Movies

Peter Suderman Reviews Tomorrowland

|

Disney

Tomorrowland is director Brad Bird's first misfire, and the problem, I think, is co-writer Damon Lindelof.

From my review in The Washington Times: 

At times the movie seems almost comically resistant to providing basic explanatory details: At one point, Athena, who knows practically all the answers, simply conks out when Casey continues asking questions.

The script, which was originated and co-written by "Lost" showrunner Damon Lindelof, relies on the same maddening tricks and obfuscations he repeatedly used on that show: a meandering narrative, multiple important plot threads raised and left dangling, characters who irritatingly refuse to reveal basic information to each other.

Too much of the dialogue consists of grandly suggestive hints about the great wonders and gloomy terrors the future may hold. Every line appears calculated to appear on a startling preview for next week's episode.

The difference here is that "Tomorrowland" is a two-hour film that barrels toward an end, so the inevitable disappointments of the finale come sooner.

It's not all so clunky. Director Brad Bird, the visual miracle worker behind "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," works wonders with the movie's smooth visuals, especially in the future-city, and directs the action scenes with a crisp, zippy ingenuity.

His vivid and imaginative work, far more than the frustrating script, consistently captures the sense of joy and awe that the movie seems desperate to evoke.

Lost is only the most prominent example of Lindelof's endlessly irritating shtick. He relies on similar tics and tricks in his scripts for the Alien side-quel Prometheus and the maddeningly empty Star Trek reboot sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as in his current TV series, The Leftovers. His M.O. is pretty much always the same: ask big, interesting questions, and (implicitly) make big, interesting promises—and then take a turn half way through that ignores those questions and promises while treating the audience as either too dumb or too demanding for expecting coherent answers. 

There's still a healthy dose of Brad Bird's thematic and visual sensibility, which makes the movie enjoyable in some ways even when it's frustrating. Bird, the director of two genuine Pixar classics, as well as The Iron Giant and the surprisingly excellent Tom Cruise stunt-reel, Mission: Impossible 4, exhibits an enthusiastic fondness for self-starters and high-achieving individualism that has sometimes led to complaints that he's a closet Randian. The Galt's Gulch-esque make-up of Tomorrowland's futuristic society of inventors and artists, who move to another dimension to free themselves of, among other things, government rules and bureaucracy, pretty much ensures that we'll see some of the same complaints brought up here.

But there's ultimately not much to talk about because any specific or interesting ideas that start to arise end up bogged down in Lindelof's vacuous scripting. In the end, the enjoyable Birdisms are swallowed in the void of Lindelofism and don't really work on their own. 

Advertisement

NEXT: How, originalism and unitary executive theory strengthen the constitutional case for Obama's immigration policy

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Oh my GOD. The Leftovers? Star Trek Into Darkness? Bird is now tainted.

  2. Prometheus was horrible with all the non explanations…good review, saved me some time.

    1. Yeah, this.

      Lost was teh SUCK mostly in terms of the ending, after having been baited for so long. Prometheus just….sucked.

      1. If you ever seriously watched Lost you deserve nothing better. It was never good and it was always as obvious as day that stuff would never get wrapped up.

        Prometheus is getting a sequel I kid you not.

        1. What the world needs, clearly, is a Prometheus sequel. Why not?

          1. Written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Shyamalan

        2. If you were enough of a mystery fan, realized Lost was a mystery & not sci-fi or fantasy, knew enough background material (especially from A.C. Doyle & Department S), and realized they weren’t spoonfeeding it to you, you could figure out otherwise. Of course it also helped if you knew Damon Lindelof in advance & had played games w him.

          http://users.bestweb.net/~robgood/teach

          1. If viewers need that much background material going into it, ’tis possible it wasn’t such a great series.

            1. That’s true. I still wonder whether he put all that puzzle stuff in just for me. My best guess, though, is that they’ll eventually come out w a denouement in the hope that people will then buy all the DVDs to go back & find the clues to the answer that they’ll have revealed.

  3. Watch Ex Machina instead, and prepare to be disturbed.

    1. Disturbed in a psychodrama sort of way or disturbed in an eyerolling gratuitous gore sort of way?

      1. Disturbed in a psychodrama way. Best movie I’ve seen this year.

    2. No spoilers, I haven’t seen it yet and plan to this weekend.

      1. Everybody is gay. And dies in the end.

        OH! SORRY!!!!

