Escape from Tomorrow (movie review, spoiler discussion, the ending)
NOTE: I don’t recommend watching this trailer.
Escape from Tomorrow is a guerilla made film shot at Walt Disney World and Disneyland initially centering around a father who decides not to inform his family that on the final morning of their vacation, he’s been fired via an early morning call from his boss. I thought the movie was going to be a drama, the director was saying it’s a black comedy and I’ve seen the flick billed as a horror picture… if you’re getting the impression people are mixed up about Escape from Tomorrow, you’re on the right track.
That opening might supplant the thought that I didn’t like the flick, but I did… it’s just not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. I do have a lot to say about it, and I think that any time a piece of art invokes a dialogue (or in this case, a non-verbal monologue, i suppose…), that’s a good thing.
I thought the photography was excellent. They must have had to use smaller, consumer grade cameras in the Disney Parks and I thought they generated a quality image despite the various technical limitations they must have experienced. I also thought they did a good job framing the subjects in the shots and generally got very good angles. I imagine the audio was challenging, too… I wonder how much of the dialogue they had to loop? Probably a lot, but Dr. Girlfriend read somewhere that the cast wore personal recording devices in addition to their lavalier microphones and earpieces. Needless to say, the efforts of the on location shooting were second to none. There’s some green screen shots… some look OK, some look like people standing in front of green screen, but, you do the best you can with the resources you have. (Oh, and there’s a nice slow motion shot, too.)
The editing really drives the movie, especially in the first 45 minutes. It does a great job of keeping you engaged, which is particularly important during the first 45 minutes. (I’ll come back to the first 45 minutes later.) But in general, they did a lot of great things with the footage they shot to make the movie work… although toward the end, they got a little carried away with these probably hard to shoot empty looking shots of the parks that they couldn’t bare to leave on the cutting room floor but probably should have.
I was pleased with the performances. Having one kid in your movie (nevermind two) could easily be the kiss of death, but they pulled it off pretty well. Roy Abramsohn basically carries the movie and gets great support from Elena Schuber. Needless to say, the cast is certainly one of the things that’s working well in Escape from Tomorrow.
I thought Randy Moore’s directing was somewhere between good and great. He handles the cast and crew well, but I don’t think the directing part of him got what he needed out of the writing part of his brain.
Yeah, more on that point now: (FYI: We’re arriving at spoiler territory now)
The writing is… you know, fine – most of the time. At first. Later, the movie takes a drastic left turn and I don’t think we were set up very well for it. Here is my laundry list of problems with the story and the execution.
The first 45 minutes of the movie mostly serves as
- padding to get to 90 minutes. I presume 90 minutes is somewhere in the neighborhood of required running time for feature film in the film festival circuit.
- a vehicle to show off all the footage they shot without Disney’s permission
- a vehicle to show off editing talent
- a vehicle to show off directing talent
Ultimately, the first 45 minutes set up the characters and the universe in which the flick takes place. If you’re thinking, "That doesn’t sound like it should take 45 minutes," I tend to agree with you. Of course, after you watch the second 45 minutes, you realize some scenes were more important than they seemed at the time. The movie doesn’t really do a good enough job of telling the audience what is and is not important, which in turn demands an enclyodic knowledge of the flick (this type of movie comprehension happens to be one of my only talents) upon the audience.
That being said, this is not a reasonable demand to make on the viewer.
"Did you black out again?"
This specific comment is one of my fundamental problems with the first 45 minutes of the movie, particularly after you finish the flick. This gives the audience the impression that our protagonist blacks out all the time, or at least has been blacking out during the trip. Since the spitting seen in the latter 45 minutes seems to be the point of infection for the Cat Flu… what’s the point of the blackouts, then? The wife doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal, so I didn’t think it was a big deal either.
And then the movie throws the amulet into the picture…
Make. Up. Your. Damn. Mind. Movie.
Is the stress of losing his job making the protagonist black out? Or is it the witch and the amulet? Or the cat flu? Or just being at Disney in general because Disney is a sinister place/organization? The movie doesn’t give you the tools to understand what’s happening.
The Nurse Scene, Cat Flu, The Moment of Infection,
We first hear about the Cat Flu in the nurse scene. The nurse worries about the protagonist and his daughter getting infected to the point that after they exit, she cries. At the time, it seems like just another weird scene, but at the end of the flick, the protagonist is coughing up hairballs (amongst other symptoms I’ll spare you from), so this is obviously an important scene. I’ve decided that the blackouts have nothing to do with the Cat Flu because the moment of infection is clearing the scene where the French girl spits on our hero – the movie makes a big deal out of this meeting. So then that means the blackouts and hallucinations are caused by… what, then? The Disney Parks? Why?
And why’s it called "Cat" Flu? Why not Mouse Flu because Mickey Mouse? Or Frog Flu because that girl is French and there’s some weird thing about French people being frogs? Or French Flu because that girl is French? I don’t get it.
What’s the point of the under "We’re under Spaceship Earth" scene? The Land Pavilion and son bit?
So I’ve decided that from the moment the girl spits on him, he has Cat Flu just because whatever. The movie is not clear, so I’ve made a decision and I’m sticking to it. I also feel this way because in the "We’re under Spaceship Earth" scene, the scientist guy says the French are dangerous. (Now, if this movie really wanted to be accurate, they’d have made those two girls Brazilian because every time we’ve gone to Disney World in the last 10 years, there’s always a giant tour group from Brazil there.)
Anyway, the scientist guy says that his boss told him they should go on Soarin, which was a cryptic message to get him and his son into the Land Pavillion. This means that you, as a member of the audience, have to know that Soarin’ is in the Land Pavillion. I do know this, but this sort of Disney World Geographic Knowledge is a ridiculous request to make of a viewer. (Then, at the same time, I’m supposed to ignore that the movie jumps randomly between Disneyland and Walt Disney World and the fact that Buzz Lightyear – which the scientist closed to somehow lure the protagonist and his family to EPCOT – and the Land Pavillion are not even in the same park? Am I, as a member of the audience supposed to be a Disney expert or not? Make up your mind! Oh, and see my map below – Buzz Lightyear to the Land Pavillion has got to be at least a half hour trip.)
I’m not a big fan of putting words up on a screen as part of a plot device or… ever, really, so these two shots are not my favorites. So Walt Disney is like Jesus to people? Is that what that shot means? Or, at least, the Jesus of the Disney religion? This shot is pretentious at best and stupid at worst. And the Intermission… I don’t know why that’s there. That was a bad idea.
Why is the son rewarded?
So at the end of the flick, the weird Disney people come clean up the hotel room, haul the protagonist’s body away and reward the son with a memory implant of what it’s like to go on Buzz Lightyear – and I think he got a pin, too. So that means that Disney wanted the protagonist to die? Why? How do they make money as a soulless corporation by killing their customers? Or do they just want the protagonist, specifically, to die? So that means Disney is in cahoots with the French girls (or The French in general?) to infect people with Cat Flu? Cat is the opposite of mouse?
So now he’s alive again?
Yeah, so now we see the protagonist alive and happy with a different woman (Was that the nurse? Or one of the princesses?) but the same daughter… he’s a different person now? Is that why he was smiling when they found him dead? The Siemens guy had clips of this life and he said that was from a different part of his imagination he hadn’t learned how to use… what? And at the beginning of the movie, the dad sees that same van at his hotel, so… I dunno what any of that means. None of this stuff is set up very well.
I am confused.
Trying to interpret the story of Escape from Tomorrow is akin to attempting to figure out how Disney’s theme parks did those morning rope drops all those years without someone getting trampled to death – it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
From a theme perspective, I think the message is clear: Disney may seem to be an idyllic destination for the American Family, but prepackaged fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And, perhaps there’s something to be said about the protagonist’s loss of a traditional role as a man, father and husband – he’s rarely in control of any situation – he can’t even get his young son (Who wants to kill him?) to follow the simplest instruction. So, I guess the movie’s overall arc is about the breakdown of the family unit, but they seemed broken from the very first scene, or at least their first scene in the park. The rest of the movie just kinda finished them off as a family..
Ultimately, what we have in Escape from Tomorrow is really just a poorly written David Lynch movie. I couldn’t help but think of Inland Empire after I finished watching this flick.
On the other hand, comparing a filmmaker to David Lynch isn’t exactly an insult.
The things it does well it does very well, but it falls short when it comes to the narrative. It’s not fair to say it’s a bad movie masquerading as an art film, but that sentiment isn’t far off, either. If you’re a big fan of David Lynch movies (and any/all movies in general) or Disney Parks, you’ll want to check out Escape from Tomorrow, but I’d say everyone else can skip this flick. I’m giving it a 6.5 out of 10. Nice try, but the story just doesn’t work.
And now, back to that one offhanded comment in the "We’re under Spaceship Earth" scene.
In the We’re under Spaceship Earth" scene, Scientist Guy tells the protagonist he was supposed to know that when his boss told him to take his family to Soarin’ (right after he got done firing him via phone call), that meant he was supposed to take his son to the Land Pavillion, because this would… somehow help the protagonist and the Siemens Corporation protect him. When the Buzz Lightyear ride was suddenly closed down after the protagonist and his son waited a super long time (which seems unusual to me because that line generally moves pretty fast as the ride is continuous and never stops unless Disney absolutely must stop it), he was supposed to remember the Soarin’ comment and take his son there.
That is insane from a logic standpoint because no one would ever make that connection, but it’s also insane BECAUSE THE LAND PAVILLION IS IN EPCOT AND BUZZ LIGHTYEAR IS IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM. That’s two different parks! Look at the map! Just. LOOK! That’s got to be a half hour journey at minimum.
To go from Buzz Lightyear to the Land Pavillion (where Soarin’ is located), you’d have to:
- walk out of Tomorrowland
- walk all they way down Main St USA and exit the park
- walk to the Monorail station
- take the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center
- change monorails (you must walk to a different platform) at the Ticket and Transportation Center
- board a monorail to EPCOT
- walk from the monorail station to the EPCOT front gate and enter the park
- walk through Future World
- finally, trudge up that hill to the Land Pavillion
With a kid that’s 10 or younger, I wouldn’t be surprised if that took you an hour.
Not the point of the movie, I know, but it still bugs me.
Posted on September 17, 2014, in Disneyland blog posts, movie review, walt disney world blog posts and tagged Escape from Tomorrow, Escape from Tomorrow ending, movie review, movies, quick movie review. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.