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Tomorrowland: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Tomorrowland (2015) movie poster Tomorrowland

Theatrical Release: May 22, 2015 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Brad Bird / Writers: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird (screenplay & story), Jeff Jensen (story)

Cast: George Clooney (John Francis "Frank" Walker), Hugh Laurie (Governor David Nix), Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), Tim McGraw (Eddie Newton), Kathryn Hahn (Ursula Gernsback), Keegan-Michael Key (Hugo Gernsback), Chris Bauer (Frank's Dad), Thomas Robinson (Young Frank Walker), Pierce Gagnon (Nate Newton), Matthew MacCaull (Dave Clark), Judy Greer (Jenny Newton)

Buy Tomorrowland from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack • DVD • Instant Video

Do not assume because of its title that Tomorrowland joins The Country Bears, The Haunted Mansion,
and Pirates of the Caribbean in the class of films based on Disney theme park attractions. Though it does include some homage to the enduring identically named area of the parks, this is an entirely original sci-fi adventure which comes to us from writer-director Brad Bird and "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof.

Like Bird's first Disney movie (The Incredibles), Tomorrowland opens with some direct camera addresses from outside the film's primary chronology. A man introducing himself as Frank (George Clooney) speaks about the world's future, which is ominous enough to be represented by declining digits in a primitive doomsday clock. The future wasn't always so bleak, Frank tells us. With that, we're taken back to the 1964 New York World's Fair, where, as a young boy, Frank (Thomas Robinson) submits a nearly functional jet pack of his own design as an entry into an inventions contest with a $50 prize.

Frank's creation is marginalized by one of the judges (Hugh Laurie), but catches the eye of Athena (a standout Raffey Cassidy), a young British-accented girl who instructs him to follow her party's It's a Small World boat ride to a secretive place of advanced scientific expression. The scientific curiosity displayed by young Frank is also present in Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a conscientious Florida teenager of today. Casey's father, a NASA engineer (Tim McGraw), is soon to be out of a job and she is taking whatever action is necessary, legal or not, to delay the closure of the launch facility where he has worked.

When Casey's stealthy activism lands her in jail, she leaves with a pin which she discovers teleports her to a futuristic world when she touches it. She does not leave our world in the process, simultaneously moving around both worlds while experiencing time in the other. When the pin's timer expires and, with it, its powers of teleportation, Casey looks to find another pin like it. Her Internet searches lead her to a Houston store of sci-fi memorabilia run by a couple (Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key) who are not the harmless eccentrics they initially seem. This encounter gives Casey some understanding of the implications of her journey, which takes further shape when Athena, who hasn't aged since 1964, refers her to track down Frank, now a middle-aged inventor.

In Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland", a forward-thinking teenager (Britt Robertson) journeys to a secret alternate universe with inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) and age-defying android Athena (Raffey Cassidy).

Tomorrowland has the feel of a movie that Steven Spielberg might have produced in the 1980s. That is not to say that it is old-fashioned or behind the times, only that its make-up and storytelling sensibilities recall those of an earlier generation's hit movies. Bird, who made his live-action debut on 2011's franchise-reviving Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, knows the action and effects needs of a 2015 tentpole and provides accordingly. But he and Lindelof also know that ideas and fun are what keep a film in favor long after its visuals cease to be cutting-edge. The two, who share story credit with Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jensen, pack Tomorrowland with the substance that might grant it immortality.

There are some minor echoes of Interstellar, which must be coincidental given the overlapping schedules and covert nature of the two productions. There's also a little bit to recall the "everyone's special,

therefore no one is" social commentary of The Incredibles. For the most part, though, Tomorrowland avoids derivation and homage, standing quite tall and proud on its own concepts. Not every one of them is a home run and there isn't the feel that Bird is hitting upon something deep and profound as he did on The Incredibles, arguably the definitive superhero film. But the entertainment is generally appealing and comes through with messages you can't help but appreciate as timely and important.