        1. The robot chick is really a man!

      2. It was his sled who shot JR tuned out to be Keyzer Soze after it hit the iceberg, then the home run hit the light tower and Aaron Stampler was the killer and was dead the whole time he was a replicant.

  4. I’m a big Brad Bird fan, so I was sort of worried about this film based on the reviews it’s been getting. Now that I know Suderman was only Meh about it, I’m looking forward to see it.

    1. Bird has done some great work, so it would be disappointing if this does suck. Then again, Lindelof’s involvement is a giant, waiving red flag.

      Bird is now supposedly working on The Incredibles 2.

      1. Bird is very talented, and I’ve really enjoyed his work for years. But I could say the same thing about Ridley Scott, and Prometheus was some of the shittiest writing on an incredibly anticipated movie that I’ve ever seen, and it made the movie fucking retarded. If Ridley Scott can’t escape the Lindelof suck vortex, I don’t think Bird can either.

        1. That’s some suck vortex.

        2. Well Scott has been making a lot of shit for a lot of years, and Bird has co-writing credit for this one.

          1. And Joss Whedon had co-writing credit for The Cabin in the Woods, and that sucked too (I know a lot of people don’t like Whedon, but I do).

            Really bad writers are pretty toxic. Also, Scott’s normal level of “this is sucky Scott” is much higher than Prometheus. There was extra suck gravity in that besides him. And it was Lindelof providing that.

            1. The one flaw in the auteur theory is that there’s no auteur without a great writer beside him.

              1. Or the auteur theory just means that the auteur is also good at recognizing and utilizing good writing.

      2. Yeah, but Suderman didn’t say that the movie was terrible, just that it was “meh”. And I’ve noticed that Suderman is meh about most of the movies I enjoy.

      3. IMO, Lindelof can drag down *any* good director to his level.

        Star Trekin’ To Darkness is a double fail because Abrams can deliver a film that is good only for the first time and doesn’t stand up to repeated views and then he got saddled with a guy who can make you go ‘WTF are they doing this for?’ *during* the movie.

        At least the 2009 Star Trek reboot you didn’t ask those questions until you got home.

        Prometheus – Horrible movie all around (though Ridley Scott doesn’t seem to have the magic of his early years).

        WWZ – ‘Nuff said

        Cowboys and Aliens – such potential, such shit

        1. Yes. World War Z is another fucking perfect example of his just pure garbage. From what I understand, translating the book into a screenplay would have been somewhat difficult because it’s just a series of recollections by survivors, but…at least try. Instead of writing an impossibly derivative, shockingly boring and trite, almost completely new story instead.

        2. WWZ was unbelievably awful. Massive fail. I like Brad Pitt but wow.

          STID was not as bad as people keep saying it is.

          1. Just won’t watch the first 15 minutes of STID.

          2. WWZ was quality MST3000 material. It’s far more enjoyable to watch it with your stoned friends.

          3. STID was not as bad as people keep saying it is.

            If viewed at the level of being a mind-numbingly stupid, poorly-acted, lazily-directed, CGI extravaganza ala Transformers, sure, it wasn’t that bad.

            People expecting something more than, “oooo, lens flares…. Oh look, crashing mega starship!!!” will think it’s a piece of shit.

            1. Because Insurrection and Star Trek: Revenge of the Big Red Ball were such magnificent examples of thematic complexity and intellectual depth.

  5. I guess George needed a payday to cover that wedding.

  6. “His M.O. is always the same: ask big, interesting questions, and (implicitly) make big, interesting promises?and then take a turn half way through that ignores those questions and promises while treating the audience as either too dumb or too demanding for expecting coherent answers.”

    Well put.

    I watched the first season of Lost a year or so ago, and the “scam” of the thing seemed apparent from the very outset. Everything anyone said had to be double-dipped in layers of “implication”, when 99% of the actual drama would have been dispelled if any of these people actually sat down and actually had a real conversation.

    It was “Mystery-Writing” for Idiots, the way Conspiracy Theories are ‘Intellectualism’ for the same.

