Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making a Better TOMORROWLAND

I remember being so excited when I first heard
about this movie. I remember reading that the
script was based on objects found in a box from
Walt Disney's old office. Pretty sure that was just
PR BS now, since I didn't come across any reference
to this box in reviews or interviews with the director.
I know--this seems like an easy target, but nothing frustrates me more about a bad film than if it's a missed opportunity to do something that could have, and in this case should have, been amazing.  When it comes to optimistic science fiction films, I'm in the camp that believes we need more of them (despite the fact that I generally prefer dystopias and post-apocalypses in my stories).  In that sense, I agree with this film's message, but not how it goes about expressing it--as everyone who has seen it knows, this film does damn near everything wrong.

No, that doesn't mean I'm going to write a ten-part series on the failings of this film (though, I could).  What I am going to do is explain how I would have recut and reshot portions of TOMORROWLAND so that it would make a better, more watchable movie.  I usually focus on how I would have rewritten the script, but this time, I'd have rewritten the entire thing from scratch, making it pretty much unrecognizable, compared to what Disney let reach the screen.  It really is that wrong-in-the-head.  After the spoiler alert, I will go into a short explanation of the thing biggest problems I had with the film and then I will get to how I'd retool the final cut.


OK, so, one of my biggest problems is...

So, they stunt-cast George Clooney in this part
because they thought it would help the movie
make more money.  That plan worked so well.
They should have just hired Bill Nighy, or
David Warner or Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan
or even Lewis Black and, at least then, they'd
have had an actor who could really nail
"crotchety old guy."
...Clooney.  Why the hell does he get cast in things that were clearly meant for less attractive, more interesting actors?  I like Clooney, I think he's a good actor, but he's too good looking--too comfortable in his own skin to play some of the characters I've seen him play.  In GRAVITY, he's quipping about how handsome he is, but he IS handsome, so there's nothing ironic about his quips.  Who just randomly mentions they're handsome unless there's some point to it?  Like some kind of insecurity the guy is dealing with, or some irony he's pointing out.  In this film, Clooney's character should have been played by a crotchety old man.  If you imagine his lines coming out of Burgess Meredith's mouth, they make a helluva lot more sense.  He was just to suave and comfortable with everything. Even his most crotchety lines sounded more like inconveniences rather than real problems.

It's a shame, since, Clooney plays the only character with character.  Sure, he plays an archetype, but it least it has the potential for humor and depth.  The other two characters in this film are flat as can be, one even admits she has no real ability to initiate new ideas.  Talk about great cinema... blech... 

Big problem number 2:  the film's structure.

This film feels like it was structured by an eight year-old.  It opens with Clooney and a smart teen girl literally arguing about how the story of the movie should be told.  That is a terrible way to invite your audience into your world.  Seriously, Brad, what were you thinking?  (Brad Bird directed films like IRON GIANT, THE INCREDIBLES and, shockingly, TOMORROWLAND.  He's a personal idol of mine, so I don't criticize him lightly.)  From that opening sequence of sequences, we discover how Clooney's character and the smart teen girl end up in different parts of the TOMORROWLAND story.  Which really made me wonder why the film starts with them together at all.  I mean, obviously it's a framing device, but it's a pretty boring one and, in the end, doesn't help explain why we need the framing device.  There is also no need for these two to be thrown together, really.  Well, at least, no need that isn't terribly contrived and boring (the robot says it, so therefore...).

For most of the film, the structure is thus:

-spectacle/chase scene
-spectacle/chase scene
-talking/exposition scene
-spectacle/chase scene
-spectacle/chase scene
-talking/exposition scene

It was so annoying how the kid-version of Clooney takes the Small World boat to an absurdly cartoonish train car and then steps out into Tomorrowland.  Why can't he just take the Small Word boat to Tomorrowland and be done with it?  Later on, STG (Smart Teen Girl) gets to "old man" Clooney's house, only to join him in having to escape the house in Clooney's ejector-tub, into a nearby lake, where they swim to a motorcycle and then ride in a pickup truck to a Television station, where they teleport to the Eiffel Tower, where they ride a rocketship into space but then turn it back around to enter another dimension to get to Tomorrowland.

