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‘Tomorrowland’ Dares Us To Ask – Can We Be The Change?

On a lazy Sunday morning, already having ingested the previous evening’s Saturday Night Live, I picked up the clicker seeking something to watch on a premium movie channel. I wasn’t particularly keen on sitting through a movie I’ve seen scores of times over. (I have a bad habit of falling into that trap. I mean, how frequently does one have to watch films like Hot Fuzz or Deadpool anyway?) While nothing really stuck out at me as a sure winner, I came across a movie on Starz I had yet to make time for – and that would be Tomorrowland. The scene airing at that point was enough to make me question what led the characters to that very point. I pulled the movie up on-demand and hunkered in for two hours to see if this was a mess like I had heard from various film outlets.

Instead I discovered a very involving and wholly original tale with more heart, depth,  and character than I expected. Not only was I delighted in those facets of the movie, but I was completely taken back to what thematic element I was on a collision course with – the question of what tomorrow will bring and what steps need to be taken to make the change.

While Tomorrowland was largely ignored when it began screening back at Memorial Day 2015 (grossing a paultry $209 million against a $190 million budget), I believe the reason was because audiences didn’t understand the movie’s narrative in the slightest. The trailers only highlighted some of the fantastical sights of a world beyond ours while offering zero plot details to gauge any sort of interest. Disney rode the marketing on the family draw for the movie, vaguely inspired by Disney’s theme attraction, without offering hints to moviegoers into what the stakes were for the main characters. Sure, the visuals were extraordinary and inspiring but what were the protagonists fighting for? Who were they trying to stop? If they failed, who would suffer the greatest consequences? The movie came and went like a mid-November frost, dropping into theaters one weekend and out on home video within only a couple of months.

I implore all of you out there in Fan Fest Land to sit down and watch this. Go ahead and buy the film blindly. (You can easily find it on Blu-Ray for $8 at your local supermarket.) Pull it up on Starz. But sit through the film, take a mental break from the stress wrought from this presidential campaign coming to a head in just hours, and I want you to ask yourselves this. When as a society did we lose hope and stop dreaming – and how can get back get back to having those wondrous ideas?

If only Disney would have been more on the nose about the plot, maybe more asses would have been in seats to Tomorrowland in a theater. The plot centers on Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a young adult who questions everything her teachers lecture in various classes. Utopian societies can never exist whereas dystopian societies can be more than just science fiction, they’re indeed reality. Climate change is spreading and damaging the only planet that we know. Every day, more species are on the brink of extinction. And all Casey asks for her teachers? “Can’t it be changed?” To her displeasure, she’s told no and to accept that nothing can be changed. This is the way the world is and no change spurred by mankind can alter our collision course. While many teenagers wouldn’t persist in their questioning, she doesn’t relent. Class in and out, she keeps raising her hand to ask the same question. Casey won’t quit with her resolve.

In the evenings when she’s away from the toils of high school, she’s running off to a NASA platform to ruin all attempts to dismantle the launch platform. Ever since she was a bright and hopeful young girl, she looked to the stars for answers and towards her destiny. “I’m going to go there!” she shouts with glee, her father Eddie (Tim McGraw) clutching her tight and beaming at his daughter. She wants to think big and won’t let anyone tell her no. Yet, NASA wants to remove the very site necessary to fling us beyond Earth and into the stars. Following a return trip home from the launchpad a stranger implants a pin, bearing a ‘T’ insignia, on the inside of her helmet. She’s busted by the police before her next sabotage attempt but, once the pin is slid back to her at jail, she’s transported to a whole different setting – an expansive field of wheat outside a booming futuristic city. She loses embrace with the pin, she’s back to reality. She’s intoxicated at the environment that unfolds before her, the technology and cohesive of a much different society. And she’s awestruck.