    1. I knew something was amiss in “Lost” when there was this terrifying monster crashing around in the jungle, and within an episode or two, no one seemed concerned about it or even remembered it was out there.

      1. Exactly.

        The entire show required that every character always forget about the problem of 5 minutes ago to focus myopically on the problem of RIGHT NOW, while never actually asking the obvious question that would clear the whole fucking thing up in 2 seconds. Instead they would have melodramatic over-reactions while remaining studiously oblivious.

        It got so tiresome i couldn’t bear to finish season 1.

    2. Lindelof is one of the worst, most incoherent “big Hollywood” writers around. Lost started out exciting, but by the middle of season two I could sense the same thing that it took getting to season four in BSG to see: they don’t know what they’re doing. There is no overarching finalized plot. They’re making it up as they go. Prometheus was unbelieveably bad, with the double whammy effect of Scott’s very pretty direction distracting you from how nonsensical the plot was. It was as I was walking home after seeing it at the Seattle Center IMAX that I started going “did that make as little sense as it seemed?” And after thinking about it, the answer was “hell yes”. And ST:ID was so bad I turned it off after 15 minutes. Talk about being nonsensical…oh my fucking god.

      Every one of Peter’s complaints about him here are spot on with my experience with the guy’s work. If I see him in the writing credits for anything at this point, I’m probably going to pass. Uber pass, to quote Dennis Reynolds.

      1. Here’s Adam Savage and the Tested people doing their podcast about “How Bad Was Prometheus? Let Us Count the Ways

        1. My favorite line from adam there (which is spot on) =

          “Why did anyone in this story do anything?”

          The dialogue and character motivations are so bad that you can’t bring yourself to justify them.

          He refers to it as “Ewok-bad”

    3. Everything anyone said had to be double-dipped in layers of “implication”, when 99% of the actual drama would have been dispelled if any of these people actually sat down and actually had a real conversation.

      Devil’s advocate here: if you were in with a bunch of people who survived a plane crash in a mysterious place where civilization is not a high priority, would you be willing to sit down and have a real conversation with someone who might take your food or medical supplies, or even kill you?

      1. No = i’d immediately start working together *With Them* so that shit wouldn’t be a problem.

        please don’t try and make LOST seem less dumb. its beneath you.

      2. I would help form a government of the people. Where certain rights would be seen as self evident. The government’s primary role would be to protect those rights. And the government would have limited, enumerated powers… Oh wait.

      3. if you were in with a bunch of people who survived a plane crash in a mysterious place where civilization is not a high priority, would you be willing to sit down and have a real conversation with someone who might take your food or medical supplies, or even kill you?

        Especially if you knew they hadn’t actually been in a plane crash, & had to hide that knowledge lest others figure out that you were an enemy agent? And if you knew that for potentially every character, there was another potentially in the vicinity who was practically indistinguishable in appearance & voice (via a combination of selection from face databases & plastic surgery)?

        1. Where survival is dubious, every asset is precious. The mind is the biggest asset. Therefore, the best survival strategy is for all to communicate so that they can assess their knowledge, their skills.
          Stealing, lying, or any initiation of force is counter-productive. Those who do so should be banished form the group or at least socially boycotted.
          I watched the pilot for “Lost” half way. I stopped when a scouting party was saved from a beast who attacked them by a member who had a concealed gun, and the whole party demanded he throw away the gun, instead of thanking and praising him.

  7. He did “the leftovers”? Huh. I like that series so far, but if it takes on the same annoying tics that “lost” suffered from, I’ll not like it for very much longer.

  8. Want to know why characters on Lost wouldn’t reveal info to each other? Partly it’s because things you thought they knew were actually known only by their doubles, & partly because they didn’t know whether to trust other characters as being on the same team or that of their doubles, who were trying to rub them out. But you didn’t even realize they had doubles, did you? For the analysis, http://users.bestweb.net/~robgood/teach . If you’re in a hurry, read entry #1, then skip to the last few.

    1. Every time Lost is mentioned, you pop up spouting this same nonsense.

      1. Have you examined it before pronouncing it nonsense? Have you checked out any of the referenced background info? The episodes of Department S are now on YouTube, and Tales of Terror and Mystery & Round the Fire Stories are in the public domain & easily available. The 1932 Universal serial The Lost Special, which is also public-domain, is even on YouTube now.

