Tomorrowland: Brad Bird's Bioshock

When the second trailer for Disney’s Tomorrowland was released, various websites on the Internet began to spot an interesting similarity between the new live-action picture and one of the most popular video game series in the past decade. Director Brad Bird‘s optimistic opus about the potential of the future bore an eerie resemblance to Bioshock, a game series about dystopia and the different ways ideology can be taken too far. Some found the similarities so uncanny as to create a mash-up trailer combining elements from both properties:

Marketing does not always reflect the reality of the movie. That said, having seen Tomorrowland and played through all three Bioshock games, all I can say is: yep.

Warning: mild spoilers to follow.

The most obvious similarity exists in the concept. A futuristic society is created with the desire of being “better” than the rest of the world. Something goes wrong and it is up to an outsider to fix it. Right there I have just described the basic premise to both Tomorrowland and every Bioshock game. Yet the comparison does not stop there.

The movie opens with a young Frank Walker (the boy who will grow to be George Clooney), an inventor who arrives at the 1964 World’s Fair to show off his invention: the jetpack. Frank meets a mysterious girl, Athena (played very well by Raffey Cassidy) and is able to ascertain passage to Tomorrowland. What does the passage look like? Frank gets on a boat on the “It’s a Small World” ride. Halfway through, the waterway drops out and brings Frank to a seemingly endless body of water with a single walkway leading to a bathysphere. Sound familiar?

Depending on who you ask, "It's a Small World" is more or less ominous than a solitary lighthouse in the middle of the ocean.
Depending on who you ask, “It’s a Small World” is more or less ominous than a solitary lighthouse in the middle of the ocean.

Frank is next transported to Tomorrowland, a society founded and driven by one man: Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nix is a leader who appears to have forsaken the rest of the world in favor of building his own vision of a better tomorrow. While his philosophy is slightly different, Nix is very comparable to the likes of Andrew Ryan and Zachary Comstock.

"You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won't take the hint! In every moment there's a possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality. " - Governor Nix
“You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. “
– Governor Nix

Yes a disconnected world with lofty ideals and an extremist leader – what could go wrong? The nature of the exact problem with Tomorrowland is partly what separates it from other dystopias like Rapture and Columbia. The stubbornness and unfeeling nature of Nix aside, Tomorrowland has created a technology that is interfering with the rest of the world. I won’t spoil what it is exactly, other than to say it ties in strongly with the overall theme of the movie (similar to how the problems with Rapture and Columbia tied in to the themes of those games).

The last comparison really worth mentioning is Athena, the single agent acting against the wishes of her master and bringing in outside help to Tomorrowland. She accompanies the heroes throughout the entire plot, chipping in where she can and providing evidence that not everything in Tomorrowland has gone wrong. She also plays an essential role in how the story is resolved. Sound familiar:

Athena does not throw coins to either George Clooney or , proving that she is not as financially useful as Elizabeth.
Athena does not throw coins to either George Clooney or Britt Robertson, proving that she is not as financially useful as Elizabeth.

Almost forgot: there are also nonhuman guardians protecting Tomorrowland, and its secrets, from intruders of the outside world. Do they look as cool as this:

bioshock_big_daddy_and_little_sisterNope, they look more like this:

a-scene-from-tomorrowland

It is difficult to say whether or not the wealth of similarities between Tomorrowland and the Bioshock series is anything more than coincidence. I have searched for information on whether or not Brad Bird is a gamer, and I have found none. Given his age (57), and where he is in life – I do not believe he has ever played Bioshock. Yet Damon Lindelof, who co-wrote Tomorrowland, may very well have – again I cannot be sure. The idea of the Bioshock series is not so revolutionary that it is impossible to believe other creative minds did not come up with it on their own. Humanity has been discussing utopia and dystopia for centuries.

And alike as they are, Tomorrowland and Bioshock do enjoy their differences. The main story arch is different between them, and Tomorrowland enjoys an optimism (that some reviewers have labeled preachy while this reviewer found refreshing) that Bioshock does not possess.

It could be argued that Disney should have embraced the Bioshock comparison more openly, as their movie is currently struggling for financial success.

Irrational Games is Closing: What it Means for Gaming, BioShock, and Ken Levine

On February 18th of this year, the video game world received shocking news: Irrational Games is closing. To anyone out there familiar with the industry, this was an unexpected announcement. Irrational Games was a developer responsible for hits like System Shock 2, BioShock, and most recently, BioShock Infinite. Everyone out there today with a console has at least heard of two of those games. In a statement to the press, Irrational Games co-founder, (and lead writer for BioShock Infinite) Ken Levine stated that while Irrational Games would be closing, he and fifteen other former employees would be creating a new studio to create smaller, more narrative-driven games.

Irrational Games was also responsible for Tribes: Vengeance.
Irrational Games was also responsible for Tribes: Vengeance.

Levine was one of (if not the most) driving forces at Irrational Games. In a market dominated by uninspired, unremarkable, triple-A gaming titles, Ken Levine’s writing shown as the most intelligent presence out there. Sure, there is debate on the ending of BioShock Infinite but at least people are still talking about it. I have yet to hear anyone declare: “Bro, that ending to Call of Duty: Black Ops II really blew my mind!” If anything, the triple-A market has been dealt a critical blow by Levine’s departure. It seems like more and more true that the upcoming exciting games of tomorrow are less graphics driven and more story compelled. There are already many people looking forward to the smaller experience that Ken Levine will deliver next. True, no one person makes games but one person can sell them.

Personally I thought BioShock Infinite could have done with one more rewrite to give the ending real emotional impact.
Personally I thought BioShock Infinite could have done with one more rewrite to give the ending real emotional impact.

That being said, Levine’s artistic desires are all very well and good but what about everyone else who lost their job? Did Ken Levine really just lay off nearly everyone who worked for him just so that he could “express himself”? Answer: no, while Levine’s public statement indicates his desire for growth, it does not reflect the reality for Irrational Games. The truth has already started leaking out: this closure surprised no one at the company.

The plot of BioShock might be the most intelligent of any modern game.
The plot of BioShock might be the most intelligent of any modern game.

Few people understand just how cutthroat the video game industry is. It isn’t just companies that make poor product that go out of business. Irrational Games isn’t even the first to fall prey to this hard truth. Anyone remember Team Bondi, the developer who made the hit game, L.A. Noire? That studio closed the same year as their most successful game’s release. But wait, you say: aren’t they developing Whore of the Orient (great title), a game that will be released next year? That is Team Bondi in name only. The company name was bought up in an effort to increase excitement (also not an uncommon practice in the video game industry).

Ground-breaking facial animation wasn't enough to keep Team Bondi afloat. In fact its cost probably was a leading factor in bankrupting the company.
Ground-breaking facial animation wasn’t enough to keep Team Bondi afloat. In fact its cost probably was a leading factor in bankrupting the company.

So what does Irrational Games closing really mean for anyone outside of Irrational Games? Nothing. Ken Levine will get the opportunity to make the games he wants so the industry isn’t losing him. As for BioShock; it will go on… at least for another game. Again, this wouldn’t even be the first time someone else made a BioShock game. Remember BioShock 2? That was… it was…. a mechanically sound game.

While I can't criticize this game as horrible, the compelling story of the series was definitely absent.
While I can’t criticize this game as horrible, the compelling story of the series was definitely absent.