THE BOOTH WINDOW: EARLY SCREENING REVIEWS
By Chris Pribilski
I’ve been a movie theatre manager for a while now, and one of the perks is the early screenings. Studios don’t do it for all features, but for most they’ll offer an early screening of a movie for booking agents to attend. The process has gone through many changes over the years, but I still get the invites, and I’ve never had to sign a disclosure agreement, so let me tell you what I thought without spoiling anything!
Screening time! Let’s look at Disney’s Tomorrowland!
**Any plot points that I allude to or flat out tell you can be gotten from the Tomorrowland trailers. NO SPOILERS!!**
Pre-2003: “A movie based on an attraction at a Disney theme park? That’ll never work.”
Then comes along a little movie called “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Yeah, it kinda did work; enough so that the fifth installment of the series is slated for a July 4th weekend release in 2017. Now we have to ask can they do the same thing based on a Disney theme park “land.” Well, I think they can.
It’s not just because of the “PG” rating widening the potential viewing audience either. While “Tomorrowland” is geared more towards kids than “Pirates” was it has just as much if not more family appeal. The movie stars Britt Robertson as high-school girl Casey Newton, an imaginative young lady who “knows how stuff works.” Co-starring is George Clooney as Frank Walker, a “kid-genius-now-grumpy-old-guy.” Brad Bird directs and co-writes with “Lost” writer/co-creator Damon Lindelof, both of whom I think are fun, imaginative storytellers.
Will “Tomorrowland” be the huge phenomenon that “Pirates” was? Probably not. I thought it was a great flick, a really fun movie, but I don’t see how it could be made into a film franchise. As a theatre manager I walked away from “Pirates” thinking “Wow, this is definitely going to get a sequel and make us some money!” With “Tomorrowland” I’m thinking “That’s going to make us some money over Memorial Day weekend.” I’m not saying it can’t be done, and heaven knows if the movie does well at the box office they’ll make a sequel, but if they do I see a sequel being more like “Return from Witch Mountain” was to “Escape to Witch Mountain.”
YouTube has some wonderful shorts from the 2014 New York Comic Con in which Brad Bird and company speak about the movie. While Clooney got most of the attention due to it being his first Con, you can tell that the cast got along very well and seemed happy to be back together to talk about the movie. All cast members talk about how everyone took the project seriously and put their best into the movie.
As the movie started I was immediately skeptical; we start with Clooney as the narrator, a film writing tactic that can be done well (Fight Club, Shawshank Redemption), but also can be a sign of poor editing or a distrust of an audience to let the narrative play out in the story. Thankfully my concerns were unfounded and the use of opening narration worked; it actually ended up demonstrating within the first few minutes the essential qualities of our two main protagonists. No worries, it’s not “Iron Man 3.”
When we start it is indeed a great big beautiful tomorrow as a young Frank Walker attempts to submit an invention at the 1964 World’s Fair. I remember images of 1964 Disneyland circling around the internet a few months ago (of course now I can’t find them), and now I know why. This brought about my next worry: will this be just a giant commercial for the Disney Parks? As much as I’ve developed into a Disney nerd since having kids, I like my movies to tell a story, not sell a product. Thankfully my worries were again unfounded and I got to geek out a little bit seeing Space Mountain and other Disney landmarks. I also loved how Disney technology was used in the film; in fact, it plays a crucial part. And while I’m avoiding spoilers I will say this: no one seeing this movie will ever ride the “Small World” attraction the same way again.
It’s at this time we meet another very important protagonist, played by the very talented Raffey Cassidy; however, I’m hesitant to tell you anything about her involvement in the story. After re-watching the trailers it’s clear that Disney is intentionally leaving the character out of promotion. Why? I think it’s because her character changes the promotional focus of the movie. Disney is relying heavily on Clooney to draw people to this movie and is centering your expectations of the film on his character. Don’t get me wrong, he is an essential part of the plot, but after the intro he’s not in the first third of the movie. They even added Clooney dialogue to the trailers that wasn’t in the final cut; in fact, I think the actual lines come from Cassidy’s character. It’s a shame; she has a crucial part to play. She drives the story throughout the entire movie and the acting job is wonderful. I wish Disney would have had more confidence in the movie to forgo these changes, but I guess when you’re dealing with a multi-million dollar investment you want to put your strongest player in the spotlight.
