It’s always interesting to see what kind of films George Clooney picks. Clooney’s an odd movie star in that he has the classic good man looks, an Oscar and a screen presence few can match but he doesn’t have any film as the sole, starring actor that has a substantial box office presence to it. Either he’s second banana to someone else, i.e. to Sandra Bullock in Gravity, or stars in a franchise with lots of others. It’s very rare for Clooney to get close to $100 million for a project on his own … we have to amend the definition of “movie star” for Clooney because he’s popular and people like him but he doesn’t have a propensity to bring in audiences.
Which is why Tomorrowland on paper looks like an odd choice. Clooney is an actor who goes for daring, not comfortable, and the Brad Bird helmed Tomorrowland seems like the choice of an actor looking for a hit and not to stretch out the acting muscles. Clooney hasn’t done anything that isn’t challenging since the final Ocean’s 11 sequel almost a decade ago. Tomorrowland‘s Frank is a role he’s one of a handful of actors could pull off, of the friendly curmudgeon inventor, but it’s not one that genuinely challenges him.
It feels like a role he took so he could have a fairly big hit under his belt, nothing more, and the film isn’t much beyond its exceptional visual acumen.
Simple premise. Frank (Clooney) and Casey (Britt Robertson) both find ways to visit the mythical Tomorrowland at various times in their life. For Frank it’s as a child, and now he’s a recluse inventor living alone in upstate New York. For Casey it’s as a teenager in modern day, where she’s observing her father help tear down the final remnants of his job at NASA. They have a tenuous connection via a young girl (Raffey Cassidy), who appears to Frank as a younger man at a World’s Fair and to Casey in the modern day. Their task is simple: the world is going to end and the two need to help save it via Tomorrowland.
The thing that stands out most about this film is that it utilizes visuals in the same spectacular way that Mad Max: Fury Road did a week ago. This is a spectacular looking film, first and foremost, and Brad Bird continues his run with great visual shots behind the camera. When all is said and done this might be one of the best, if not the best, film of the year when it comes to pure visuals alone. Bird has a knack for brilliance in how a film looks when he’s behind a camera and Tomorrowland is a visually spectacular film.
If there was a way we wish the future could look, then Tomorrowland is it. This is a film so visually powerful that it’s one of the few that deserve to be seen in as large a format as one can. This is a film, much like the latest Mad Max sequel, that deserves to have that in theater experience because of its visuals alone. It’s powerful and arresting in a way that feels real … despite obviously being CGI.
The problem is that the film has substantial story-telling problems en route to getting Casey and Frank together, which is when it really begins to take hold on a story-telling basis. The first hour of the film is establishing the mythos of the film and Tomorrowland as this destination, eating up a substantial chunk of the film’s length. By the time George Clooney is introduced, as we see a huge chunk of Frank as a youth (with Thomas Robinson in the role), the film feels nearly over.
The film feels like it was savaged in the editing room because it has a three hour, slow pace for the film’s first act and then suddenly explodes once George Clooney enters the picture. It feels like Brad Bird was going for an epic, three hour sci-fi film when it was trimmed down substantially to fit into a two hour window. There are substantial tone and pacing shifts once the second act begins that make it off-putting; the film makes it easy to get into during the first act and then jars you right out of it once we get past the fairly substantial opening act.
Tomorrowland feels like it’s going to be the sort of film that Alexander wound up being: One with a handful of releases with different cuts of various lengths trying to get it right. Because this version feels like it’s almost there … but not quite.
Director: Brad Bird Writer: Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird Notable Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy