Tomorrowland was the type of project that was densely shrouded in secrecy, but now the movie is available now on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere so we can finally talk about the nitty gritty aspects of the fascinating sci-fi fantasy, which saw George Clooney’s curmudgeonly inventor teaming up with a young inventor (Britt Robertson) and an android that looks like a little girl (Raffey Cassidy) to travel to an alternate universe where anything (and everything) is possible.
And that’s exactly what we did when we sat down with co-writer/director Brad Bird (at Disneyland, of course). We spoke about everything that we couldn’t the first time around (consider this a spoiler warning for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet), including the amazing continuous single shot of Robertson’s journey into Tomorrowland, the movie’s unusual aspect ratio, releasing the film with Pixar’s animated prequel playing in front of it, and, of course, how The Incredibles 2 is coming along.
What made you decide to use the relatively unconventional 2.2:1 aspect ratio for Tomorrowland?
I just liked that aspect ratio. I initially was thinking about filming it in 70 mm but certain aspects of that were not friendly to production. And the tests that we did, which were really, really, really rigorous, in fact Disney is probably going to be using them for years because we shot tests with about seven or eight different cameras. We shot IMAX, we shot 70 mm, we shot VistaVision, we shot RED, we shot the Sony (the one we wound up with) and the best one for all the things we needed to do for the movie, was the one that we picked. It held up really well on a big screen. We shot just underneath 8K, even though there’s nowhere that can show 8K. Our image quality was overqualified. So that became the thing. I wanted to shoot in IMAX too. All of the Tomorrowland stuff was intended to be IMAX. But those IMAX cameras are like lawnmowers and we had very quiet scenes at the end of the movie. I imagined taking this giant lawnmower and putting it next to Raffey’s head while she is trying to emote in this quiet scene at the end and it just wouldn’t work. I think the sound of the cameras itself would distract from the performance, meaning the actor wouldn’t be able to hold onto it with this thing next to their head going [grinding noise]. So in the end I wanted to at least have the 70 mm aspect ratio and that’s the version available at home. We had cleared space on it so we could open up for IMAX but that wasn’t the one that I composed for. I composed for 2:2.1.
The moment where Britt finally goes to Tomorrowland is accomplished in one continuous take. Was that a nightmare to put together?
It was a nightmare. But I always thought for the audience to experience it like she did, it would have to be continuous. And there’s something dreamlike about that. When you do that, it makes it more real, because there are no bumps. Psychologically, your mind takes cuts as pieces and there’s something about a dream that is uninterrupted. And I wanted this to feel like an uninterrupted experience. Obviously we couldn’t shoot it that way so what is an uninterrupted experience for the audience was actually achieved over four months in three or four different locations, and it was really hard to do but I think it came off pretty well.
One of the neat things about the home video release is that you can now watch the movie with the animated prologue that Pixar created.
You could in about ten theaters. What that was originally intended for was the ride underneath the ride. It was going to be an archetype. We realized if we were going to make the ride, we would have to create what that ride would be, in its simplest state. And [Michael] Giacchino wrote the music and this was before we even started shooting the movie. We were going to use that as a guide for making a ride experience that still covers that material. But we ended up with a scene where we’re watching our character watch something, which is not a good place to be for a movie. So we tried it that way, even though ILM hadn’t gotten very far, and it just didn’t play well. At the last minute I said, “Why don’t we show that before the movie, in about ten screens.” And every theater that had that, the audiences seemed to feel like it improved their experience with the movie. So I thought, Why not just put it on the disc?
There’s a subplot that’s alluded to in the deleted scenes where Nix is stealing artwork from earth and taking it to Tomorrowland.
Yes. And when we had a family staying at Casey’s place, there were news programs that talked about the art theft and later Frank watches it too. But it seemed to take up too much time for not enough pay-off, so we just cut it. But it’s an interesting idea that they would protect art.
In the sequences set in Tomorrowland, nobody ever goes inside a building. Was that to maintain the metaphoric value of Tomorrowland?
No. It’s because of the amount of time it takes to tell the story. People will argue about whether we told the proper story or not. People ask, “Why did you spend so much time in a car when you could have been in Tomorrowland?” But the movie was always intended to be a road movie and its title seemed to suggest, to some people, that the whole movie was going to take place in Tomorrowland. We had a lot of ideas for Tomorrowland but just running around Tomorrowland is not a movie. There has to be a conflict. It has to be somewhat interesting. We set out to make a fable or a fairy tale about what happened to the positive view of the future and how can we get it back and pursue that idea. For better or worse, we did.
There was an article recently about Colin Trevorrow and how, when you were going to do Tomorrowland and Star Wars back-to-back, you were going to have him prep Star Wars for you while you made Tomorrowland. You backed him very early in his career.
I always thought he would be successful. I felt like he did this film that was a small film but had a very tricky tone that could have been, easily, not good. And he managed to make this great little movie. It was kind of like an Amblin film. It had this whimsical nature. It walked this tightrope between whether it was actually real or this guy was crazy. I thought it was a very well done piece of work. So when it came time to think about doing these two large films back-to-back, I thought the only way that was going to work, and Kathy Kennedy was involved in this too, was to have the pre-viz done by somebody who really understands filmmaking. And Colin did. The idea, at that moment (and it was literally a moment), was that he would prep VII and then direct VIII. Because going from a small film to a large film is a big transition but I thought he could handle it. Then Jurassic World came along and he got the opportunity to talk to them about it. He got through the door but he had to convince them that he could do a big, complicated movie. He had a very different story that he wanted to pursue and he convinced them and they called him on his bluff. Then he and Derek spent a month and did this draft that blew them away. People act like he got it overnight but getting through the door and having me mention him was just the first step. There were many other steps and they’re very difficult to do. I knew he was a terrific talent and I’m really happy for his success.
How is The Incredibles 2 coming along and where is 1906?
Well, 1906 remains a movie that I am very interested in doing. Incredibles 2 is coming along nicely but it’s still in early stages.
Are you still planning on switching between live action and animation?
My ideal career would be switching to whichever medium best told the story that I wanted to do. It’s not an obvious thing anymore. Like the story of Iron Giant and the story of The Incredibles sound like live action movies to a lot of people and they could have worked as live action movies. But I didn’t see them that way. I saw them as animated. And Tomorrowland could have been animated but I saw it as live action. So I think that you just want to do it in whatever medium that most excites you.
Tomorrowland is now available on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere. Wanna go?