Something happened between E.T. in 1982 and Independence Day in 1996. Metropolis and War of the Worlds aside, science fiction through the 1960s and 1970s was often hopeful and sketched an optimistic future.
But at some point, our vision of the future turned into a colossal bummer. When did we stop building things and start blowing things up? Tomorrowland explains, and in the process, might give us all a more hopeful outlook.
Why Tomorrowland Is Great for Science Fiction
“Tomorrowland is mounting nothing less than a full-throated assault on the nihilism, dystopianism, and what might be called the fetishization of apocalypse in today’s movies, TV shows, and books—especially YA books that worm their way into the fantasies of impressionable kids,” writes David Edelstein in New York.
“My response to Bird’s anti-dystopianism is ‘Cool.’ Because, really, how many more plague-flood-road warrior-kids-killing-kids movies do we need? What else does Hollywood do with kids these days besides pulp them?”
For those of us of a certain age, the best part of Tomorrowland might be the recreation of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, with all of that wonderful retro-futuristic design accompanied by a Philip Glassian score. Not to mention a similar recreation of 19th-century steampunk futurism. The whole effect is like a Doctor Who episode set in a Disney movie universe. If the heroes had climbed out of a TARDIS, it would have felt perfectly appropriate.
And yes, there are jetpacks. Can’t have a retro-futuristic movie without jetpacks.
“If you exit a time machine and spot a jetpack, you know you haven’t landed in some postapocalyptic dump,” writes Robert Ito in the New York Times. “No, you’ve probably arrived in a hope-filled future like the ones promised us in the 1950s, when space colonies were just around the corner and the atom was our friend.”
The Inventor’s Utopia
Of course, the notion of “a secret city where the great scientists, artists and inventors of the world work unencumbered by politics or bureaucracy,” as reviewer Matthew DeKinder describes it, is appealing to us geeks.
Who didn’t read Atlas Shrugged and dream about being invited to enter the inventors’ Utopia? DeKinder even describes Tomorrowland as “It’s like Epcot as imagined by Ayn Rand.”
And without being too in-your-face about it, the movie makes a point of demonstrating that creativity comes in all sexes, all colors, and all ages. There are also plenty of Easter eggs for science and science fiction fans.
A Better, Brighter Tomorrow?
Reviews of the movie have been mixed at best, with some reviewers rightly pointing out that the story is a bit muddled and unclear. Ironically, in light of the movie’s theme, way too many of the articles about Tomorrowland have focused on how much money it made—or didn’t make—instead of its really cool imagery and ideas.
The whole point of the movie is that we need to focus on imagination and creativity rather than giving in to despair.
“Looking beyond the plot of Tomorrowland to what it conveys about discovery and creativity serves a greater purpose than dissecting its $41.7 million Memorial Day weekend box office gross,” writes Nomi Prins in Forbes (who manages to tie it into Mad Men as well). “It provokes thought in the combined spirit of past inventors, imagineers, Walt Disney himself, and the optimists of today. The world is small, but our dreams can be big—that’s a point worthy of expansion.”
We’ve mentioned before how easy it is to get caught up in a reactionary, how-do-I-prevent-the-next-disaster mindset in IT rather than one of innovation. That’s why you should check out this movie—if only so you can remember to dream about jetpacks.
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