WTF, Brad.  Seriously.  That is stupid.  I've just described about sixty percent of the film, right there, too.

Then, there is the ultimate premise of the film--that we are being subconsciously brainwashed by a self-fulfilling-prophecy machine that is broadcasting its view of the future  (dystopian) so widely that it turns all humans everywhere into pessimists.  Now, this maaaay be an interesting idea, but it reeks with the stench of a contrived explanation to justify the existence of a giant McGuffin Machine that our heroes must make explode by the end of the film.

The climax of the film is a weird and muddled mess that is one-part self-righteous lecture and one-part clichéd, unimaginative, and frankly, convoluted action scene.  It reminds me of the scene in DEEP BLUE SEA where Samuel L. Jackson's character starts preachifying about how they all need to get along in their fight against a genetically manipulated shark only to be interrupted by said shark eating him.  Only TOMORROWLAND doesn't get the same job done as quickly.  Nor does it recognize the irony of that dynamic. 

Little Girl Robot is as archetypal as a character can be.
She even fulfills the role of the "noble savage" trope--
the character who we are told is not and could never
be human but in the end (needlessly) sacrifices them-
selves to prove that they are human and can love.
Boy, never saw that plot point coming! Except,
I did. And so did you, and so did everyone.
So, the bad guy is the governor of Tomorrowland and ends up blathering on for far too long, proving that he is really just an elitist twit jerkweed who tells us how we're all so negative, and how it's all our fault that our world is dying, and it goes on like that for a bit until he orders Clooney through a portal to a beach where he is to be exiled (why he doesn't just kill Clooney, I don't know--guess he was out of robo-killers).  Then there is a fist fight on the beach (I can't remember exactly why--that's how memorable the story was), and an absurdly contrived bomb explodes causing the portal to close and part of the big lecture room in Tomorrowland to fall on Governor Snooty Twit Jerkweed, not quite killing him.  See, he's doesn't die yet, because he has to live long enough to try to shoot at Clooney, causing the stupid, uninteresting, cliché little girl robot to jump in front of the bullet and then die.

Yes, it's that cliché.

Yes, there are guns in Tomorrowland.

Oh and, apparently, no, robots in Tomorrowland don't do backups.  That makes my Macbook more advanced than the little robot girl from Tomorrowland.  Sometimes it seems my Macbook does backups all day long.

Big Problem Number 3: the ultimate message of the film comes from the badguy

The moral of the story of TOMORROWLAND is told to us by the biggest jerkweed there is.  He is so elitist that he creates a whole separate land for he, and people he approves of, to live in.  Then he has the gall to tell us how it's all our fault that the world is dying.  What's worse is that he will do nothing to stop it, despite being from Tomorrowland.  Why?  Well, he says he will be perfectly safe in Tomorrowland.  Uh-huh--so why is Tomorrowland portrayed as falling apart when our heroes eventually reach it?  No explanation is given for why this is happening, but it is.  The population seems largely gutted and the buildings all seem in a state of disrepair.  Yet, Governor Jerkweed says he'll be fine.  Uh-huh.  And this is the guy who articulates the moral of the story? 

I've heard of the "unreliable narrator" but the "unreliable morality-preaching badguy" is new to me.

OK enough whining.


To be fair, the actors were generally just fine. It was
the script that I had my biggest problems with.  Well,
except for Clooney's casting. Kid Clooney, here was
perfectly acceptable.
First, I would ditch the front end of the framing device.  It's a terrible way to start a movie.  The movie should have begun with Kid Clooney pitching his jetpack to Governor Jerkweed at the World's Fair.  Cut all the LGR (Little Girl Robot) moments out of this sequence except for her looking at him and smiling.  He leaves the pitch frustrated.  He's sure he can make his jetpack work.  If he could just convince Governor Jerkweed of that!  He then spots Governor Jerkweed and LGR getting onto a Small World boat with some other folks.  He decides to follow them.  Then, instead of taking the Small World boat to the cartoon train to Tomorrowland, I'd have the scene where the cartoon train arrives at Tomorrowland CGed to look like the Small World boat arriving and then cut to a shot of him outside of the vehicle, excising the stupid cartoon train all together.  Then, everything progresses from there until the end of the original sequence. 

