooney), Casey (Britt Robertson) and Athena (Raffey Cassidy) individual characters before tying the team together in a neat bow.
Director Brad Bird is well respected in most reasonable circles. He was mentored by one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” and recieved both critical and commercial success with his Pixar animation work (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and live action films (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). This showcases both those talents without letting the effects get senseless.
There’s a lot of different elements flying around that do well not to extend their welcome. Framed by the over-arching fusion of science fiction and fantasy are parallel dimensions, robots, and by extension whether a robot can love, the recruitment of a spunky young believer as the one true hope, a bitter master coaxed back into the battle, some whacky booby-traps, covert spaceships, a naïve villain, dystopia, going against the establishment and the permanence of a fixed timeline.
Big ideas for a kid’s movie. It is any wonder Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof had a hand?
Surprisingly it’s not too hard to boil it down to a trope: hopeful youngster seeks out jaded exile, serendipitously averts the apocalypse. A robot helps.
The marketing was always going to be difficult and it’s a credit to Brad Bird that so little footage was shown in the trailer. It made for a more enjoyable cinema experience but less of a cinema to see it.
$180 million dollars was allocated to Tomorrowland. It picked up some love in Asia but was only received lukewarm in Australia and the United States. It’s sitting at about $150 million and it will close at about $400 million. Not excellent and not a reflection of the quality of the film, but passable enough for the Disney team to assign Brad Bird to The Incredibles sequel. It’s also a ringing endorsement for that area of the theme parks.
Over time I think people will seek out Tomorrowland on Netflix or as a cheap DVD as a bit of counter-programming to the explodey-blockbusters and boorish rom-coms. And then the conversation will start to shift. A few memes might crop up. The iconography of the Tomorrowland pin will turn up on Tumblrs and fan-made Disney pages and more and more people will stream or download “that Disney film George Clooney did”.
The momentum will build and before you know it Tomorrowland will be a cult classic.
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