Spoiler alert: This review will talk about the plot, so if you want to go and see the movie, please don’t read on.
Still here? OK.
There is a social theory amongst climate alarmists and environmentalists that the only people who deny the coming Apocalypse are those who are morally depraved by money or right-wing ideology or insanity or any combination thereof. If you think that sounds like millenarian religion, then you’re not wrong.
The problem with polarization of beliefs especially in the US, is that any topic under discussion can only be seen in one of two ways. The liberal left and right-wing conservatives describe the same phenomena in radically different ways. Or do they? I don’t think that they are deliberately being deceptive, so much as blind to their own ideologies and the weaknesses in those theories while being hypersensitive about those of their opponents.
So when people view the same movie, they come to radically different conclusions about what the movie is about. In the case of Tomorrowland, that means that the meaning of the movie must conform to stereotypes of left or right.
When I read the review of Tomorrowland on Breitbart, those preconceptions of the reviewer’s belief system obscure rather than illuminate. So when the reviewer lays out his own beliefs about climate change being a hoax of the Left to promote centralized government and then launches into this…
…Disney and director Brad Bird and star George Clooney have poured $200-plus million into a box office bomb to spread that lie — to hector and shame the skeptical mind that dares read, think, and question Power before slavishly handing over our liberties. Worse than that, “Tomorrowland” blames the rebellious individual-thinker for getting in the way of saving a “doomed planet.”
… then I have to wonder, did he see the movie or the trailer? About no part of that paragraph reflects the movie I saw.
First I am going to tell you the plot of the story, the simplistic proposition at the core of the movie, and then why the movie doesn’t work either as a (weak) political statement or as cinematic art.
The plot goes like this:
A young boy in 1964 takes a prototype jet-pack to the Chicago World’s Fair, where he meets a mysterious young girl gives him a magic badge who helps him transit into Tomorrowland, a beautiful and enticing future utopian world where engineering has solved all problems without apparent interference from politics or religion.
A young female protagonist in the present day has an engineer father she wants to imitate, is discouraged or ignored while pessimistic views about climate, the environment or the future of peaceful society are taught as received wisdom to her and other children at school. She is also trying to prevent the demolition of the rocket pads at Cape Canaveral by sabotage, while her father is reluctantly helping the demolition of the pads as a final job before unemployment.
She then encounters a magic badge which suddenly enables to see the future Tomorrowland as a sort of all encompassing hologram. She also meets the same mysterious young girl who helps her meet the fully grown young boy, who is now played by George Clooney. Clooney tells her that the world as she knows it will end in less than 60 days and there’s nothing to be done.
Through lots of CGI and a ridiculous launch of a rocket from the Eiffel Tower, they go to Tomorrowland to confront the pessimistic President (played by Hugh Laurie), and then after more melodrama and even more unconvincing special effects, the world does not end, her dad and brother join her in Tomorrowland, and more or less The End.
Now obviously there’s a little more to the plot than that, but not much more.
But I can summarize the entire premise of the movie very succinctly:
“Whatever challenges lay ahead of us, optimism and engineering science to solve problems will take us to the utopia of Tomorrowland, pessimism and rejecting scientific solutions will bring a self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction to pass”
And that’s it. The entire message of the movie is in that sentence. No more and no less.
Now you don’t need to see the movie. Please send me the money you saved.
Now, back to preconceptions. Christopher Monckton has written on this blog that he is not going to see this movie because although it has George Clooney in it, its about environmentalism and global warming.
Actually it’s not.
The movie does not take a view on global warming, climate change, rising seas, ecosystem destruction or belief or disbelief thereof. It’s solely about future utopian optimism versus fatalist dystopian pessimism.
Despite all of the money poured into the special effects, and heroic efforts by George Clooney and Hugh Laurie to make this thin premise mean something deep and meaningful, at heart the movie is more about Walt Disney’s optimistic view of future in the 1960s with the EPCOT Center (this during the Space Race) versus today’s pessimistic view that problems overwhelm us on every side, and no-one cares about fixing issues because we’re all too pessimistic or fixated by money or other selfishness.
But where comes the pessimism? Certainly from environmentalism, from the doomsaying of Rachel Carson and Paul Erlich. the rise of Greenpeace, Sierra Club, the Worldwatch Institute through to the IPCC, environmental pessimism that the Earth is dying and nobody cares is rife in Western societies to the point where it is so obvious that it is not even discussed. (Certainly the overwhelming pessimism of environmentalism is exactly the target of the film’s main protagonists, something that Breitbart’s reviewer entirely missed)
That supposedly scientific magazines like Nature and New Scientist publish articles conjecturing that if humans would only disappear from the Earth, then the Earth would “heal” is a mirror image of millenarian prophecies of Apocalypse where the few would be saved to a future paradise while the Earth is destroyed. Same rapture mythology, but different desired outcome. Both stories are religious diatribes about the corruption of the Earth by the sins of mankind, but one is published as science, the other as religious extremism. To my mind, there is no difference between them.
If I look at academia at the moment, the takeover of dystopian pessimism is all but total in arts, social sciences as well as climate science. Optimism is rarer than hen’s teeth in most University common rooms. Who listens to engineers who talk about going into space any more when we have all these environmental problems yet to be solved?
But back to the movie: why doesn’t it work as cinema?
In my view, the fundamental premise of the movie is too thin to support the weight of drama placed upon it. Despite spectacular special effects (or possibly because of them) I never felt that any of the characters were in any real danger or that I cared much about any of them. The overblown special effects made the plot look even thinner than it already was. The dialogue was forgettable. The actors’ efforts, especially by the precocious Raffey Cassidy, as well as heroic efforts by Clooney and Laurie to give depth to their characters, could not in the end save a thin plot from CGI overload and a “ho hum” from the audience.
It played like a children’s morality tale about the power of hope over fear, and there was no deeper message than that. That, for me, encapsulates why Tomorrowland doesn’t work as cinematic art.
Walt Disney would have informed the writers that screenplays that win Oscars for best picture are far more important and more lucrative than ones that try for the best special effects or best costume.
Tomorrowland cost a reputed $200 million and is expected not to make a profit. That is an ironically pessimistic result from a movie trying so hard to promote optimism.
Lest you think this review is poor or biased, try this one – Anthony