After that, I'd cut to the second time STG (Smart Teen Girl) tries to sabotage the taking down of the gantry at Kennedy Space Center, where she gets arrested and brought to a police station.  Skip over the first attempt and the scenes in between.  Just get to the plot point.  She finds the badge in her stuff as it is given back to her by the cop.  She touches it and she immediately finds herself in that field with Tomorrowland in the distance.  I'd then have her drop the pin and then pick it up again and then have her go all the way to Tomorrowland.  She then sees everything from the "Tomorrowland promo video" sequence until the part where the battery in the badge starts to run out.  Instead of that, she bumps her head on the ceiling in the police station and drops the badge. 

See, the way it was originally cut was annoying and frustrating.  The badge seems so high-tech and magical and comes across like a key to get into Tomorrowland.  Every time the lead girl touches it, she is shown an ideal city off in the distance that doesn't moves in relation to where she is.  If she turns, it does not move in relation to her.  If she walks towards it, it gets closer ...until, that is, she hits her head on a low ceiling or tumbles down the stairs of her home, or walks through a swamp.  This is clearly a place that exists in real space and the badge-thing is her key to get there.  I've heard Brad Bird explain that her hitting her head is supposed to establish that what she is seeing is NOT in really there.  It had the opposite effect for me.   His version is also unrealistic, since you'd have all these alleged geniuses walking off cliffs and into traffic just to get to a promo video.  Seems pretty inefficient--just send out DVDs and VR goggles. Sheesh.

The Pain of the Promo Video

Ugh.  Finding out that what she saw was just a promo video for Tomrrowland and has nothing to do with how you actually get there was really frustrating.  Why bother wasting all that time?  Just show us up front that it's a promo video! It completely diffused audience excitement and replaced it with disappointment when we find out that the experience STG had was just a TV commercial.

Once she finds herself back in the police station, I'd then have her dad pick her up and then we'd see the scene in the dad's pickup that originally followed.  That would be followed by all of the scenes that were originally in between the two NASA sabotage sequences.  I'd then have LGR (Little Girl Robot) show up and kidnap her.  This would require some reshoots, obviously, but it'd be worth it.

The Eternal Sadness of the Character Actor: too interesting for Hollywood

So, while they're driving, LGR explains that STG (Smart Teen Girl) needs to get to Tomorrowland.  I'd include all the stupid stuff about LGR's shutdown sequence, blahblahblah there, if I had to (though it was clumsy).  I'd also include some of the back story that the two proprietors of the collectibles shop expositioned in the original version of the film. Yes, I'd cut the scene in the collectibles shop entirely.  The proprietors of that store seemed really interesting until, sooo predictably, they turned into bad guys.  Can't have a black guy and an older woman joining our team, can we?  No, no--we need to have ALL the leads be white, old men or white, young females.  And yes, Clooney is an "old man" by Hollywood's standards. A little weird, if you ask me.

In the film, as released, there's a really odd moment where we suddenly cut to a shot of STG falling out of the vehicle onto the road in front of Clooney's house.  LGR then drives off in the pickup.  This could stay as is.  Since, by now, new reshoots would provide exposition explaining that there is only one man who can get us into Tomorrowland AND that man hates her.  LGR could even refrain from telling STG that last part until the moment before she pushes STG out the door.

Old Man Clooney Explains the Rest

Then, the stuff with the lead girl getting into Clooney's house could be the same.  Though, it should be a LOT shorter.  Watching the two of them argue is about as fun as having an actual argument with a parent or offspring.  We should have the bad guy robo-killers show up much sooner and have Clooney explain in looped dialog or reshoots more of the dynamics of how Tomorrowland was this ideal place and was supposed to come up with the solutions for the future of Earth's problems.  And it did, only Governor Jerkweed wanted to keep them all for himself and his elite inhabitants of Tomorrowland.  That's why Clooney left--he wasn't kicked out--he self-deported. 