After this flashback introduction we cut to the present day. We’re introduced to Casey Newton’s world. Important to her story is the constant bombardment from school and the media regarding the dire situation the world is in. It is through this negative media attention that we discover a critical trait to Casey’s character: her need and desire to solve the problem, any problem, no matter what its scope. She truly believes that any action, no matter how small, can make a difference. It is this trait, this hope and confidence in herself and humanity in general that attracts Walker and company to her, ultimately leading to Walker aiding Casey in her attempt to get to Tomorrowland.
The journey to Walker is perilous, with unseen dangers and wonderful cameos by Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn, along with some heavy Star Wars and other memorable sci-fi influences. Once Casey’s goal is in sight nothing will sway her from it, and when Walker joins the cause things just get more and more dangerous. Eventually through some washing-machine-type of transportation and the aid of some of Tomorrowland’s founders (I immediately thought of the classic “Timekeeper” attraction; after you see the flick watch it on YouTube and you’ll get what I’m talking about), we get to Tomorrowland and adventure ensues.
It is here that I’ll stop and let you discover the rest of the plot for yourself. Hugh Laurie does a great job with his monologue and we see his character as a “shade of grey,” a man that meant well but in the end did not have within him the same hope that Casey does. While I think some will argue or complain this is a certain “type” of film that got “preachy,” I think everything made sense and was built up within the story. I didn’t feel there were any curve-balls here that changed the voice of the story. It was a fun ride.
I thought the acting was strong and that the cast had good chemistry. Clooney’s grumpy and Robertson’s ever-the-optimist characters never got to the point where they were annoying. While there were obvious “blockbuster-cliché” moments, our director and writers got you wrapped up in the story and made you care enough about the characters that whatever flaws I found I forgave pretty easily. The movie was not “Clooney-heavy;” Brad Bird and company balance their talent well, using all to advance the story more than anyone’s career. Stardom was not milked here, the story remained the focus.
This is definitely an effects movie and it certainly does not disappoint. There are less CG “hiccups” than in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and the practical effects blended seamlessly. Cinematography was great, though it was probably almost completely digital; pretty easy to get a great shot when you can make it look however you want in post. While I’m sure the same comparison to the Apple Store can be made as was made in the “Star Trek” reboot, the locations and set design perfectly matched my expectations. What was really nice was that unlike the Star Wars prequels in which Lucas used the movie to show off the technology, this film used the technology to tell the story. I was honestly surprised that this wasn’t made to be a 3D movie. IMAX was nice, but I never feel is worth the extra price tag. Just sit closer to the screen in a normal theatre.
I have to tell you, as I watched this movie there were several times I caught myself smiling thinking “wow, they pulled it off, this is a good movie.” I’m really excited to take my daughter to see it and to try to catch new things that I missed the first time around. I think you’ll like “Tomorrowland;” even people not into sci-fi movies should at least like the action scenes and awesome visuals. Do yourself a favor, don’t wait to rent, see it on the big screen!
Incidentally, in my research I found that Brad Bird put out a link on his Twitter feed of a teaser trailer for “Tomorrowland” called “The Origins of Plus Ultra.” It’s an unlisted video on YouTube, so you’ll have to go to his Twitter feed to get the link. It’s a four-minute short that gives some backstory on the movie of “Tomorrowland.” It doesn’t ruin anything and gives some perspective into the movie; however, it technically is a spoiler, so I leave it up to you to decide whether you want to watch it or not.
** As you will forever hear me say, please, please watch the movie at an independent/local movie chain if you can, and be sure to buy SOMETHING from the concessions. I know concessions are expensive, but the building doesn’t make much money off the tickets. If you like the theatre you go to, support them by buying at least a small popcorn, that alone will be a huge help. Sneak the rest of your stuff in ;).**