Indie-minded Tomorrowland soars anew in-flight

When it was established in the early 1980s, the non-profit organization that would one day become Film Independent – the folks who put on the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival every year – was launched with a simple directive to help “sustain artist-driven filmmaking.” And though the definition of what constitutes an independent film has varied dramatically over the years – with sleek, HBO-produced documentaries screening at Sundance alongside micro-budgeted comedies about trans hookers that were shot on an iPhone 5s – Film Independent’s assertion that the most personal and boldly original films, regardless of budget, are imbued somehow with an “independent spirit” is still the best definition of the term. And by those standards, Disney’s big summer blockbuster Tomorrowland might just be the indie film of the year.

Yes, I know that sounds crazy. While it may be hard to wrap your head around the notion of a $190M-budgeted independent film, that’s exactly what director Brad Bird’s epic, passion project Tomorrowland really is.

Ambitious as hell, Tomorrowland may have tanked at the box office and been savaged by critics, but the fact that it was made at all is a testament to Bird’s unique gifts as a storyteller. An Oscar-winner for Disney-Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird has always been a master of creating indelible characters and situations that resonate with viewers long after the credits roll, and Tomorrowland is no different.

Reaching for the stars with a sweeping, space-age optimism and grandeur that Walt Disney himself would surely be proud of, Bird’s Tomorrowland also bears more than a passing thematic resemblance to his groundbreaking directorial debut, 1999’s The Iron Giant. And like Giant, Tomorrowland isn’t afraid to inject weighty, adult issues into what is essentially a great big popcorn movie and it’s all the better for it.

I’m not saying Tomorrowland is perfect or that it doesn’t get a bit muddy in the third act – I’m still not sure I understand how that giant tachyon device thing works – but the fact that a major Hollywood studio greenlit a woman-driven movie about science and the need for dreamers and big thinkers in a world that has forgotten how to do both more than makes up for any holes in the plot.

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Co-written by LOST alum, and fellow creative badass, Damon Lindeloff, Tomorrowland stars George Clooney as a reclusive genius dragged into an epic adventure across space and time by a fresh-faced young NASA enthusiast, played by the stunningly-talented Britt Robertson. And though I’d love to tell you more, a huge part of the magic and wonder of this film lies in figuring out the mystery behind the mythical onscreen Tomorrowland for yourself, so, I’ll stop for now. But what I will say is that Tomorrowland is a must-see film for anyone anywhere who ever dared to hope for a better world. To say it’s inspiring in the extreme is a huge understatement.

And while Tomorrowland does lose its lofty, well-meaning head in the clouds a few times, it’s also an E-ticket ride for the ages filled with enough explosions, killer robots and crazy-cool effects to satisfy even the most jaded summer movie fan. It’s like a sci-fi nerd’s fever dream brought vividly to life. All I kept thinking is that if this is what a big budget flop looks like then sign me up for another one. This movie rocks!

Tomorrowland is now playing on select Delta, Air New Zealand, Emirates, American and Oman Air flights worldwide.