        1. If something has to be that obscurely derivative, then it’s not entertainment, it’s just masturbation and clever silliness. Tarantino does the same damn thing with more blood and cursing.

          1. Which is why Tarantino bores me, with a couple of exceptions.

            1. *nods in agreement*

          2. Obscure derivative shit is fine, but if you hang your plot on it, you are either an idiot or you don’t care about attracting all but the most specialized audience. Tarantino does a lot of it, but you don’t need to know any of it to be entertained. I think probably the best example of how to get the best of both worlds out of it is the first season of True Detective with its very obscure The King in Yellow references. But you didn’t need to get them at all to watch the show. They were just a bonus.

            1. “Tarantino does a lot of it, but you don’t need to know any of it to be entertained”

              Exactly.

              Being derivative, or making allusions isn’t bad as long as the movie still works on its own.

              When it NEEDS the references to even make sense, its a failure before its started

              1. My feeling exactly. A good movie with references or other features beyond the plot can add depth and dimension to the film.

                1. This is similar to the debate Corning & I had about the Big Lebowski

                  I pointed out that a lot of the reward for me was how much Raymond Chandler it used – the template being so recognizable.

                  for him, not being familiar with it, he thought it was ‘too convoluted’.

                  I think lebowski works even if you’re unaware how derivative it is of Chandler’s hardboiled detective stories – but just barely… because it does open itself up to questions about ‘why do x characters* even appear~? to what end?!”

                  it fails in that sense according to strict rules of film-storytelling – because all the ‘unnecessary’ elements that make chandler interesting make the film look ‘randomly composed’

                  1. Yeah, that was something I picked up on after watching the movie. It’s very much nodding to film noir, albeit with typical Coen irony.

                    1. You mean like they also did in:

                      1. Blood Simple
                      2. Crimewave
                      3. Barton Fink (at least a little)
                      4. The Man Who Wasn’t There

                    2. not quite the same way

                      Most of those others are borrowing from “film noir elements” broadly, or use pieces of stories without relying on any one person or work

                      (Miller’s Crossing, by comparison, is actually an almost verbatim lift of 2-3 stories from Hammets “Red Harvest/The Continental Op” short stores – each act using a different part)

                      Lebowski is different because it was an almost “paint by numbers” copy of a Raymond Chandler story. Down to the ‘random characters’ that keep injecting themselves into the plot, and the exact purposes they serve (* the bumbling 2nd detective, the spanish pedophile, the pornographer who slips him a mickey, the mean country cop, etc)

                      They’re definitely steeped in that very-specific Noire style of storytelling – but Lebowski is 100% Chandler, to the exclusion of any other influence.

            2. There was a hell of a lot of cute allusion-making in the 1st 2 seasons of Smallville too. Most of the audience never realized they were seeing hilarious recapitul’ns of the stories of the Kennedy family, Alger Hiss & Whittaker Chambers, Prometheus, Frederic Wertham, & others. But there didn’t seem to also be a hidden plot to solve as on Lost.

          3. You don’t absolutely have to know the background material (although to mystery fans, Doyle is far from obscure; still, many more read the Sherlock Holmes stuff than his other stories, even the mystery ones) to solve it. Unfortunately, though, the clues are very difficult w/o that background. (“Oh, this story is like that one, so the plot is probably similar too.”) And since there was no denouement, unless you solve it, the characters appear to have acted stupidly and/or w no apparent motiv’n.

            Some of the clues, though, were blatant. Season 2 promos just came out & said

            THEY’RE NOT THE SURIVIVORS
            THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE

            but left it possible that that was to be understood as a single clause. Really, they were saying they’re not the survivors, they thought they were. Brainwashed “zombies” made to believe they were the survivors of an airliner crash that actually killed all on board.

            1. Unfortunately, though, the clues are very difficult w/o that background.

              IOW, masturbation.

      2. +91% of libertarians

  9. Well, It’s Fury Road for me then. Tom Hardy…hmmmmmmm.

    1. I initially read that as Furry Road.

      1. Never ever go that way

  10. OK, quick movie review time

    Mad Max: Fury Road. You know how you see these really good, *intelligent* action movies and you rewatch them over and over and then find that you’re fast forwarding through all the exposition and character development to get to the awesome action scenes?

