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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Tomorrowland, Review: Human dystopia, robotic utopia

Tomorrowland, Review: Human dystopia, robotic utopia

You could look at as a mammoth promo for Disneyland. That might mean great advertising but cinematic disappointment for those you have not visited the parks, and a sense of déjà vu for those who have. Instead, I suggest you watch Tomorrowland for the bedazzling effects and compelling performances, and you will imbibe a science fiction story with a twist, that is smoothly packaged and painstakingly executed.

Walt Disney Pictures originally announced the film under the working title ‘1952’, and later re-titled it to Tomorrowland, after the futuristic Disney theme parks. The film’s screenplay was heavily influenced by the late Walt Disney's own philosophy of innovation and utopia, and his conceptual vision for the planned community, known as Epcot. Epcot theme park, in Orlando, has two distinct realms: Future World, which features technological innovations, and World Showcase, which shares with guests the culture and cuisine of 11 countries.

In the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, the name "Tomorrowland" has already been copyrighted by a music festival. TomorrowLand has been at war with Disney over their name since expanding to the United States, in 2013. The Belgium-based festival was forced to rename itself TomorrowWorld when it launched in Atlanta, GA, as Disney has held the US rights to the name ‘Tomorrowland’ since 1970. So, the film will be titled Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, in these countries. In France, it will be called À la poursuite de demain (In Pursuit of Tomorrow)

Another interesting tit-bit is that the silhouette of Sleeping Beauty's castle, which appears before all Disney media properties since its 1985 animated feature The Black Cauldron, as the company’s logo, is missing from Tomorrowland. Instead, the skyline of the futuristic Tomorrowland in the film became the logo. Incidentally, the 1964 World Fair sequence in the film was shot at Disneyland.

A little boy called Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) is a gifted scientific genius who assembles a rocket that can (almost!) make him fly. He land-up at the World Fair in 1964, wanting to display his invention. The man in charge of the stall, Nix (Hugh Laurie) is skeptical that it will work, though Frank is insistent that he will succeed in making a working model. Nix’s assistant, a pre-pubescent looking girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), sees potential and gives him a special badge of entry. Frank finds himself in Tomorrowland, an alternate dimension that exists between earth and space, and is run by Nix. Frank is later discredited and thrown out of Tomorrowland, to live on earth.

Athena, who is actually a robot and does not age, is very fond of Frank and wants him back on Tomorrowland. Although Tomorrowland’s recruitment programme has been aborted, Athena manages to recruit one more genius, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), who uses her brains to try and stop NASA from decommissioning a rocket launching station. Athena unites her with Walker. Nix learns of Athena’s designs and sends a bunch of virtually indestructible robots to hunt down the three. But they are stronger and combat-ready. This unlikely trio of a man around 60, a girl in her late teens and a perennially 11-12 looking robot, decide to enter Tomorrowland, and take-on the Doomsdsay prophet, Governor Nix.

Three writers have worked on the story and two of them on the screenplay: director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol) and Damon Lindelof (Star Trek into Darkness, Prometheus, Cowboys & Aliens) have done the screenplay. On story, there is another name too: Jeff Jensen (a friend of Damon, journalist, TV writer, researcher). It took some three years to take shape. Reportedly, the main contribution is from Lindelof, who is a huge fan of Star Trek, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Back to the Future. The last-named is one film that comes closest to Tomorrowland.

Almost entirely well-written, the script does raise a few questions. What was the need to conceal a spacecraft beneath the Eiffel Tower? Why did the inhabitants of Tomorrowland need any transport vehicles at all, when they could move at great speed without them? How did Nix manage to run the stall at the World Fair? What is his back-story? Why are Athena and Nix of such different age looks, though robots never age? Why was Frank expelled from Tomorrowland and declared a criminal who must be annihilated? Were these things explained in the film? If they were, they were certainly not clear or audible. Maybe a sequel is in the offing, and we’ll be the wiser when we see that. Otherwise, this yet another case for sub-titling English films in English. The main premise, however, is indeed thought-provoking: Can you scare humanity into becoming a highly concerned and ethical community and behaving itself, by feeding them warnings of imminent Doomsday on their TV screens? In the face of humans heading for dystopia, can robots build utopia?

Brad Bird has an impressive CV, and adds one more success to his list. Tomorrowland is visually stunning, has generous doses of emotions and humour and great performances to boot. The Eiffel Tower sequence and the forays into Tomorrowland are a feast for the eyes. Then there’s the completely odd-ball sequence at the antique shop, which is a combination of slapstick and rapid action.

George Clooney as the past middle-age Frank Walker is dependable as ever, and plays a character close to his real age. Hugh Laurie (House, Blackladder) appears in the beginning and in the end, some 50 years later. He gets under the skin of the character seamlessly. Britt(any) Robertson (The Longest Ride, Scream 4, Like Unexpected) exudes the energy and the intelligence required for the role. British actress Raffey Cassidy learnt martial arts for the role and has done some of the shots herself. Besides that, she is some find, oozing tons of confidence, in her biggest outing yet. Unfortunately, she has a heavy accent and several lines spoken by her are unintelligible. Kathryn Hahn as Ursula and Keegan-Michael Key as Hugo, the couple that run the antique store which is the scene for the martial chops, are a delight. Tim McGraw plays Casey’s father Eddie, a dutiful NASA employee and Pierce Gagnon is cast as her brother. Both perform creditably. Another prodigy is Thomas Robinson. It is difficult not to fall for his childish appeal and self-assured demeanour.

Rating: ***1/2



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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