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Tomorrowland (sneak preview)

Everything seems to happen at once on the first weekend of May. After all, it seems on paper like the perfect time to schedule much of any event. For example, the first weekend of May was set as the American premiere for Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was also the date for a wedding in my family, followed by a day in Disneyland. I won’t bore you all with details about my personal life, except to say that I’m having a grand time.

Unfortunately, this is why I won’t be posting a timely review for Avengers. Not that it matters, of course, but I’ll get to that when I’m able to see and review the film at my earliest convenience. I really do regret being a few days late to this party. But the good news is that by a stroke of luck, I turned up a good two weeks early to another party.

At the former “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!” theater in Disneyland (and yes, I am old enough to have first-hand memory of that attraction), there is currently a “world exclusive sneak peek showing” of Tomorrowland. I admit, I was skeptical about this. I’ve seen way too many promos talk about “exclusive sneak peeks” like they were anything other than featurettes in which the stars of a film spout out talking points ad nauseam.
But that’s not what I got. No, I got to witness an extended prologue sequence that went on for at least six minutes. Complete with the huge screen, motion effects, and dynamic lighting unique to that theater, I might add. It’s like my birthday came early.

First, a preface: The theater lobby featured a ton of concept art and copies of real-world promo materials from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. These were accompanied by a statement from the filmmakers, informing us that over the course of their research, they found that the World’s Fair was actually a lot more boring than they remembered. So the filmmakers did their best to maintain some amount of historical accuracy while bending things enough to allow for a childlike sense of wonder. And for the needs of the plot, of course.

The sequence began with child actor Thomas Robinson, who looks uncannily like a 9-year-old version of the George Clooney character he’ll one day grow into. Young Frank walks off the bus to the 1964 World’s Fair, carrying a very heavy satchel that’s almost as big as he is. He takes the pack to some kind of invention contest, with the clear goal of winning $50.

The contest is judged by a Hugh Laurie character whom IMDB tells me is named “David Nix.” Frank walks right up to Nix and opens up his pack to present his entry. And what’s inside? A goddamn jetpack. It may be very crudely built, and it doesn’t really fly so much as send Frank hurtling through five miles of dirt and cornfield at top speed, but it’s still very much a functional proof of concept.

So Nix asks about the practical applications of this device. A nearby young girl named Athena (played by up-and-comer Raffey Cassidy) asks why he built the thing in the first place. His answer to both is the same: Because it’s cool. If something can awe and inspire, that really should be “practical” enough. And anyway, Frank figured that the best way to bring something new and exciting into the world was to make it happen himself and not wait for anyone else.

Alas, the point is moot because the thing doesn’t actually work yet. After a few sarcastic remarks and backhanded compliments (coming from the former Dr. House, I’ll remind you), Frank is sent on his way.

“Don’t even think about it,” says Nix, in response to some unspoken question from Athena.

So Frank is sitting dejected in some part of the fair when Athena suddenly meets him for a clandestine encounter. Though it doesn’t turn out to be very clandestine at all, since Frank turns out to be rather dense for someone who built a motherfucking jetpack from scratch. Then again, it’s far more likely that he’s just a young boy with a crush, so we’ll let it slide.

Anyway, Athena has to spell it out that Nix is meeting some people. She wants Frank to follow them closely without being spotted. She then gives Frank a pin that should already look quite familiar by now, except that the colors are swapped for whatever reason. The girl is close-lipped on details, however. She won’t explain what’s going on, why she’s doing this, or who she even is. Athena only replies “I’m the future.” This tracks with some rumors I’ve heard, stating that she’s actually a robot of some kind. But enough speculation.

Nix and company make their way to the “It’s a Small World” attraction at the World’s Fair. They proceed to put on their pins while the park attendants give them some space, and Frank is smart enough to take the hint. After putting on his own pin, he sneaks onto the empty boat directly behind Nix and Athena. How the kid could be so fast and stealthy while carrying a jetpack of roughly his own size and weight, I couldn’t begin to tell you.

On the ride, some kind of hidden camera spots his pin. This takes his boat on a detour that is infinitely more scary and exciting than you’d ever think “It’s a Small World” could possibly be. At the end of the route is some kind of booth, slightly resembling a retro subway car. There are a few safety features inside, but none that Frank is tall enough to reach. That’s a problem when things go bananas and… well, something happens. I’m not sure what. I’m inclined to think “trans-dimensional travel” of some kind, but that’s just speculation.

Frank just missed Nix and Athena, both of whom leave on some kind of flying machine, and Frank is greeted with nothing except a whole ton of fog and robots. Some robots are harmful, like the ones who build around Frank like he wasn’t even there. Some robots are good, like the one who fixes Frank’s jetpack and then gives him a cute “thumbs-up.” I should also add that the fog seems to be in layers: Frank ends up falling through the fog, then sees a clear layer of futuristic city skyline, then falls into another layer of fog near ground level. So it’s lucky Frank has a jetpack to save him in the nick of time.

The preview more or less cut off there, though we were treated to a sizzle reel that’s pretty much a condensed version of the latest trailer. I was overall very impressed with the preview, aside from those moments when a nine-year-old boy showed far more strength and durability than suspension of disbelief might allow. Even so, the sequence raised a lot of questions that looked interesting, the presentation was slick, and everything about it had a good sense of fun. But none of that was ever going to be the problem with this movie.

No, the problem with this movie was always going to be Damon Lindelof.

For those who aren’t familiar, this is the same guy previously responsible for “Lost,” Prometheus, and Star Trek Into Darkness. To be entirely fair, there’s more than enough blame for each of those disappointments to go around. Even so, a writer’s credit for Lindelof has become an early warning that the end result will contain far more questions than answers.

Lindelof is an evil genius at setting up bread crumbs in a trail that leads to nowhere. He’s an expert at tricking the audience into thinking that maybe if they pay enough attention; maybe if they think hard enough; maybe if they follow along on the viral games, extended DVD extras, novelizations, and God knows what else; then MAYBE at least a few of us will finally have some idea of what’s going on. The man isn’t a storyteller, he’s a snake oil salesman.

Luckily, the stuff that I saw showed a lot more handiwork from Brad Bird. The preview had his unique blend of wonder and excitement, along with his novel blend of futuristic concepts made with affection for old-school style. It’s all the same stuff that made The Incredibles and The Iron Giant such masterpieces.

I can personally guarantee that Tomorrowland will open strong, but the film will ultimately live and die on how it keeps its promises by the time the credits roll. We’ll all know for certain when the film opens on May 22nd. For better or worse, I’ll be there.

One Comment

  1. Ping from Tomorrowland » Movie Curiosities:

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