    Fury Road is if they decided to jump right to that stage.

    Oh, and the chicks are badarse pacifists in the Ghandi model. One throws herself in the line of fire (while hanging off the side of a speeding truck) to block a shot at the driver.

    But . . . I’d say its really less of a ‘Mad Max’ movie and more of an extended ‘Heavy Metal’ sequel.

    Verdict – go see this motherfucker right the fuck now.

    Avengers 2: Avenge Harder

    OK, this movie is, like, the exact opposite of Fury Road. A year down the road you’ll be skipping the action scenes for the exposition and character development.

    This seems to be a problem with these movies – the action scenes go on forever, but unlike Fury Road, they can’t sustain your interest.

    Verdict – Netflix (Seriously? Go torrent it).

    1. Fury Road has almost no exposition that is not action.

      90% of Max’s character development is done non-verbally. Furiosa speaks only a little bit more then Max.

      “I’d say its really less of a ‘Mad Max’ movie and more of an extended ‘Heavy Metal’ sequel.”

      Why do I have the feeling that you either completely forgotten Heavy Metal and Road Warrior or simply have never seen them.

      Fury Road is the Road Warrior but with a budget to extend the road battles to greater glory.

      I will admit i wish the ending was more classic mad max and left him roaming the wastelands alone and even more broken then when the story started.

      1. Sure, the character development mostly occurs during the action sequences – but, outside of Nuks, its pretty subtle. The chicks become a little tougher, Max ‘allows himself to hope’ a little bit. Given that the whole movie takes place in approximately 24 hours its not surprising that there aren’t a lot of quiet scenes, and major character changes, and exposition but the movie still feels like one where you’re *skipping* all that to get to the exciting parts – but not one where they don’t exist, just that you’re already familiar with them and don’t need to see them again.

        IOW, I’m not saying that FR is a *dumb* movie, just very pared down and expects the audience to pick up on a lot of stuff not said. But does an excellent ‘show don’t tell’ work.

        And Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Beyond Thunderdome have long scenes, a good chunk of those movies really, that focus on character – where you see Max, Pappagallo, The Gyro Captain, The Feral Kid, etc interact – and not on action.

        The fact that FR can cut out all that runtime and still make a great movie is testament to George Miller’s skill. This is the sort of thing Michael Bay *tries* to make and fails so miserably at.

        And, this isn’t really Max’s movie. He’s in it, but the story is really Furiosa’s and the chicks. Hell, this could have been a generic post-apocalypse-punk movie with someone else in the passenger’s seat.

        Finally, the ending – the *very* end – is stupid as hell.

        1. Is FR a sequel to the other MM movies?

        2. I haven’t seen Fury Road yet–I will in a week or so–but both Road Warrior and Thunderdome, while possessing “real” moments of character interaction, such scenes are actually pretty minor. Mad Max (as in the first one) has much more of that. Miller actually actively progressed away from overt character development as the series went on. And that’s because the situations people find themselves in in these movies is progressively more and more about almost pure survival and almost nothing else. It’s kind of the point, and I think character development would actually detract from that feeling of near-hopelessness that he’s trying to create.

          Also, usually almost everyone dies but Max, and if they don’t die, they “get away”, leaving only him to wander the wasteland again alone.

          1. Thunderdome has *huuge* scenes with Max an Aunty entity that go to establish her character and motivations directly. Along with bits to set up Master-Blaster and even the annoying kids are set up properly an not ‘ewoked-in’.

            But the plot in BTD is a bit more ‘political’ than in Fury Road where the villain’s motivation boils down to ‘someone stole my stuff and I’m going to get it back’.

            I think all three of the earlier movies are more defined by the character’s being ‘big’, but not ‘larger-than-life’ as they are in this one. FR is metal as fuck but, IMO, it feels very different than its predecessors.

            1. I guess I should have been more descriptive; when I say “character development” I mean “the character progresses through the movie and changes during it”. Road Warrior and Thunderdome both do have expository dialogue that “explains” characters like Auntie Entity, but they don’t really…change much, if at all. That’s what I meant by development. Whereas in Mad Max 1, characters change, a lot. Especially Max.

