Disney's Tomorrowland is among the more intriguing sci-fi movies due to arrive next year, and not only because it unites filmmaker Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) alongside Damon Lindelof (Prometheus) and Entertainment Weekly contributor Jeff Jensen as the screenwriters. If the rumored story details are correct, then the final film should be an imaginative change of pace from this year's crop of dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic sci-fi blockbusters (Oblivion, After Earth, Elysium, etc.).
The eponymous Tomorowland is described as being a wondrous and technologically advanced realm that exists in another dimension. Bird's film is rumored to revolve around a middle-aged man (George Clooney) who - to save the Earth - must set out and return to that fantasy land, after he was kicked out as a child by the man (Hugh Laurie) who's spent much of his life exploiting Tomorrowland for his personal gain.
So, what was the basis for this Disney theme park inspired film? Well, this is what Lindelof told Grantland:
"I’ve always been fascinated by Disneyland and Disney World, and my favorite part of the park was always Tomorrowland. But there’s no story there. Like, if you go into Fantasyland, there’s just story happening all around you everywhere, whether it’s sort of a direct kind of connection to a movie that you know or a fairy tale that you know, and the same with, like, Frontierland, or when you go in the Haunted Mansion."
Disney has spent the last few years developing multiple films based on its park attractions - ranging from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to Jungle Cruise and the entire Magic Kingdom - but, so far, these most recent attempts to create new ride-based franchises that come with built-in multi-platform appeal (a la Pirates of the Caribbean) have been slow to develop, become stalled in early pre-production or collapsed altogether.
The reason for this might be, in part, due to the fact that most of these rides have very distinct "narratives," which (logically) beg to be preserved more and carried over into a cinematic adaptation. By comparison, the Pirates of the Caribbean and Tomorrowland attractions could be easier to adapt because they're more free-form (re: no clear story) and more flexible when it comes to interpretation - meaning, they better encourage creativity and imagination, when it comes to devising a plot and characters for the movie (e.g. Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow).
As Lindelof put it:
"My son, who’s 6, when he went on Pirates of the Caribbean for the first time, Jack Sparrow is a part of that ride. He’s going to see the movies in two years, when he’s old enough, and he’s going to think that the movies were the inspiration for the ride, versus the other way around. I would love to do that for Tomorrowland, you know?"
He also drew additional inspiration from other sources, which explains why none of the film will take place in an actual Disneyland park:
"And there’s this Neil deGrasse Tyson speech — you can YouTube it — and he gave an eloquent and beautiful talk about how the abandonment of the space program after we landed on the moon is responsible for the fact that we no longer have an optimistic view of our future. I just said, “There’s a movie in there somewhere.” And that was the beginning of me curating this rather fascinating “is it or isn’t it?” Disney history in this kind of Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code way. Like, all these things that I didn’t know about, the history of Tomorrowland in the park, and could that be the basis of something? Even though the movie is not about the park — I will say this exclusively to you, that none of the movie takes place in a Disneyland park. It doesn’t, but that history became the inspiration for this amazing story."
Lindelof was drawn to collaborate with Jensen after reading the latter's theories on Lost - the mystery/fantasy series that Lindelof served as co-showrunner on - and met up with Bird through their shared ties to Bad Robot, which has backed the last couple Mission: Impossible movies. That makes Tomorrowland the second major collaborative screenplay in a row for Lindelof, after having joined together with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to write the script for the currently-playing Star Trek Into Darkness (which earned the trio brownie points from critics and fans alike).
Since Lindelof co-wrote the polarizing script for director Ridley Scott's pseudo-Alien prequel Prometheus (and, before that, the love-it-or-hate-it ending to Lost), it leaves you wondering if Tomorrowland will prove equally divisive, after the hype and promises of something truly special. Nonetheless, Lindelof is working alongside a great director who has yet to disappoint in either animation or live-action film medium - and that's to mention nothing of the fascinating "source material" found in the box labeled "1952" (which Lindelof and Bird posted on Twitter earlier this year):
"This stuff — it’s a little bit like that Ark of the Covenant room, except it’s not just one room; it’s spread out over these three campuses in Burbank... So this particular box, the box we tweeted — Disney was developing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. [David] Fincher’s developing it now, but before that, I think McG was developing it, and I think he requested all the design work from the original ride in Disneyland, the Nautilus ride. And this box was in with that stuff. You know, what was it doing there? Who knows — but what’s more exciting is there’s probably, like, 50 boxes like that waiting."
There a whole lot more interesting material covered in Grantland's interview with Lindelof than what's been presented here, so be sure to go and check out the entire article for yourself.
Tomorrowland opens in U.S. theaters on December 19th, 2014.
"Tomorrowland" artwork by Eric Heschong [via Disney and More]