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Disney In Depth: Blu-ray Review: ‘Tomorrowland’
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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Tomorrowland
2-Disc Blu-ray | DVD | Digital
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Keegan-Michael Key, Kathryn Hahn and Thomas Robinson
Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Release Date: October 13, 2015

Disney’s sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland features an uneven mix of visual thrills and plot-heavy spills, but obtaining it on Blu-ray is worth the investment for viewers who appreciate absorbing cinematic experiences.

The movie defines that rare breed of film that complements its action-heavy sequences with mindfulness and highbrow concepts.

FILM

With character names like Casey Newton and Athena, as well as audio-animatronic assassins, it would appear that the folks from Tomorrowland should walk around the land that the film is partially based on. The movie takes many liberties, in that it hardly covers concepts found in the futuristic Magic Kingdom setting. Instead, it relies more on Walt Disney’s abstract concepts for EPCOT, as well as some of the ideals behind Tomorrowland, and throws in some of those pieces in a throwback Disney sci-fi movie commandeered by George Clooney. Sound like a success? It would have been, had the disdain not been so arresting in the media. That, and the overblown budget.

For those unacquainted – and you should give Tomorrowland a chance – this movie is like a roller coaster straight out of the park. It seems extraordinary upon reaching the top of the hill (climax), but the unexpected drops and twists cause some feelings of uncertainty about taking the ride in the first place. After a while, you tend to just remember either the good parts or the portions that made your head hurt. In the film’s case, the brainy nature may very well induce a headache. Don’t we always argue that there’s not enough smart movies, though?

The movie follows the misadventures of teenager Casey (Britt Robertson), a dreamer “recruited” to travel to this magical world of technology and idealism upon being provided a special pin. Hope seems absent from her life. Her dad (Tim McGraw) is a NASA engineer whose talents are not as valued as in years past. She, meanwhile, embraces the future, hence enlisted to save this utopia led by Hugh Laurie’s David Nix. With the help of android Athena, who I argue looks like a live-action version of Wendy from Peter Pan but in robot form, and disgruntled inventor Frank Walker (Clooney), the three aim to “save the future.”

In my initial analysis I focused on Tomorrowland’s missed potential in many regards. It could have more deeply explored Nix’s intentions, actively wandered around the awesome vistas of the titular environment, and incorporated the “Plus Ultra” concepts (see video clip farther down this article). These three key elements, had they been integrated into the final product, would have substantially improved the overall narrative and fun factor of the movie. Instead, save for some incredible visual effects, a few curious characters (here’s looking at you, Athena) and that brilliant score from Michael Giacchino, this was not the engrossing exploit that it should have been. Of course, we look at the movie for what it is, and its cerebral nature goes far enough to captivate, yet becomes convoluted (or merely not explained precisely) to completely merit.

PRESENTATION

To ramble on and on about how stunning Tomorrowland looks and sounds in this home release would be a waste of words. What I can say, though, is that Disney repeatedly delivers in this department for its Blu-ray titles. From the texture of the field that Casey wanders through to the illuminating glow of the utopia, the movie gives its visual landscape justice. The audio experience is just as encompassing, giving each sound, whether subtle or blasting, the crispness it deserves.

BONUS FEATURES

Yet again, the trend of Hollywood’s home entertainment departments offering minimal bonus features is evident in Tomorrowland. My fairly positive review of the bonus features is based on the quality of the bonus content, but certainly not on the lack of quantity nor the brevity of each piece. All of the following add to the value of the Blu-ray experience, even if not quite an hour long.

Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through Tomorrowland with Brad Bird involves him relating the idea of an “empty canvas” to room for opportunities, a theme that defines the movie. Complete with footage of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from the 1960s, a time that spoke to Bird, this brief, feel-good featurette demonstrates the passion project nature of the film. With all of the same buoyant language as the film, this piece further urges viewers’ desire for a greater emphasis on space exploration.

Casting Tomorrowland is your standard round-up of “this is why we wanted to bring on (insert actor’s name here”) piece, enlivened by some fun footage of the actors goofing off on set and not taking themselves too seriously. The intense training these child actors experienced for their stunt scenes is most commendable, adding further appreciation for their exemplary performances.

