Of all the trailers aired during last night's Super Bowl, there was one that stood apart, emphasizing the alluring power of mystery over more overtly showy moments. It was a spot that cast a spell over you, inviting you into its strange new world instead of trying to blow you back in your La-Z-Boy with its sheer force of will. It was a spot for "Tomorrowland," a movie that has been shrouded in secrecy up until this point but is now, finally, being teased legitimately. Just know that if you'd rather stay in the dark for what the movie is about, then you should probably skip this piece -- just know that the final product is going to be absolutely spellbinding. We're sure of it.
The Super Bowl spot (and the even-more-mystifying first theatrical teaser), both showcase a young girl named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson from "Under the Dome"), who has a checkered past and who, upon being released from detainment, is gifted with a small, circular pin with a T emblazoned on it. When she touches the pin, she sees glimpses of a futuristic society, featuring glittery towers and men on jet packs. (Again, everything else in this piece hasn't been revealed yet and it's questionable when or how it will be unveiled. In other words; spoiler alert.) Eventually she tracks down a reclusive inventor named Frank Walker (George Clooney), demanding that she escort him to this world that she's seen. He refuses, patently.
In a sequence we saw at New York Comic Con a few months ago, one that showcases the wonderful stylization and dazzling visuals that co-writer/director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles," "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol") and his amazing team of collaborators have come up with, Casey visits Frank's home to try and get him to agree to take her. But some otherworldly villains also make it to the house, and try to stop both of them. These guys look human but in fact are evil robots. Frank has rigged his home with all sorts of booby traps, and the sequence, as breathlessly paced and wryly inventive as anything Bird has concocted, unfolds with these traps being sprung. For instance, at one point Frank throws a lever, sending electricity to a highly powerful magnet. One of these goons has ahold of Casey, so when the magnet gets thrown, she gets trapped too. It's this wonderful escalation of events, with the suspense getting more and more high wire as the sequence moves along.
Eventually, Clooney's character Frank agrees to take her to this alternate universe, called Tomorrowland (hence that great tag line, "You wanna go?") If the name sounds familiar, that's because Tomorrowland is the futuristic section of Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. (In Hong Kong, Tokyo, and eventually Shanghai, it's also called Tomorrowland but in Paris it's called Discoveryland.) Tomorrowland was always Walt's idealized version of what the future could hold and was the basis for a much grander project, something that would wind up being EPCOT. In "Tomorrowland" there are references to both Walt and the parks (footage for the movie was filmed in both domestic theme parks) and one of the ways you get to Tomorrowland was the it's a small world attraction at the 1964 World's Fair in Queens.
The Tomorrowland of the film is designed with Walt's sunny optimism in mind. It's a place where imagination and technology have run wild for the better, in search of exploration and human enlightenment. This is the future that we all saw in comic books and thought would be coming, one with flying cars and jet packs and unlimited possibility. It is the exact opposite of the countless post-apocalyptic science fiction films that have flooded movie screens over the past few years. This is the great big beautiful tomorrow that is shining at the end of every day. But not everything is hunky dory in this utopian world.
Hugh Laurie plays David Nix who was once a confederate of Clooney's Frank (you can see him briefly in the Super Bowl spot) and who now lords over Tomorrowland. Nix thinks that our world is the worst of what humanity has to offer and isn't deserving of the kind of technological advancements and progress. Frank, Casey, and a young character named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who is actually a [no, I'm not going to spoil it], have to appeal to David Nix and possibly overthrow him, in order to save both of our universes.
That's all that I can talk about for now. A new trailer should be coming soon (my money is on Disney's new live action "Cinderella," a movie that is also excellent by the way), one that should explain the basic premise of "Tomorrowland" in a more accessible way. What's important to remember about the film, and the reason why it has a chance of being one of the very best studio movies of the year, is that it isn't about Tomorrowland the fantasy realm or Tomorrowland the section of your favorite theme park where you get to ride Space Mountain, it's about the Tomorrowland inside all of us, that place of untapped potential, unfettered dreams, and childlike imagination. It's where wishes go to take flight, where the things you only think about are brought to life. This is what makes "Tomorrowland" such a potentially revolutionary exercise in science fiction; in a contemporary world overrun with corporate greed, violent conflict, and everyday despair, it's a film that actively dares you to hope. It's a great big beautiful tomorrow, after all.
"Tomorrowland" hits theaters May 22, 2015.