Brad Bird has established himself through the years as a singular voice in the filmmaking game, showing us action and suspense with a distinctly hopeful tinge in films like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. With his most recent film, Tomorrowland, co-written with Damon Lindelof, he went full-bore into the hopeful and made a movie about making the future a brighter place that some critics all-but-railed against. Now with the film’s Blu-ray release, more people have a chance to discover the film. We spoke to Bird about Tomorrowland, about critical backlash, and why a bright future shouldn’t be the stuff of science fiction.
With five months of hindsight, Bird thinks he might have some idea of what happened. “Now, it seems to be the consensus that the future is going to suck and that we’re going to live in a world of diminished resources and a planet heating up and political ennui where we accept the fact that our leaders are corrupt and there’s no hope of ever getting the system to improve,” he said. “It just seems to be the default setting for the future, and that if you have any hopeful vision of the future, you’re hopelessly naive and just didn’t get the memo.”
He notes that the film left people very hot or very cold, with few lukewarms in the bunch. “In terms of my reaction to the schizophrenic audience response — it seems almost half the people really liked it and half the people really didn’t. There was no middle ground,” Bird said. “Nobody in the middle. I can’t honestly say that I understand it completely. I think some people thought we were trying to shame them for either being entertained by or enjoying or making those apocalyptic movies and books and TV shows. A lot of our favorite movies are those movies. We enjoy them as much as everybody else — Terminator 2 and Road Warrior and all The Matrix [movies] and all the visions of the dystopia. Those are a lot of my favorite movies and I know that they are Damon’s as well. It’s just we enjoy those movies too. We weren’t trying to say that people who enjoyed them are bad.”
Bird also believes the film holding its secrets in terms of marketing may have made people suspicious of their motives. “I think [part of it was] the fact that
we didn’t really want to tell the story before the movie came out where as social media seems to want you to say every single thing that’s in your movie a year before it’s even done,” he said. “If you are quiet about it, people seem to think, at least with our film, that there was some mind-bendingly deep secret, some M. Night twist and we didn’t have it.”
Despite the underperformance of Tomorrowland, which certainly didn’t deserve the hate it got, Bird passionately believes “the future” doesn’t have to be a doom-laden, fearful place—if people are willing to work for it. “Somebody asked me recently,” he explained, “when you touch the pin why did it put you in a wheat field near the city rather than in the city? I said that the reason was you wanted Tomorrowland to be in sight but you wanted it to be a destination that demanded that you journey to it. In other words, if the future that you want is in sight, then you can begin to move toward it.” But, he hastened to add, the brighter future will take more than just dreams. “Yeah, it’s important to have dreams, but dreams are step one. Then you’ve got to do the really hard work of going towards the dream and you’re going to encounter a lot of obstacles and you’re going to run into a lot of people telling you why you can’t get there and why it’s impractical. That’s when it takes some doing.”
He cites people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs as people who look at the status quo and are trying new things in spite of them. “If we get enough people to think that way or that support people who do think that way, we can have that better world. Absolutely. Absolutely! We can transition to that better world. I feel like the arguments for doing so get louder everyday.”
You can get a glimpse of Brad Bird’s vision of the future in Tomorrowland which is on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD right now.
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!