He took as much cool tech with him as he could and built that clock thing to help him predict when the world would end, based on it's connection back to the giant, stupid, SFPM (Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Machine), back in Tomorrowland.  It was a machine he helped build so he knew how to hack in and get it's data from the real world.  It was a machine that would look into the future and see what was going to happen, so we could avoid problems we could not see coming.  However, the future seemed very bleak.  But when Clooney wanted to make the first data from the SFPM public to the rest of the Earth, Governor Jerkweed wouldn't let him.  Another reason for the self-deportation.  Once he got out, he realized no one would believe him.  So, he just just laid low.  Then, when the robo-killers show up, we, the audience, have a clearer sense of purpose, instead of wondering why a place called "Tomorrowland" sends robo-killers after its exiles.

Fixing those strings of travel scenes

Now, I would cut every second segment of a travel sequence out.  Driving to someplace to drive someplace else is no way to treat your audience.  If a person gets in a vehicle, they get out at the next plot point.  Kid Clooney hops in the Small World boat and should get out directly in Tomorrowland.  When Clooney and STG use the ejector-tub to escape the robo-killers, LGR is waiting for them.  There are so many little attention cul-de-sacs in this film and having them land in water is one of them. They couldn't just land on a huge pile of hay or maybe have some sort of inflating tech like we saw in the Tomorrowland promo video?  So, they're wet, which doesn't matter 5 seconds later.  Then there's a motorcycle, which they don't actually ride.  So, I'd want to reshoot them meeting up immediately with LGR after CGing a different ending to the ejector-tub sequence where, instead, they land on a huge pile of hay.

This next part IS a huge pile of HEEEEY!

ARG... this is probably the most annoying part of the film for me.  It's the part I can do the least with because it's just dumb.  They go to a TV station (I think?) where there is a teleportation machine.  They use it to go to Paris and then they go up in the Eiffel Tower, which then splits in two as a rocketship rises up, out of the ground in between the two sides of the tower.  They climb aboard and fly into space.  Forget that the "Eiffel's Office" they go into is bigger than his actual office in the real tower and nothing like it (any tourist can see it through a window, in person).  Forget the hundreds of tourists that are either inside the tower or around it that would die when a rocketship is launched feet from where they stand.  Let's just deal with the absurdity of launching a rocketship from the Eiffel Tower like it's some sort of missile/gantry thing.  What the hell is that?  Is this a THUNDERBIRDS movie from the 1960s? Or a modern scifi epic?

There's basically nothing I can do for this sequence.  Nothing.  Ideally, I'd want to minimize the absurd-spectacle factor by cutting shots showing the tower split and the rocket ship rising. I'd CG new footage so that the rocketship was actually a much smaller thing that would be a portion of the top of the Eiffel Tower and would launch from there.  Then, we could go ahead as originally released.  Anything to avoid the absurdity of the Eiffel Tower and the land beneath being a hundred-plus year-old missile silo. 

Even then, I still can't stand how insanely convoluted and contrived everything is.  I mean, Tomorrowland is described by Governor Jerkweed as being in "another dimension" so, why do we have to move at all to get into it?  Dimensions are all around us and this is a science fiction film.  Why do we have to suspend our disbelief SO much, just to essentially step into another angle of looking at the universe?  That's really what a dimension is.  Width, height, time and... Where ever Tomorrowland is...  but no, we have to teleport to France so we can launch into space to then fly a space ship into another dimension. 


I'd then change as much of the dialog as possible where Clooney and Governor Jerkweed are talking.  ESPECIALLY the stuff where Jerkweed is telling us all how stupid we, the audience, are.  I'd leave almost everything else the same here, only I'd use looped dialog or reshoots to establish that Jerkweed deserves to die for more reasons than just being right about humanity's laziness (and for being a jerkweed).  In my version, it is OK that he died because he withheld countless technological advances that could have educated millions, saved the lives of untold thousands, and made the whole of the Earth into a Tomorrowland.  He is a genocidal maniac via his own laziness.

Seriously, why wasn't that Governor Jerkweed's crime in the film?

I'd hang a lamp shade on the fact that Tomorrowland is falling apart, too, by having Clooney make it clear to us that the SFPM is brainwashing Governor Jerkweed and his other elite Tomorrowland pals to be negative nellies, as well.

