Since so many of my friends hated this film and were willing to go out on a limb and explain why, I thought I might as well try to explain why I love it so much.
I am a film buff for many years. I own many thousands of films including a lot that not many people like. I regularly go to the AMPAS theater in Hollywood for screenings of classic films (once even bought a 75 week pass to see all 75 ((at the time, and, (((I know how to nest parens in proper algebraic notation))) even though I only made it to about half of them)) academy award winning best picture films). I am a great fan of the films of Howard Hawks and of George Cukor, I love the surrealist films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and the documentary films of all nations. It is a rare week that I don’t see a dozen films (counting video) and there have been weeks that I have seen fifty.
I have been a film buff of this intensity since 1970, when Lisa Hockney (now Iris Rose) took me to the State Theater in Long Beach to see Casablanca and Maltese Falcon. There is now a statue of the eponymous dingus on my entryway table. Iris now lives in NYC (where you can hear me co host a weekly radio show called the Personal Computer Show every Wednesday night on WBAI. You can listen to this show here ) I still talk about new film with Iris every couple of weeks and frequently go to see a film or have dinner with her when I am in New York.
I am a Disneyland fan of really geeky proportions, since it’s opening year in 1955, when I attended in a stroller. I own ticket books, guidebooks and posters from nearly every year of the park’s existence and this years 60th anniversary party will be the first such party that I will probably not attend.
I am a Futurist. (although I no longer belong to the Futurist society because they are a bunch of wankers, and you may quote me on that) My actual life’s work is about the rationalization of discoveries in computer security with popular misunderstanding of same. I have been a featured speaker on my personal take regarding these things in forums and on the media all over the world for more than two decades now. I am still a hopeful Futurist (I am still on the WELL and my collection of Whole Earth publications sits proudly on a bookshelf not five feet from where I am writing this, just under my Astro Boy Statue and my collection of Robot Butterflies.)
The film TOMORROWLAND is a paean to the lost innocence shared by my generation over our hope for a Utopian future. Why haven’t we colonized the moon? Why haven’t we visited Mars? Why hasn’t the rise of better communications and better computation led to a more equitable and hopeful future? What does this say about us as a society? As a generation? As a species???
The film very rightly begins (after the expository fillip of the animated prologue and the second video post pre prologue) at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Many young people only know this site from Men In Black, but us old, Boomer, sci fi freak, Disneyphiles know that the Fair was an important milestone in the rise of technology as the dominant force of the second half of the 20th century. (I even feature this as a c and c to the 1939 World’s Fair in one of my lectures about the underlying principles of computer malware) and even more importantly (in re this missive) that Walt Disney was very strongly represented at the Fair not only by his massive mobile sculpture (a model of which was visible on his desktop seen each week in all our homes) but by three new rides featuring a new (and wildly ballyhooed) technology called Audio Animatronics (TM).
Audio Animatronics was the Disney term for a three dimensional robot in perfect sync with an audio track. When Walt (if I may be so familiar with the man found in all our homes) first discussed this in his weekly sermon, he showed the robin from Mary Poppins, and then the Parrot from The Enchanted Tiki Room. The three AA(TM) rides at the 64NYWF were: The Dinosaurs (now on the train at Disneyland) It’s a Small World (before you make fun of this song, ask Richard Sherman to explain it to you–he will make you cry, I promise) and the Carousel of Progress, together with it’s marvelous diorama of PROGRESS CITY.
We all went to Disneyland and watched the hourly demonstrations of the BELL ROCKET BELT. We toured the HOUSE OF TOMORROW. We went to the Monsanto Chemical Exhibit and to the Bell Telephone Exhibit and drove on the Autopia. We rode the Submarine ride and the Flying Saucers and the Rocket Jets and the Monorail and the People Mover. Now we ride Space Mountain and the Buzz Lightyear and the Star Tours.
Somewhere between there and now we lost our future. First we lost Walt. Then we lost Disneyland (although it is still very much there and still very much beloved, it has forgotten the tune). Then we lost NASA (the shining star of our youthful dreams washed out in Bureaucracy and some well known crashes.–We all know that the agency is not even allowed to do weather satellites and Geo-data gathering any more because science is the enemy of the politicians of the far right (whine and moan far righties but it’s true and you know it) As for the crashes? Space exploration was never supposed to be safe. Anyone paying attention knew it was going to kill thousands, eventually. Past tense because, as of last notice, space exploration has been cancelled, along with the rest of our future.
Walt talked about EPCOT on his television show. It was an acronym for Environmental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. If you ask me it borrowed a LOT from the work of Paolo Soleri. Soleri created the word Arcology, which was an entire city built into the same structure. His designs bear a striking resemblance to the Progress City model at the end of the ride at the world’s fair and later at Disneyland. Today the model is in Florida but is only a shadow of it’s former self. Soleri’s work created the model city in the Arizona desert, called ARCOSANTI.
Like many of the dreams of the mid 20th century, Arcology, Progress City and the Whole Earth Movement fell on hard times. The rise of big business and the worship of venality and wealth together with the lack of attention to things made of technology more of a curse than the promised blessing. The internet, despite putting all the available research of the entire world at one’s fingertips instead breaks your privacy, exposes you to criminal attacks and threatens even national security.
This is the mise en scene of TOMORROWLAND. UTOPIA, according to Sir Thomas More, is “The Place That Cannot Be“. So the fabulous (in the sense that it only exists in a fable) parallel universe (quantum eigenstate as defined by Wheeler Everett and Graham) is a glowing dreamlike progress city. It exists as a parallel to our own world where the dominant meme is dystopia. This is spelled out quite clearly in the film, written on a chalk board and a copy of 1984 held up clearly. The cranes dismantling the launch platform at Cape Canaveral is a concrete example of us giving up on having a better future.
But the better future is possible. Look into the dreams of Soleri. Look at the various communities that have grown up on the web. You can find me in the WELL (text only and mostly populated by smart people with hope) under my own name. Over there in Utopia, Hugh Laurie is willing to sacrifice the entire human race to prove that he is right. It is a common enough human failing. It is called megalomania.
TOMORROWLAND is funny, it is witty, it is smart as a whip. This is why it is failing to reach a larger audience. Progress City, and EPCOT, and many other lovely dreams of tomorrow are in the TOMORROWLAND silhouette. My favorite in joke is when a black van discharges killer robots and the lead, clearly evil robot (described in the film as an Audio Animatronic ) introduces himself as Dave Clark, just as you see that there are exactly four other robots, all dressed in black suits. You pretty much have to be about my age to get that joke.
At the end, George Clooney gets to find out that his long lost love (the cause for his bitterness) really did love him. This is not the story of Pandora. But it is a classic tragedy. It proceeds from chaos to order. It values the family and the Gods. It portrays people as being better than they really are.
I love it. Your mileage may vary.
I will be speaking this Thursday (June 4th, 2015) at the ISSA Summit in Los Angeles. My topic will be EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG, user security education. On this week’s radio show I will be talking about passwords and current events in security. What will I do after all of that?
Well, Friday I’m going to DISNEYLAND! And I will ride everything in Tomorrowland.