Tomorrowland isn't as strong comedically as you'd expect it to be, given Bird's track record. But even if you don't find the film especially funny, you should find it fun. A good example of that comes in the sci-fi store sequence, a shrine to not only Bird's past work in animation (merch from "The Simpsons", The Iron Giant, and The Incredibles is all for sale), but other major cultural contributions from live-action cinema, from Star Wars to Planet of the Apes to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Entertainment value is trumped by storytelling, something you may find muddled among set pieces, chases, and somewhat ambiguous audio animatronic antagony. But by the time Laurie resurfaces to deliver a knock-out monologue about humanity's defeatist nature and inability to combat problems, you'll realize that Bird and company aren't just making an expensive summertime diversion; they have real things to say about the world as it is and how it one day might be. It is an added bonus that, contrary to convention, they are doing so with two strong female protagonists who never feel like a demographic ploy.

In a secret area of the 1964 New York World's Fair, young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) shows off his jet pack.

With the exception of mega-star Clooney and Laurie, Tomorrowland seems to fill its roles with actors either relatively or wholly unknown. That is in character for Bird, who has typically cast actors for their role suitability rather than star power. For Clooney, who is absent from the film for long stretches, this project is out of character. Apart from his Spy Kids cameos and, to some degree, Fantastic Mr. Fox, he hasn't made anything kid-oriented in a long time. This also marks only his second summer season opening since 2000's The Perfect Storm, as he has long been associated with prestige works with awards potential. Timing alone ensures that Tomorrowland will not be classified as such a thing. Furthermore, despite the amount of thought on display, the film did not yield the favorable reviews of Bird's past directorial efforts.

The half-hearted critical support likely contributed to the film's commercial underperformance. With a $190 million production budget and a Memorial Day Weekend opening, Tomorrowland wielded large expectations for Disney. Though it opened in first place with $33 million, the movie did not have the long legs of Disney's big live-action hit from the previous summer, Maleficent. Tomorrowland recently closed its run with $93.4 million domestic, a sum that compares to Clooney's hit adult dramedies like The Descendants, Up in the Air, and The Monuments Men but is a far cry from the blockbuster designation it was designed to carry. Although Hollywood has increasingly depended on foreign markets to make up the difference from domestic disappointments, Tomorrowland struggled abroad too, adding just $115 million from territories outside North America.

If nothing else, Tomorrowland is worth celebrating as something different this day and age, especially at Disney: an original film, not based on anything. One that doesn't lend to a sequel or action figures, belong to a cinematic universe, model itself after an earlier hit, or cleanly fit into a brand or series. Tomorrowland is big budget, effects-heavy entertainment, but it's far from mindless or escapist or trivial. Transformers, this is not.

Tomorrowland is now available to own on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Disney's Tomorrowland: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.20:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Tomorrowland employs the 2.20:1 aspect ratio, which hasn't been a US film standard in several decades and is slightly more narrow than the typical frame for a 21st century blockbuster. Of course, Blu-ray poses no problems regarding picture or sound. The video is sharp and vibrant and the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is full of immersive, directional effects.

Raffey Cassidy has fun on the set in "Casting Tomorrowland." Richard Sherman visits "A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session" to the evident delight of composer Michael Giacchino.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD bonus features begin with "Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey
Through Tomorrowland with Brad Bird" (7:09), a featurette laying remarks from Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof over clips of Walt Disney's anthology series, NASA space missions, the production's experiences, and filming. It's just unconventional enough to appreciate.

"Casting Tomorrowland" (7:27) lets Bird and others discuss the principal actors assembled for this project, who in turn discuss their experiences on the film.

"A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session" (6:03) documents Michael Giacchino's work on the film, with his brother Anthony holding the camera. We look in on our orchestra sessions, which legendary Disney songwriter Richard Sherman, cited as an influence, visits and is treated to an instrumental rendition of a tune he and his brother penned. It's a personal piece better than standard music featurettes.

