peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
[personal profile] peristaltor
Actually, I'm not sure there is a term for what I have felt these past few weeks, what I have felt all because of a movie.

Don't get me wrong: I love movies. I watch a lot of movies. I studied movies and a bit of movie-making technique in college (only to discover I was a better watcher of movies than maker).

I even love the previous work of the director, Brad Bird. He's one of the guys behind many of the Pixar flicks. And that is probably why, when I saw he had directed a non-animation movie, I put in in my queue.

The Movie? Tomorrowland. I should say that behind this cut you will find more than just spoilers. I don't wish to just spoil this movie. I want to ruin it. I want to eviscerate it. I want to tear out the assumptions that someone, probably that Brad Bird guy, assumed would be shared assumptions and not what they were, the ossified marketing woo of a production ancien régime powerhouse.

As you may or may not know, Disney owns Pixar, and thus owns (in the modern sense, at least) Brad Bird. That he subscribes to the Flavor-Aide of his paymasters should be of no surprise to anyone, let alone myself.

So, shall I eviscerate?

The movie opens George Clooney speaking to the camera. He warns about stuff, and a girl shouts from off-screen that he is forgetting details. So we go then to a boy of ten or so, the usual age agreed to be the most optimistic and innocent, hauling a largish package to the '64 Opening of Tomorrowland in Orlando (I think). He attempts to enter the package in an invention contest, and hauls the thing to the desk, where he stands before a scowling Hugh Laurie.

He has a jet pack, made from old canister vacuum cleaners and other random parts. (Of course he has a jet pack. Everyone wanted a jet pack then.)

Laurie asks if it works.

Cut to a scene of the young boy strapping on the jet pack and being hurled headlong though the yard and the white picket fence and cornfield of his young rural home. His face is more than once used to plow through fenceposts and stands of thick stalks and the dirt below them both.

Not only does he not die, he doesn't even break a bone, apparently. But that's not important, because hey, what boy in a movie theater audience doesn't remember that time that they as a young lad did something as incredibly stupid themselves, only to have a scrape and some tears and a hard lesson learned be the only consequence? Ha, ha. The young never die from stupidity, do they?

As the kid is abused by his own lack of both sense and flight control, I thought, yes, yes they do. And from the tied towel that turns Youth into supermen that can climb the tree or the house's roof to, of course, fly, to the steering- and brake-free contraptions with wheels that coast at quite impressive speeds toward the cliff edges and freeways of the world, gravity cannot be turned off by applying only a youngster's sheer pluck and gumption. Yes, of course, their imagination is a wonderful thing, isn't it? It should be able to save the world!

But the world is a jagged rock glued together with the same force that will teach the dominance of hard surfaces over imagination alone.

(Scratch that last part, specifically the word "teach": the only way to truly teach anyone is to first allow them to survive the lesson, and hard surfaces have an buggering habit of enpulpanating the lesson-learning part of the anatomy just under the cracked and splintered skull. No functional brain = no lesson learned.)

Back to plucky boy facing House the Dour (did I mention his character's name in this movie was Nix, as in "to put an end to; to cancel"?). When asked if the jet pack works, boy shouts that He'll Make It Work! He is defiance embodied, this young one. Nothing, not the flashbacks of his disparaging father, not this Drippy Brit in Florida, will stop him. And hey, if hard surfaces met under speed didn't teach him to lighten up on the dreamy projects devoid of adequate and properly-tested control mechanisms, why should a couple of fuddy-duddy grown-ups?

Here in the story we meet a young girl, sidling up to Dour Hugh and speaking with the same Cultured British Lilt that so fires up the Culture Present Here! recognition center of our Yank brains. She gives young boy a pin, and out of earshot of The Former Bertie Wooster [details murky here] encourages him to follow them.

Long story short, he sneaks on the It's a Small World ride, the one where people float down a singing creek surrounded by animatronic smiles of all ethnic sizes and shapes and colors, all singing the same song until the rider wishes to grow talons sharp enough to rip out their eyes and ears.

And here something I approved of happens. Young Kid is in the dark ride, supposedly just behind Laurie and girl and (random unidentified VIPs). A laser from the roof pinpoints his pin, the one given him by girl, giving it a scan. A something rises from the creek and stops his floaty ride craft. And the bottom falls out trapdoor-like into a slide, turning the tranquil pace of IASW ride into a scream-inducing log flume tumult.

(I've always approved of elements like trap doors and fireplaces that revolve and book cases that slide or sink to reveal the Hidden, especially when the Hidden is complex and cool.)

Details escape me, but somehow he is transported to another time? another dimension? another part of the movie? where he finds himself on an under-construction sky scraper of Jetson's dimensions being assembled by fantastic builder robots that spew no visible exhaust. [Details] and he falls from that fantastic height, forced to strap on his jetpack midfall to save his sorry, gravity-sucked ass.

Which he does, because he is plucky and resourceful, of course.


