Sitting in the ballroom of Claridges Hotel in London on a sunny day in May are four men who have come together to talk about one of summer’s more unusual big budget movies – one that is not based on a comic book, nor a sequel to an animated hit, or even a reworking of a film from a decade or two ago. In fact, star George Clooney, writer/director Brad Bird (best known for movies like The Incredibles and Ratatouille), and writers Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) and Jeff Jensen are chatting about one of the most original summer family blockbusters in recent years – the Disney movie Tomorrowland, that was loosely inspired by the Disney theme park area of the same name.
Bird is the first, however, to explain that this isn’t a movie about a theme park zone, but something more besides. “It’s not about Tomorrowland, it’s about the idea about what tomorrow could be,” he explains, talking about the movie’s vision of a future world that would be different from our own if you could just find it. “Walt Disney had a view of the future that was undecided but exciting, something that could be fun, somewhere where science wasn’t the enemy, it was an idea that was something to play with, something to be inspired by. We were trying to make a film that came from that.”
Co-writer Damon Lindelof agrees. “We wanted to make a movie with magic, to take an idea based in reality and turn it into something magical.” For them to do that, they needed a movie star to fill the lead role, and the person they immediately thought of was George Clooney – even though the last summer blockbuster he starred in was the critical disaster, Batman & Robin.
“Brad and Damon brought me a script and said that they had written it with me in mind,” he remembers. “I read the description [of my character] and it said: ’55-year-old angry, bitter has-been’ and I thought ‘brilliant, that’s me!’
In fact, it was the movie’s hopeful thoughts for the future that drew George to the part. “I liked the message of this movie. When I was a teenager, I was growing up in a time when the idea was that your voice could change the world. And we saw it could happen, we saw Rosa Parks on a bus, we saw things change, and we felt we had the ability to do that.”
“I think over time we have lost sight of that,” he adds. “It is really important to make a film like this that says, ‘the future is not inevitable’. If the future is dark, we created it, but we can change it.”
It’s certainly an optimistic change from the many dystopian future movies that have been in cinemas of late, such as The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games series. “I love dystopian movies,” says Lindelof, “and I’m first in line to see movies like Hunger Games and Mad Max, but I don’t think we’re often offered the alternative. I don’t want to live in those realities. I don’t want robots trying to kill me or zombies trying to eat me!”
He pauses. “I think Walt [Disney] lived in a time that was just as turbulent as the time we live in now, if not more so, and still he was able to not just imagine but believe in our capability as a species to transcend all that. I hope people watch this movie and have that feeling that anything is possible.”