Casey is hellbent on getting back to Tomorrowland. With the help of the mysteriously gifted Athena (Raffey Cassidy), the duo set off to recover another dreamer, Frank Walker (George Clooney). As a youth he was much like Casey. He dreamed big. When his father barked at him for trying to invent new creations, Frank didn’t let go of his dreama. No one could tell him no. Somewhere along the way as he grew older, however, Frank lost sight of why he was a dreamer. He lost his passion and his fire, effectively quitting at keeping hope for a better future. Yet, he seems a glimmer of his former self in Casey. She dreams bigger and doesn’t accept that fate cannot be changed. That determination brings the three united to travel back to Tomorrowland to fix something that Athena believes only Casey do with success.

Hell, even those basic plot points barely skim the surface of the narrative. Sure, the general plot is very familiar, a cast of characters banded together by a common destiny to resolve a dilemma. I’m not giving away the beginning of the movie because, once the first fifteen-plus minutes are factored in, the trio’s pilgrimage makes even more sense. In fact, the story doesn’t start focusing on Casey without a first act that cleverly introduces us to Tomorrowland. Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof are credited to crafting the screenplay and inject the film’s core with a message that I don’t think they could have seen as relevant today as it is in this very moment. If we continue down the path we assert as the only avenue, then we’re ill-fated to lie in ruin. Together we can be a force of change that can spread like a beautiful sunset over a stretching field.

What if all of our fears about the end of civilization are because our minds are being preyed upon? Not just with biased media, who’ll spin such preposterous hyperbole that makes our skin crawl and our bones shiver in fear. Sure, everywhere you look, tales of the end of days are everywhere. The Walking Dead is the most popular television show in any form currently, following a group of characters just trying to survive. The Leftovers (also by Damon Lindelof) took us to a world where our loved ones already ascended into Heaven and the rest of humanity was left to pick up the pieces. A slew of modern blockbusters thematically depend on the end times – Mad Max: Fury RoadOblivionThe MatrixSnowpiecer, and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. We don’t think twice about the outcome could be in reality. Is there where we’re headed? Or are these stories just that – parables of what could be and may never befall our society?

When did we start looking at the future as a dark and desolate nightmare always leering at us like a vulture ready to swoop in? We’re told time and time again that the end is nigh, the end times upon us, the foretold apocalypse is begin at any second. We’ve been inundated with the same words flooding our social media, television news broadcasts, newspapers, any outlet where one has a voice to be heard, that the future is downright scary. The unknown is a dark, cold, and lurky place where our aspirations are but a faded memory, an idea we once dared to fantasize but fizzled into nothingness. We fear overpopulation, famine, war, disease, and a decaying environment. The doomsday clock is always ticking, minutes melting away into seconds, seconds evaporating ever faster as we approach the event horizon of what is the end.

But what if the end is not the end? What if we had the power to change what we feel is fate and alter our nation’s destiny? Who are we to say that dreams are dead, long buried because we’ve been told ‘no’ enough times to dash the world that we want to see?

Frank Walker in Tomorrowland shared that ideology even as a young boy, with bright blue eyes and wind whisking his as he ran, not shuffled, around. He didn’t see the future as unchangeable. He didn’t see what could be in an unfavorable light that could hold back our society. He dared to cling to his dreams and weave inventions to better the world around us, contraptions that eventually everyone could share. His first idea was a jetpack, a simple enough accessory that he designed because it “was fun.” Walker didn’t see the future in serious thought. As a boy, he only envisioned that our worries would be second fiddle in intertwining fun into our lives. We just look forward with fun in our minds as we bubble theories that could move us onward?

Where did we go wrong? When did we lose that sense of having fun and become so focused on the alarming causality of our actions as a whole? Even in the numerous post-apocalyptic tales that we hold dear there still lingers a sense that situations can be changed, that our daydreams can forged in fire to become an actuality.

“I can be inspired. Doesn’t that make the world a better place?” Walker asks in a crucial scene, always optimistic and, much like young Casey Newton, always seeking to see beyond the what could be.