David Nix (Hugh Laurie) is the uncomfortable host of "The World of Tomorrow Science Hour", an authentic-looking failed 1960s Disney TV series pilot. Four great minds come together in "The Origins of Plus Ultra", a short created by Pixar employees.

Next up is the very fun "The World of Tomorrow Science Hour" (5:08), outtakes from a 1965 pilot for a Disney TV show hosted by the fussy David Nix (Hugh Laurie). Beyond being entertaining, it's perfectly period accurate, with the child-oriented science show playing like an obscure gem you could easily imagine encountering on a Walt Disney Treasures set.

The traditionally animated short "The Origins of Plus Ultra" (3:36) is supposed to have been made for a 1960s World's Fair. In fact, it was created for Tomorrowland by a dozen or so Pixar employees. You can choose to have it play before the movie when playing the movie.

Two short, promotional Brad Bird production diaries (4:34) are included. The director narrates behind-the-scenes footage from the first day of filming at the 1964 World's Fair set and from a night shoot at NASA's Cape Canaveral base.

The otherworldly proprietors of Blast from the Past (Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key) tout their sci-fi wares in this local commercial. A young Casey shows off her mind at a science fair in this deleted scene.

A "Blast from the Past" commercial (0:41) advertises not the 1999 Brendan Fraser romantic comedy but the sci-fi hobby store from the movie in that low-tech local ad way.

Finally, we get six deleted scenes running 23 minutes and 28 seconds altogether with filmmaker audio introductions before each. They include a bit inside the Eiffel Tower, Casey's grade school science experiment, additional looks at Casey's home life (including a family who lives with hers),
a revealing trip to Tomorrowland, and an alternate scene at Blast from the Past which makes mention of Walt Disney pertaining to the plot.

A seemingly newly produced two-minute Easter egg promotes the 1964 New York World's Fair with archival footage of Walt Disney and his attractions. Another 1-minute clip documents composer Michael Giacchino campaigning for a larger role than his one-line bit as the It's a Small World operator. We also get a 1½-minute video of the Sherman Brothers singing "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" with Walt Disney, with some reflections from Richard.

Keeping with Disney and the rest of the industry's ongoing efforts to devalue standard definition media, the DVD only includes one Brad Bird production diary (the NASA one) and the Blast from the Past commercial for a grand total of less than 4 minutes of bonus material.

The discs open with promos for Disney Movies Anywhere, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Inside Out. The Sneak Peeks listing runs ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, and "K.C. Undercover", before repeating the Star Wars and Inside Out trailers.

The menu cleverly transports you to the titular domain with the press of a pin.

Topped by a glossy slipcover, the side-snapped keepcase holds inserts for Disney Movie Club and for the Digital HD included with your purchase alongside plainly labeled blue and white discs.

Great minds from all walks of life come together in the vibrant, optimistic final shot of "Tomorrowland."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There is a lot to like about Tomorrowland, though also a lot you'll wish you loved. Brad Bird's sci-fi adventure is easy to admire for its thought and originality. But the movie never quite wins you over to the extent it wants to. It's entertaining, different, and well worth seeing, but never finds the warmth and humor of Bird's best work.

With high quality picture and sound plus plenty of fun, slightly unconventional extras, Disney's combo pack is easy to recommend to fans of the film who have made the leap to Blu-ray and/or digital copies. With its paltry extras, the DVD disappoints.

Buy Tomorrowland from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Avengers: Age of Ultron
WALL•E • Meet the Robinsons • Interstellar • Saving Mr. Banks • John Carter
Flight of the Navigator • The Black Hole • Innerspace • I Am Number Four • Race to Witch Mountain
Directed by Brad Bird: The Incredibles • Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol • Ratatouille
Written by Damon Lindelof: Star Trek Into Darkness • World War Z
George Clooney: Gravity • The Monuments Men • The Descendants | Hugh Laurie: 101 Dalmatians (1996)

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Reviewed October 18, 2015.



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