I'd also hang a lamp shade on Jerkweed being even more deserving of death by having him know about the effect the SFPM was having on humans around the world.  That was his plan the whole time--get rid of all idiots, unable to take responsibility for themselves, etc, etc...

I'd leave everything from then on the same.  I mean, what does it matter this far in?  There are still stupid contrivances, like how the SFPM works, why/how it was destroyed and what the hell happened to Tomorrowland?  Why did it go the way of Old Detroit from the original ROBOCOP? 

Over all, I'd cut out as much of LGR's dialog as possible.  She is a Divine Machine throughout the entire film and is the weakest, least interesting character in the movie.  She does the work of the writer from start to finish (hence the "Divine Machine" reference), has no goals or motivations of her own, and is therefore a waste of the audience's time.  She even has dialog where she explains that she can't think for herself and is always just following orders. So, of the two females in the movie, she is literally a robot. Lame and BORING.  There is a really trippy anime series from Japan called ERGO PROXY that has a supporting character who is a girl robot who escapes from a theme park in the distant future. 

In that sentence I've just typed, haven't I described a more interesting robot girl than the one in this movie?

Hell, if there was the budget for it, I'd have rewritten and reshot all of her scenes so she had a more interesting backstory than just being a recruiter 'bot made to look and act like a rich, little girl from the 1950s.  I probably would have taken a tip from that anime series I mentioned and have her start out her life as part of an exhibit in Tomorrowland but then she evolved. 

The reason I refer to the two female characters by initials,
and beyond that abstract descriptions, is because that's
how the film treats them. These are not girls with
individual personalities. STG likes SCIENCE and
SPACE, abstractly, without any specific focus. Mean-
while, LGR is strictly interested in fulfilling her pro-
gramming and has no will or interests of her own.
Not only is this weak writing, but it's a terrible
example to set for women and girls. This is science
fiction! Why are these women characters written
like girls from the 1800s?? STG is a girl very
unlike the average teen girl. She should have
MUCH more going on, character-wise. LGR is
a 60 year-old robot from Tommorowland and
she hasn't broken her programming yet??
In Closing (finally!)

So much more to talk about with this film.  It's poor treatment of minorities (almost none in the film) and odd treatment of gender (only young females allowed! But at least they're smart), it's extreme preachifying, and worst of all, it's utter inability to grasp the wonderful message of the original Tommorowland attraction in Disneyland.

What broke my heart the most--about this film is exactly that.  It goes on and on about how we're doing it wrong, but provides us no means to find hope.  It whines and moans about how we're all part of the problem but doesn't show us a path to what could be.  Maybe then, as individuals in our daily lives, we could see how our own paths could be adjusted to head more toward that ideal future.

There is one moment in the film that really did hurt my heart--there's a mini-scene during the Tomorrowland promo video where STG follows this family as their daughter is heading out to a spaceship.  The parents are nervous and worry about her safety.  The daughter (played by an Asian-Indian actress) then says something like "Mom, Dad, relax!  We're only going out 20 light years, or so."

Ugh.... it's like a punch in the gut just thinking about it.  THAT line right there is the promise of any film with a title similar or identical to "TOMORROWLAND." 

That ONE moment suggests, no only an amazing future ahead of humanity, but more immediately, a great movie ahead of the humans watching it.  Of course, the film does not show us that future and delivers a lecture instead.  So, it's a broken promise.

When STG finds that badge, it becomes a mission for her to find out where it came from.  I don't think anyone in the audience with me had a hard time identifying with her at that moment. Like Richard Dreyfuss in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, she represents our willingness to be curious and to explore.  It seems to me like this willingness would be such an easy thing to tap into in today's fear-driven reality.  Yet, the film gets it right for a fleeting span of minutes.

What a missed opportunity TOMORROWLAND was.  Just about everyone who has seen it agrees that it just wasn't good.  And, you kind of have to admit that, if it had been redone my way, it would have been better.  Especially if Governor Jerkweed really deserved to die, rather than just deserving to shut the hell up.

Gah... what a script I would have written with just the premise!!  Ah well...

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