Later on, we see the moment Frank comes to blows with his father over his ideologies. “I’m optimistic!” Frank exclaims about his desires to think big. His father’s reply? “You’re wasting your time!”

“I can make it work!” Frank sneers at his father. His determination is already set firm in his mind. He sees that change can happen and he’ll do whatever is necessary to see his vision through.

“No – you can’t” comes the cold reply from his father, under the distinct belief that life is day-to-day and that nothing can ever be rewritten.

Frank glares back and grits back, with valor and tenacity – “…I’m not giving up.”

We can change. No, to veer away from our own self-destruction isn’t going to be accomplished in weeks, months. Hell, to change our fates, the journey will take years. But with the right amount of willpower and open imagination to listen to our brothers and sister across the country, the continent, the world – we can get there. May our politicians and pundits exclaim otherwise, all we need are the right individuals to keep dreaming. Keep seeing a bigger, better, brighter future that we need to work towards.

We need the imagineers of the world to see a world that challenges what could trigger our doom and work to hurdle these obstacles. To be the thinkers, the dreamers, the romantics that look beyond what others prophesize. People will always want to embed in our minds the negativity to keep us back, to keep the masses in check. Keep us all scared and rattled. Afraid to look beyond what is going on. And never envision a better tomorrow. As long as those able to control us with their words on television and in print feel like they have the reigns, then we’ve never a chance to excel and to win.

I’ve said it before in another editorial and I’ll continue to make this quite clear – we can change. Being sharply divided by vitriol and damning rhetoric won’t heal our society. I get the rationality behind the words – make the other individual look foolish and insipid. Make us all question if the other candidate is worthy to hold the mantle. I’ve seen the words thrown around that either candidate will cause doom to not just our nation, but the world over. No one would be safe from the destruction and havoc that either candidate could incite.

But remember this, fans. The outcome of this election doesn’t mean that doomsday is just a tick away. You want to cause change? You want to veer away from the apocalypse? Then you don’t just stay parked on the couch and immerse yourself in fantasy television that’s merely just someone’s vision of what could be in their creative minds. No. Whoever wins, we must all band together to overcome the obstacles. To make this world of ours a better place to live and to grow.

No idea is too small. No dream should ever be tossed aside as absolute nonsense. If not for the dreamers of our past, a very much different place than what we currently see encircle us on the daily, we wouldn’t have the technology and the principles that we have today. Solar power. Clean energy. Scientific theories that can propel our future to new levels of unforeseen remarkable innovations. Hell, even as little as planting trees, every little dream counts as something that pushes away in a whole different direction. Inspiration is what should drive our society – not fear of an unknown that may never even materialize.

Gene Roddenberry never abandoned his dreams. Nor did Steve Jobs. And especially not Albert Einstein nor Sir Issac Newton. The thinkers and the dreamers are what guide us to tomorrow – and we can be that ourselves if we dare to be

Tomorrowland shows audiences that can exist if we keep asking how to change instead of the resolve that nothing can change. Casey Newton, even when told that she can’t, always defies what is told to her. She won’t accept any outcome that doesn’t have a question. With the assistance of Athena, herself more of a doer than a thinker but guiding those in the right direction, and Frank Walker, a dreamer who just needs a course correction to see the bigger picture, Casey won’t be stopped. She knows that fate can be changed. We, based in the real world, can change, no matter what happens. You want the change? You be the change. It all starts with you. I dare you all to not just sit and always dismiss your ideas as drivel. Maybe your idea can be the change that’s needed. The question really is, will you help cause the change? Or just let things continue the way they are.

(I do urge all of you to at least give Tomorrowland a fair chance. The trailers may not offer much to justify watching the film, but Brad Bird delivered us an inventive and original gift that can open your eyes. I encourage you to give the film two hours of your time. You will not regret what you will witness – and where your mind may go as the tale unfolds before your eyes.)

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Jerrold Reber

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Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a a blue police box.