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Tomorrowland Is Necessary

Lukewarm Execution Doesn't Sink a Worthwhile Message

Tomorrowland (2015), staring George Clooney and Britt Robertson, is not a great movie. But it is a necessary one. (While not necessarily a review, there are spoilers ahead. If you enjoy your cinematic experiences unburdened by expectation, now is the time to find some cat gifs.)

I have a hard time with Black Mirror, the outstanding BBC television series, for exactly the opposite reasons. The dark, near future dramas unspool less like speculative fiction and more like factual accounts we'll wake up to. In this show there is no hope in what technology hath wrought. There is no joy. There is only a grim resilience in a world where selfies increasingly are able to capture the monsters inside.

It is excellent. But we live in an era of assembly line soothsayers. You can't click on the Internet without landing on a garbage spewing misanthrope, bargaining their latest shock-and-awe disaster for eyeballs. In that reality is Black Mirror necessary?

Tomorrowland isn't subtle. There's as much nuance in the plot as a typical tween-targeted episode of Disney Channel schlock. Clooney and Robertson are, tonally, in different movies. The retro-futurism is only a token gold leaf running along the movie's trim. And somebody owes Daniel Suarez a royalty for some similar parallels to his book Influx (2014) and its Bureau of Technology Control.

And yet the villain's monologue, delivered by a wonderfully glowering Hugh Laurie, got me choked up in a way that few media experiences have yet this year.

His character, Governor Nix, admits to having beamed dour and cataclysmic visions of the future into decision maker's brains. He was attempting to scare them straight; to warn them of the future that would happen without action. The population didn't recoil. Instead, he watched in dismay as the populace lapped up the visions of dystopia. They then perpetuated and mutated the stories, seeding them into the cultural firmament of our time. Rather than being a warning, the visions of modern collapse blossomed and begat subsequent nightmares. Nix concludes his failure was due to a misunderstanding of the human condition. Building things is hard and does not guarantee success. But doing nothing is easy. It asks nothing of you.

So we subsequently take the easy route. We wallow in worst-cases and blockbuster spectacle; anything to distract ourselves from tomorrows that are incrementally worse than today.

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." - William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

I loved last year's Big Hero 6 (2014). It had over-the-top superhero action and a beautiful amalgamation of concepts in the rendered "San Fransokyo". But most of all, the character's love for science and technology was joyous. Yes, it gave the bad guy his powers. But it was also the means for our heroes' journeys and (spoiler) eventual triumph.

I love science. I love making things. But where are the tales of triumph? Of the human spirit elevated through the tools of its own design? Good grief, Apollo 13 (1995) was released twenty years ago (and probably should be considered historical drama rather than a work of science fiction). I love a incredibly realized dystopia like that seen in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) but where are the counter-points? Not tales of utopia, but the stories about the best of us for the rest of us?

The trailer for The Martian (2015) was released today.

"I'm gonna hafta science the shit outta this." - Mark Whatney, played by Matt Damon

This is necessary.

Extra credit: Same day, same dystopian sentiment. No coordination needed.