We're back in the present, young sixties boy gone. This next character is a girl, just a bit older than the boy was. She is whip-smart and defiant and rides a motorcycle. Her Dad works as an engineer at NASA, who is now tasked with dismantling old launch pads prior to losing his job.

She waits until everyone is asleep, sneaks out of the house, walks the 'cycle a pace, fires it up, and rides into the night. She coasts quietly to a fence, breaks out a drone, and uses it to survey a guard shack. [Details], guard distracted, she breaks into complex and fries the circuitry of a few tractors.

Vandalism complete, the next morning she learns from Dad that they will simply replace the broken parts and finish the demolition. She objects somewhere in this narrative with humans need to explore the stars, damn it. (I guess one only can convince recalcitrant adults of the absolute need for [whatever] through property destruction.)

The very next night, she repeats her nocturnal sneak-and-destroy, only to be caught and jailed.

Where she meets the cultured girl from the boy's childhood, aged not a bit. And where that same girl slips that same pin into her stuff.

Dad bails her out of jail, yells, despairs, the usual Adults Do the Wrongest Things. Girl is down but not broken, but getting there. (I guess people can only grow up and start doing stupid, short-sighted things like dismantling old stuff to make way for new after they resign themselves to forgeting their dreams, instead of, you know, keeping those dreams intact and in the process expending every erg of known resource to explore stars that are impossibly far away.)

[Details] and the pin planted in her stuff falls out one night. Curious, she touches it

and finds herself in a field of wheat by day

and back in her nighttime room the instant she drops the pin. She picks it back up

and is back in the wheat field. She looks around, and sees the futuristic city that first boy saw, its gleaming towers looped and ringed with future stuff. She walks toward it

and she drops the pin, because she hits her bedroom wall.

[Details] she goes out to a less obstacle-encumbered area that night, touches the pin

and walks through the wheat (oh, did you know wheat is a symbol of hope?) and enters the city. She sits on a non-automotive transport unit unnoticed by a young girl and her family. This girl (same age as the pin-holding plucky one!) is wearing a space suit! They get off at the rocket launch area, where young Astronaut girl reassures mom that she should be back soon, since they are only going out 20 light-years.

The city is full of development, of hope (surrounded by wheaty hope!), of technology solving all of the world's problems

and the batteries on the pin die.

After all of this, the movie starts getting weird. (I know, I know; okay, weirder.) The plucky girl finds herself with the young British girl [details] in a stolen truck heading to New York. There was an escape from baddies, action sequences, truck stealing, and underage distance driving with neither ID nor money. Disney!

They wind up in the home of George Clooney, the movie warner from the beginning. He doesn't let either girl in, though he recognizes British girl (did I mention she's a robot? I should mention that she's a robot, that of course she's a robot). Through imagination and sneakery (well, truth be told, a bit of arson) the girls fools smart, smart George and force themselves into his home. Add arson and B&E to the GTA, and promptly forget the crimes. This is more important that mere crimes.

George's house is a recluse's retreat, a gadgeted and gizmoed bunker with steel drop doors and windows and Farraday cages and [details] that are designed, we are let to believe, because (according to a video wall that is connected to a computer) the world will end in just under 60 days.

Why? Just look at the footage the video wall shows! There are people rioting! Waves crashing into houses! Stuff that hurts and stuff that kills! People angry about stuff!

And George has all of that hooked up to an old-timey countdown timer that shows how close to fucked we all are.

He shows this to plucky girl, the timer, the details, the bit of the computer that says destruction is "100%" gonna happen. Plucky, defiant girl shouts at him with pure the earnestness mustered only by the defiantly plucky, "Can we fix it?!"

An in that moment, during her defiant suggestion that we fix the sheer fucked-uppedness to which any adult would point to indicate how very fucked we all are, the "100%" counter spazzes and briefly reads "99.[details]%". And George is gobsmacked with a look of "Golly, that's never happened."

At which time they are visited by baddies, more humaniod robots like the Brit Girl. Which come and try to abduct them. Good thing he spent his time inventing all manner of eye-candy defenses designed specifically for just his eventuality!


I tire of this synopsis not because I am any less incensed by my typey catharthis, but because you have to see the stupid sometimes to believe that such stupid can exist. It turns out the world is doomed because Hugh Laurie built a Downer Beam to broadcast frownies into everyone's brains and stop them from being all optimistic and plucky and can-do, which started a vicious circle of resignedness and powerlessness, the kind of hopeless dreariness, you know, that would cause a parent to yell silly panicked things and buzzkillingly warn of "danger" when a child straps on incredibly powerful rockets with inadequate guidance systems or any training in flight other than that provided by watching the King of the Rocket Men serials.

(I wish I were making up the stuff about the negative energy bummer broadcast, even though it was supported with scientificistic words like "tachyon". Seriously, see this train wreck of a concept movie and you will see that there really is a tachyon beam stomping on our creative juices and preventing us from saving ourselves from oblivion.)