              And I’m not at all surprised that Fury Road feels very different; it’s been 30 years, after all. I’d actually be way more surprised if it felt the same.

  11. Honest Trailer: Jupiter Ascending

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShAeafYCqxk

    INVESTORS THREW 155 MILLION DOLLARS AT THIS.

    1. That is worth watching.

    2. i stopped halfway through

      even the trailer was unbearable

    3. How can I be a reincarnation of your mother unless your mother was from Earth? Hm. Makes sense.

  12. Well shit. I love Bird and I despise Lindelof. I was going to take my kids to see it, now I’m afraid I’ll just be pissed throughout the entire movie.

    Couldn’t they just re release The Iron Giant to theaters?

  13. And if you follow the clues on Lost, you figure out there was no time travel (just mind manipul’n & a way to KO people at a distance & give them amnesia), Kate’s baby was biologically hers, the Island was on or near Fernando Poo in the Atlantic’s Bight of Biafra, the Monster was technologic, the wreckage at the bottom of the ocean was the real flight 815, & the characters weren’t really dead (they just looked exactly like people who were, & whose names they used). It was all a contest between Benry & Widmore to replace Alvar Hanso (who also went down with the plane) w a lookalike stooge of their own, using witnesses who would be claimed to have survived the airliner wreck.

    1. I can’t tell if this is serious or a joke.

      1. Aspergers

      2. I’m serious; the show was hilarious. http://users.bestweb.net/~robgood/teach

        In the opening episode alone they dropped a bunch of clues that told us, “These people did not survive an airliner wreck like this.” Later they even showed us the real wreckage of the real airliner, and told us that the world understood that to have been the case.

        But I mightn’t’ve figured it out had I not discussed w Damon L. a few yrs. earlier “One of Our Aircraft Is Empty” from Department S. And I was still thrown off until I later read “The Lost Special”.

        1. Drop his name some more and maybe we’ll start to be impressed on the 223rd iteration.

          You seem to have missed the part where almost everyone here thinks “Damon L.” is the worst writer in the history of television and film. Telling us about your interpersonal relationship isn’t exactly going to get a lot of “ooohs” and “ahhhs”

          1. Jesus, this.

          2. He couldn’t’ve been that bad, to come up w this!

            Also, his father may have been the smartest person I ever knew.

    2. NO ONE FUCKING CARES

    3. Or to put it another way =

      If you need to explain the joke? Its a shitty joke.

      The show that needs ‘explaining” is a shitty show. LOST was a storytelling abortion.

      1. So if they come out next year w the real conclusion, you’re not going to go back to the episodes to see the clues you missed?

        1. Fortunately I never watched the show, so I don’t have to waste my time with any of it.

        2. Not in a million years.

  14. The movie was about the ageless argument between pessimism and optimism. It over simplifies. The problem is not that people are too negative or too positive, rather they are not rational, i.e., they don’t acknowledge reality. The father claims: “You are wasting your time. It doesn’t work.” The son claims: “I’m not wasting my time. I can make it work.” Both are partially correct. Father states a fact when he says it doesn’t work. He cannot jump to the conclusion that nothing was learned from attempting, e.g., trying is a waste of time. The boy is wrong to assume he can do whatever he wants. Da Vinci failed to build some of his inventions, even though his theories were correct. The supporting tech was not available. In time, in centuries, his inventions would be built. So the boy did not know he could “make it work”. He should have said: “It is not a waste of time to do what you love. I love trying to build a jet pack. I may fail. That is not important. What counts is that I am pursuing my passion. Can you say the same?”
    This exchange would have been fruitful, because it acknowledges the reality of the situation. It is not blindly negative or positive.

  15. I became suspicious when Athena would not answer obvious questions. But I hoped this was not a sign the writer was lazy or incompetent, and I waited for closure. It did not come. This was robbery. I was robbed of my time.

    I will be on the lookout for Lindelof’s writing so I can avoid wasting my time.

  16. Tomorrowland’s director is Brad Birdthe .the movie group has many visual miracle workers who can make the movie enjoyable in some ways .

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.