A movie inspired by a theme park: It worked once before, so why not again? Walt Disney Pictures is currently working on Tomorrowland, a film that takes its name from the futuristic attractions at Disneyland, Disney World and other Disney theme parks. The movie's filmmakers and principal cast took the stage in the main theater at New York Comic Con 2014, and mostly talked around Tomorrowland instead of talking about it — but then, spurred on by a special guest, they closed by showing a lengthy clip exclusively for the attendees.
Hosted by Nerdist Industries founder Chris Hardwick, the panel began with producer Damon Lindelof, best known as the co-showrunner of Lost, and director Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Incredibles). Asked to explain the origins of Tomorrowland, Lindelof recounted a lunch with a Disney executive in which he discussed the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and remarked during the meeting that "to make a movie out of a theme park ride seemed ridiculous, but then was this awesome movie."
Lindelof then told the executive that if Disney were to make a movie inspired by Tomorrowland and have, say, Brad Bird direct it, "I'd watch that." Bird later signed on to the project. Bird and Lindelof said the project began with a box labeled "1952" housed at Disney's Imagineering department. The time capsule of sorts contained documents and other materials that suggested individuals at Disney had been working on something about space. Lindelof and Bird decided to use the box and its contents as seeds for Tomorrowland.
Hardwick repeatedly pointed out that the filmmakers had been very quiet about Tomorrowland to this point, and they said they'd done that on purpose. They wanted to imbue the film with a sense of discovery à la Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they explained, which is why they don't want to give much away. With some prodding from Hardwick, they did show a brief teaser trailer, which you can watch below.
Three actors from the film joined the panel following the teaser: Hugh Laurie (House), Britt Robertson (Under the Dome) and Raffey Cassidy (Snow White and the Huntsman). Robertson plays the teenage girl in the teaser, Casey Newton, who touches a Tomorrowland pin and is transported to a new world. It turns out that she's been recruited there by a character named Athena, who's played by Cassidy. According to Cassidy, her character is a good-hearted girl who can be unintentionally thoughtless when it comes to others' feelings.
Laurie (above left) described Tomorrowland as "philosophically big, technically big, dramaturgically — is that even a word? — big." He added that when he initially met with Bird and Lindelof, they told him a story that gave him a sense of their particular "way of thinking about life, and specifically, about the future." Laurie then began talking smack about George Clooney, who plays Frank Walker, a middle-aged inventor who's one of the central characters of the film along with Newton. It was about at the point when Laurie referred to Clooney as being "70 years old" that the man himself strolled out onto the stage and sat down next to his fellow "former TV doctor" (Laurie as Dr. Greg House on House, and Clooney as Dr. Doug Ross on ER).
"It is not lost on me that I am spending my honeymoon at Comic Con," said Clooney (above right) with a smirk; he got married in late September. Clooney also noted that this was the first time he'd ever attended any Comic Con. After a joke from Hardwick about Clooney cosplaying perfectly as Bruce Wayne, and Clooney responding that he'd been "disinvited" from Comic Con after starring as the Caped Crusader in 1997's Batman and Robin — "sorry about the nipples," he quipped — Clooney echoed Laurie's impressions of Tomorrowland, saying it was "larger than most things I've been around."
Tomorrowland is "philosophically big, technically big, dramaturgically — is that even a word? — big"
As it turned out, Clooney didn't only delight the audience just by showing up; the panel had been choreographed perfectly. He began to hound Lindelof and Bird on their mandate for secrecy, and eventually prodded them into showing a meaty clip from Tomorrowland that was perhaps seven minutes long. Newton approaches Walker's house and demands that he take her to Tomorrowland, but through a closed front door, he rebuffs her. At night, a distraction allows Newton to sneak inside and turn the tables on Walker, locking him out while she explores the television feeds and security cameras that he keeps an eye on. But she's been followed, and armed forces storm Walker's house for "harboring a fugitive."
Their attack kicks off a thrilling action sequence, as the invaders — who turn out to be cyborgs — follow Walker and Newton through his home. The house looks like something out of the mid-20th century, but it quickly becomes apparent that Walker has retrofitted it with high-tech security features like door frames that can electrocute you and laser grids that can shred you into chunks. Walker leads Newton into the bathroom, where they climb into the tub and blast off into the sky.
Tomorrowland hits theaters May 22, 2015.