Ken Piper, July 5, 2015

I saw the movie Tomorrowland yesterday, even though I had seen and heard that it was preachy, overly optimistic and unrealistic. Well, it is science fiction, after all. There is very little science and lots of fiction, such as going to the moon and back in minutes in a multistage rocket that was built 130 years ago, strapped into wooden chairs with no life support, and a broken window, or launching in a bathtub and landing in a pond with no injuries. Such is the norm with modern science fiction. But, I liked the movie because of a couple of messages that were not mentioned in the various critiques that I saw.

At the beginning of the film, Frank (a main character) goes to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and he passes by a building on which is the quote (attributed to Einstein) “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” This is something that some of us have known for a long time, and we have complained that our schools are lately in the business of stuffing our kids with knowledge, to the detriment of creativity. Now my daughter, the schoolteacher, disputes this, but the emphasis is certainly on technical proficiency, with the aim of competing with other countries that have been providing us with mathematicians and engineers. Anyway, the message of the movie is that we need more people who are imaginative and creative, rather than those who know how to take a test. I like that message.

The other takeaway is the idea that we are being scared by the spectre of the destruction of Earth by what we are doing to it. In the movie, this idea is supposedly being planted in us by transmissions from another dimension. Also in the movie, the Earth will die in 55 days, yet somehow can be turned around and saved in just a few days, but that is another of the ridiculous fictions of the genre. We hardly need to have this idea come from afar. Politicians, policy makers and scientists all use scare tactics to try to affect our behavior. (I am reminded of Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, which would be an excellent movie, but doesn’t match the political views of most of Hollywood.) Some may have altruistic motives, thinking that they can use scare tactics to get us to do something that would be good in the long term, but not to our immediate economic benefit. Others use scare tactics to get us to vote for them or perhaps to obtain funding for their research. The movie doesn’t say this, but rather says that people are unmoved by the scare messages because those messages are just being turned around as entertainment, as in disaster movies and video games. I guess the Hollywood approach is to blame big business rather than liberal politicians and scientists. (This is not to say conservative politicians don’t use scare tactics themselves, albeit different ones.)

At the end of the movie, scare tactics are replaced with a bunch of eternal optimists that are going to change the world with their enthusiasm. Yes, not realistic, but somehow satisfying for the romantic in us. Next, I want to see San Andreas, hailed as the most spectacular disaster movie yet. Yes, I know, no science and all fiction, but pure entertainment with none other than “The Rock.”

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