In the end, Hugh Laurie plays the Baddie Number One death scene admirably and well, dying as the tachyon Bummer Broadcast Antennae, brought down by the plucky crew, crushes him with a satisfying serving of cinematic Just Deserts.

And though the robot Brit girl destroys herself in the effort, she is brought back (I think?) in the effort to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. The solution?

Give those pins to random cool people, people who are following their dreams and making a difference and not letting stupid details like yelling adults and downer reality stop them from playing guitar in the park or practicing ballet or being a technician in an auto plant that develops new cars

Aaaaand right there I outright screamed "Oh, FUCK YOU!!!" at the screen.

Why my burst of hostility, you may ask? Wasn't that a bit extreme?

Here's the skinny, folks. We are not fucked as the Count Down Timer of Doom implies. Oh, there is a fucked future in our futures. There are, in fact, several. From which shall we choose?

Why not pick Option A. In this scenario, our over-reliance on automotive technology drains the irreplaceable carbon fuels from our earth's dirt and puts the carbon exhaust in the atmosphere. The poles melt, Greenland gets green, and Orlando launch pads don't have to be dismantled because they and most of Florida are under water.

Too downer? How about Option B. Here, we peoples realize the error of our automotive ways and stop burning the fuels that propel our civilizations and economies. Our far-flung suburbs starve because they are too far for donkeys to clop clop clop the cart loads of what food is grown before said cart cargo rots on the way. The cities have insufficient living space for the suburban dwellers because, hey, there are a lot of 'burb dwellers. That means the city dwellers starve, too. But at least the poles melt more slowly. They can't stop melting, not without a shit-ton of carbon sequestered, and that takes energy, the very energy we agreed to stop using.

We don't have enough letters in the alphabet to list the myriad scenarios that could befall us. And here's the kicker: it wouldn't matter if we did.

That's because, unlike the Tomorrowland scenario, the real reasons for our problems are not because we aren't frantically wracking our brains for answers. Complex problems cannot be solved by simple solutions. And quite often, solutions to single problems are the cause of future complex problems. Here's a taste:

Farming is hard! Solution: tractors. Result: sharecroppers "tractored out" of the only life they've known for generations, and the Dustbowl, as tractors ripped into the soil and denied the soil time or resources to recover. The horses that provided manure to restore the soil were gone, tractored out with the sharecroppers.

The soil is starving! Solution: NPK fertilizers. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are liberated from the explosives left over from The Great War (won't need those again, will we?). These serve as enough soil food to keep production going. Result: more food produced by fewer people.

People are unemployed! Solution: we haven't gotten there yet. And there is no reason, is there, for people to grow their own food using sustainable, plow-free organic techniques, because we are currently awash in the cheap, cheap food tractors and chemicals can deliver and not buying that food would be a waste, wouldn't it? Result: today.

We're running out of tractor fuel! Solution: put all those unemployed people to work growing food the old fashioned way. The food will be better, they will be happier, and all will be well. Result: Farming is hard!

Back to square one. No $200 for you.

Tomorrowland suffers the same flaws as the original Tomorrowland, the one still in Florida today and just waiting for enough inevitable glacial melt to become the star attraction at a future dive park (along with those old launch pads). We were then fed a pablum vision filled with corporate expansion to the stars, offered sponsored gumption-building rides that promised what a company cannot profitably provide, all boosted by a post-war boom fueled economically on the simple fact that We Had Oil and were the only industrial country not bombed into rubble. We soon had a space race that inspired all those kids who failed to see the race was simply an arms race in disguise, an R&D effort to Stop the Commies! gussied up in all the can-do pluck engineers with pocket protectors and slide rules can muster, and featuring war heroes turned explorers of space. The plug was pulled on all of it a few years after our own oil petered out sooner than most could imagine.

Sorry, Brad. We are not suffering from a Depression Beam from an alternate future. We are living with predicaments of our own human creation. Not "problems," mind you, but "predicaments," challenges that cannot be solved, only coped with. And some combination of individual solutions could, maybe, lead to a shiny future surrounded by hopey wheat. I can't deny the possibility.

More likely, though, we will face the kind of fits and starts a chaotic Electrolux-propelled romp through face-smashing sixties rural landscape elements tends to deliver. Which will break bones. And heads. And yes, lives, and not just of robotic humanoid bad guys, not just of evil overlords who wish to inflict their names on our futures and Nix our creativity.

The people responsible for the death and destruction of the future will be just like the people responsible for the death and destruction of today. They will be the well-intentioned people who see a problem and set out to solve it in a simple way, a way that combines with other simple solutions and Hidden, unrealized realities in complex and very un-simple ways often too twisted and convoluted to easily understand, if understanding is even possible.

That's right, Brad. I'm saying the people who cause the suffering in the future will be the same people you made the pin-bearers. We don't need any Nixes to fail. Just by endeavoring to solve a problem here, to make a little thing better there, or to ignore a growing problem still elsewhere because we are busily working here and there, we have the historically proven ability to nix our own futures sans the Fail Beam of Bummertude.


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