There was a time when Hollywood movies told proper stories; they treated their audience as if they had something between the ears. Then the studio heads realised they could make money with less effort by prioritising propping up the cast with A-list stars, whilst overindulging in CGI and overlong mindless action set pieces ahead of interesting storytelling.
Now, with the summer blockbuster season well underway, the movie schedule is littered with franchises, sequels, remakes and films that seem to be there purely to take our money rather than give us a good time. After sitting through the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Furious 7 and the enjoyable, but one-note, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Disney’s Tomorrowland seemed to have all the ingredients to breathe new life into the summer movie season: Brad Bird, a writer/director with an impeccable track record (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), likeable stars George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, an interesting young lead in Britt Robertson and an ambitious, intriguing premise.
Alas, whilst being visually stunning, the storytelling falls flat, leaving us with an uneven, often preachy, blockbuster that was seemingly only approved by studio bigwigs because of its affiliation with a Disney theme-park attraction and the potential for it to become a lucrative franchise.
Yet to dismiss Tomorrowland as nothing more than a CGI-laden mess with enough stuff thrown at us in the hope that ‘a story would magically emerge’ (Kevin Maher, The Times) would be naïve and foolish. Quite simply, this is the very thing Tomorrowland never wanted to be. Bird is from Pixar stock, a studio that puts story above everything else. The film is a nod to the days of imagination and possibility going hand in hand as championed by Walt Disney himself – ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’. Creative storytelling meshed with state-of-the-art technology to create an exhilarating, yet heart-warming, movie experience.
Sadly, the film doesn’t succeed in this, but it goes down swinging and should be commended for doing so. But rather offering it sympathetic well-wishes, like to Tim Henman after crashing out of another Wimbledon semi-final, we should instead embrace and celebrate Tomorrowland. The film industry is now more geared than ever to making as much money possible from the safest bet possible. You only have to look at the major studios’ tent pole films to realise originality is dying out in Hollywood. Remakes are common place, with Disney adapting its animated classics, most recently Cinderella, into live-action pictures. Jurassic World (the fourth in the franchise) and Star Wars: Episode VII are on the horizon, plus there will be 20 comic book movies from DC and Marvel over the next five years.
Regretfully, from a business perspective, you can see their reasoning. Why risk an original, unproven idea with no fan base that’ll be harder to sell when they already have proven properties at their disposal? But that doesn’t necessarily always guarantee success (looking at you Green Lantern). Plus, the notion a studio will go bankrupt for overestimating public intelligence is laughable…Inception anyone?
Okay then, if the films are good why complain? Because if you ask any film fan, the movies that made them fall in love with the magic of cinema began with someone staring at a blank page hoping to tell a great story. Not with studio executives looking over their shoulder telling them what to write because their idea is too much of a risk and won’t appeal to a certain demographic.
Disney took a risk with Tomorrowland and though it has resulted in modest numbers and snotty responses from critics, it should be applauded. Most of the greatest films off all time were considered risks. Yes Tomorrowland isn’t Citizen Kane, but taking chances and believing in the story are what have defined movie history. And are the studio heads always right? You only have to remember Harry Warner of Warner Bros. in 1927 as movies with sound made their debut…”Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”