“Tomorrowland” (2015), directed by Brad Bird, is a science fiction film that tries to be bold, original and optimistic, to translate the hope for the future felt in the 1950s into 2015. It’s a brave attempt, but sadly Bird isn’t successful. Formerly the director of the animated films “The Iron Giant” (1999), “The Incredibles” (2004) and “Ratatouille” (2007), before making his live action film debut with “Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol” (2011), Bird has always been hailed as an unique filmmaker, someone who helped seal Pixar’s reputation as the finest animation studio in America, but here something has seriously gone askew.
It’s perhaps the script’s fault, authored by Damon Lindelof with Bird, which insists on a bright, cheery optimism as its rasion d’etre and then tells its audience this, repeatedly. Hugh Laurie as Nix, the principle villain, is presented as such a ridiculous, doom-mongering character that it is hard to take the character’s threat to the protagonists seriously. What is normally a thematic undercurrent to a movie becomes a hyperbolic statement, expanded upon by character’s being given speeches as clunky as the retro design of Tomorrowland itself is sleek and smooth. There’s no subtlety in the script at all and talented actors like George Clooney and Britt Robertson have an uphill task when their roles are defined in single, non-changing character traits. Only Raffey Cassidy as the android Athena manages to imbue her character with any nuance and depth.
This might be all the more easily forgivable if Bird handled the scenes with the wonder and awe the script continuously rhapsodises about, but the design of the future, in keeping with the 1950s roots of the film, is predictable and is more likely to inspire waves of familiarity rather than astonishment, even when Tomorrowland is introduced to Casey via a continuous six minute shot. The computer-generated effects here are frequently more banal than extraordinary; only two sequences, at the decommissioning of a NASA shuttle launch pad and a scene at the Eiffel Tower really work in terms of special effects. These highpoints contrast with the film as it nears its climax, which becomes rushed and unclear, with the editing of Craig Wood and Walter Murch (who cut many of Francis Ford Coppola’s films, including “Apocalypse Now” ), becoming depressingly reminiscent of television commercials.
Many of these defects might have become mitigated in fact, if, like Bird’s finest films, it had been animated. With another script rewrite introducing much needed doses of humour, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine it as a successful Pixar film. As it is though, this is an extended misfire.