A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session will want to make you give more props to Michael Giacchino for his allegiance to the Disney brand – and showcasing that style in his award-winning soundtracks. His Tomorrowland soundtrack is nothing short of galvanizing. Following Giacchino’s first day composing the score, and sharing his adoration of the Sherman Brothers’ music, the bulk of the featurette essentially serves as a thank-you to Richard Sherman’s “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” who came to one of the sessions. While it would have been more fulfilling had it centered more on the process of how Giacchino crafted the score, this bonus feature’s inclusion is worthwhile.

The World of Tomorrow Science Hour – Hosted by Futurologist David Nix is formulated as outtakes from an educational program that Walt Disney prompted Hugh Laurie’s David Nix character to host. Muffled sound and intermittent scratches punctuate the 1960s feeling here. Laurie deserves kudos for contributing to this funny spin on the script-related challenges of what the emcees behind these specials were probably experiencing. “Was that cheerful enough for you?” the character crankily drones.

Animated Short: The Origins of Plus Ultra is the elusive piece set on private on YouTube (see clip below) that debuted around the time of the film’s release. Had the short made the final cut and started off Tomorrowland, the movie’s framing would have had that necessary backstory to the Plus Ultra secret society only briefly referenced. This echoes 1960s-era Disney, albeit developed relatively recently by “Small World Animation by Pixar Animation Studio,” and gives me chills because of its acutely nostalgic overtones.

Brad Bird Production Diaries: The First Day serves as a mini time capsule, showing Bird’s interpretations of the World’s Fair-based scenes.

Brad Bird Production Diaries: NASA finds the space junkie director recording his exploration of the Cape Canaveral. This piece is disappointing, because not only does it re-use much of the same footage from the aforementioned “Remembering the Future” piece, but also it, too, was a piece shown online prior to Tomorrowland‘s theatrical release. Nothing original about this, I’m afraid.

Blast from the Past Commercial has Hahn and Key in a kooky advertisement for the fictionalized store from the movie.

A series of deleted scenes, accompanied by introductions by Bird and Lindelof, add substance to the bonus feature assortment.

Joking on the Eiffel Tower details the omission of the Parisian scene (filmed during the week of reshoots) “because it slowed the movie down,” according to Bird.

Young Casey vs The Volcano shows the background of young Casey’s giftedness in science during a class fair. The child actress is precocious and the scene works on its cuteness, but the scene surely would have muddled Tomorrowland‘s pacing to a greater level. Good call, filmmmakers.

Doomsday Living Room portrays the Newton household with more family members, as well as features Casey experimenting with the magical pin.

As Originally Written Casey the Downer gives viewers the chance to see Casey’s struggles in possessing an optimistic spirit in a world with pessimistic views regarding space exploration. The Newton home, featuring more of Judy Greer‘s mother role – mostly removed from the finished product – is a character of its own. More attention is paid to the relationship between Casey and both of her parents, as well as her inconsistent academic performance in school, in this more than seven-minute scene.

What Happened to Tomorrowland? required too much exposition, the filmmakers say, as it involves Casey prompting Nix with many questions about the purpose of the various tools that encompass the futuristic environment.

What is Tomorrowland? once again tackled with the issue of the film’s textbook style of trying to explain everything. The filmmakers indicated that about half of the scene, set in the “Blast from the Past” scene, was cut due to this obstacle. I appreciate it, because it gives Hahn and Key more screen time and shows the integration of the “Plus Ultra” concept.

Film: B

Presentation: A

Bonus Features: B-
Overall Grade: B+

Give Tomorrowland a shot. This Blu-ray experience looks and sounds just as enthralling as the storyline is supposed to resemble. While it falls short of expectations, its idealism is laudable and many of its components work to some level in crafting a thought-provoking sci-fi movie that feels like it could have debuted decades ago. Travel to Tomorrowland by purchasing a copy and joining the dreamers.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

Cover

Tomorrowland Blu-ray Cover

Video

Tomorrowland | Raffey Cassidy (Athena)


Watch a behind-the-scenes clip with actress Raffey Cassidy (Athena) from Tomorrowland.

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