Friday, July 24, 2015

Tomorrowland: A Good Movie Overshadowed by Bad Business

            Movies in Fargo-Moorhead theatres have a weird cycle.  Usually the two first run theatres share around 8-10 movies.  If one of those movies does not do big numbers it will be gone before you know it.  Then there is a small chance film print might come to our discount theatre a month or two later.  This run down theatre will keep around five movies of its seven movies for three to five months.  Meaning that discount theatre has a very slow rotation.  So if you miss a movie at the main theatre, which gets rid of them too fast, you are going to have to wait a while in the hopes that the cheap seats get it for a little while.  I was excited to see that the cheap theatre just got Tomorrowland, because I have really wanted to see it again.
            Tomorrowland was not a success.  It ranks among the biggest box-office bombs of all time, only making a little over $200 million worldwide on a $190 million budget.  Reviews have also been lukewarm.  People don’t hate it, but not many are excited about it.
I am in the minority that loved Brad Bird’s sci-fi throwback.  I am a lifelong Disney die-hard and I found this movie to be one that Walt would be proud of.  The values of Tomorrowland are so in line with the enthusiasm and ambition behind the Disneyland TV series and the original concept for EPCOT.  All of the ties to the 1964 World’s Fair made me so happy.
I honestly loved the movie.  Clooney paid a grizzled inventor perfectly, never once coming across as a suave movie star.  Raffey Cassidy also created one of the most memorable characters of the year and is the best child actor The Walt Disney Company has introduced in a very long time.  But above all the movie had a big, hopeful feel to it.  It got me thinking, feeling and dreaming.  Which is the exact experience I personally want from a movie, especially on the big screen.
That is not to say that the movie is not without its flaws.  I think that the structure of the movie is a little sloppy.  The narration and banter between Clooney and Britt Robertson slowed the start of the movie down.  It would have had a tighter opening had the World’s Fair was just followed by Casey’s journey.  But the failure of Tomorrowland really has less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the marketing, budget and role as a tentpole.
Marketing really should not factor into experiencing the film itself.  However with the Internet providing more access to marketing and a venue to analyze it, many audiences have their minds made up before they see the movie.  I have a hunch that a lot of reviews are written after the trailer is released.  Which is not necessarily fair, but this is the modern movie going experience and studios need to do a better job selling the movie because that can affect everything.
Tomorrowland took a mystery box approach in its trailers.  It alluded to some sort of twist that you could only find out by seeing the movie.  This misled critics into expecting a different experience.  While Tomorrowland has surprises it is a very straightforward family movie.  Which is not the easiest sell for a big budget tentpole, but then again why did this have to be an event movie?
It is admirable that Disney put so much of a push and money behind an original movie that was helmed by a creator they believe in.  However Hollywood keeps making the same mistake of throwing loads of money at a hopeful franchise and burdening it with the expectations of a tentpole.  I hope to do another post on this trend, but the bottom line is that these movies almost always underperform if not bomb.
Back to the internet affecting the movie-going experience, we are receiving more and more access to the business of movie making.  Take Ant-Man for example, a movie that shares Tomorrowland’s point of view.  There are people who will never be able to enjoy that movie because the internet wrote its own narrative about what happened with Edgar Wright over a year before the movie’s release.  Budgets in particular place a big target on a movie for the internet.  We now seem to be less open to take a movie on its own merits, once we hear about a movie with a big price tag under performing that is all the news focuses on.  The negative press dealing with the money overshadows the movie itself.
And Tomorrowland honestly did not need to cost $190 million.  This was an old fashioned Disney adventure based in Cold War sci-fi.  The visuals were terrific, but they would have been just as credible at $100 million or even less (keep in mind I have no idea how money really works).
The real big thing working against Tomorrowland in theatres was its position as a tentpole on Memorial Weekend.  It probably still would have failed at another release date, but expectations of huge success are not good for original movies.  They need time to be discovered and grow an audience.  I think that Tomorrowland was a great summer move and has a lot of potential to be a blockbuster.  But you can’t count your eggs before they hatch.  This movie was counted before it hatched.

Again, Tomorrowland is not a perfect.  I love family movies and am big on Disney lore, it was right up my alley.  But this is a movie that does not deserve the different reputation of a failure.  I hope you will catch this at your discount theatre, it is ambitious and has its heart in the right place.  Which is as good of a reason to make and attend a movie as any.