On the way to the Theater this morning, we made every light between our house and the movie theater. It’s almost three miles on a very busy commercial mainline, and there are at least a dozen intersections with traffic lights. We made every one of them. I thought maybe we should go to Vegas, but then it occurred to me that maybe it was a good omen for the film we were about to see. Nope. Not gonna happen. This remake of Poltergeist is as mundane and unnecessary as you thought it would be. Having the names of Sam Rami and Sam Rockwell associated with the film was enough to take a flyer on it, but it all just lays there.

The story is somewhat the same as the original, but instead of an upwardly mobile yuppie couple buying into the American dream, we have a downsized family making due with leftovers. There is no contentious but friendly next door neighbor in this movie. In fact the only other people not directly related to the story sort of look down on folks living in this neighborhood. The dearth of nearby residents is supposed to be explained by the fact that there are so many foreclosures in the neighborhood. That is the only way this film might compare favorably to the original, it at least has an explanation as to how these events could take place without anyone else in the area being aware.

Other interesting points about the movie, well Rosemarie DeWitt who plays the Mother in this film is married to Ron Livingston who played the Father in “The Conjuring“.  He definitely got the better end of that deal. It’s not an improvement but it is an interesting twist, the spiritualist they bring in to help the family, instead of being a diminutive female Rambo with a Kewpie doll voice, we get a grizzled reality TV Ghosthunter who has an Irish brogue and a gruff disposition. My daughter had a good insight on this film. It would have played better if this was a case the TV guy was doing for an episode of his series as opposed to his agreeing to work this case in spite of the fact that the family did not want to be on TV. It would have played off the two genres against each other and left room for more surprises than we finally get with this fairly standard haunted house story.

Like the remake of “Carrie” from two years ago, “Poltergeist” does nothing to hurt the legacy of the other film. If audiences are unwilling to go back three decades to see the original, there might as well be a version that they can get themselves to. It’s just sad to think that people believe the visual effects from then are inferior to the CGI of today. I’d disagree and the incident at the sink in both films would be a good way to make the comparison. The 1982 film was a lot more frightening with the practical make-up effects.

Sam Rockwell is playing a character who is less interesting and less heroic than the oddball salesman of Craig T. Nelson. There is one brief sequence, which has nothing to do with the story, that allows him to use his Rockwellisms and charisma. It is short and unfortunately, there was no dancing involved. The two young actors playing the youngest children in the family were very good. It was maybe a bit more interesting to give the son more to do but it is at the expense of the rest of the characters. The build up in the first film was intriguing with some moments of levity. This version crashes headlong into the action, and there is never a sense of wonder. It is all about fear. In the original, the clown doll sits like a ticking bomb in the scenes set in the son’s bedroom. In this version, it is a ringing alarm from the very first moment it appears. The controversy over Spielberg’s taking over direction from Tobe Hooper continues to today. It is safe to say he had nothing to do with directing this film.


This movie is a mess. It has a dozen different strands of ideas that it wants to follow, it’s tone is all over the place, and the rules of the story seem inconsistent. The idea of making a Disney attraction into a film is not of course new, but as a whole “land” is involved this time, I think maybe the stitching required to get it all to hold together is just more obvious this time out. George Clooney is a movie star that can’t really open a film on his own without a strong premise, and he is invisible from this movie for most of the first hour.

Director Brad Bird has made some of my favorite films over the last fifteen years. He is capable of telling a coherent story but this one is just not quite there. You can see the ideas right there in front of you, tantalizing us with the notion that there is something deep and worthwhile in this experience. It just does not come together. It reminded me several times of the movie “Toys” with Robin Williams. There are things to look at, there are good performers giving it their all, but the premise is too fuzzy in the end to be anything more than mildly likable when it is all over. I ended up wanting to see the movie that they tell this story around, rather than the book ends that make up this structure. I think even the story of Casey, the young protagonist played by Britt Roberston, would have worked a bit better. At the end, the conventional issues all undermine the creativity of the imagination that the promise of “Tomorrowland” is supposed to hold.

The opening section that tells the back story of Clooney’s Frank Walker was excellent. The setting at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 is picture perfect. The Fair contained all sorts of advanced gizmos and concepts and a few of them are illustrated here. We never see the “Carrousel  of Progress” but the song makes an appearance and promises us a great big beautiful tomorrow. Raffey Cassidy is an interesting young actress who may very well have been cast because of her resemblance to Angela Cartwright of “the Sound of Music” but more importantly Penny from “Lost in Space”. Baby boomers will see her freckles and the dress she wears in those early scenes and think immediately of the time period being evoked. Casting here went a long way in setting the scene, I think even more than all the special effects. The kid who plays young Frank is also very well cast to give a sense of those hopeful, early sixties dreamers of the New Frontier. His answer as to why he made the jetpack he has brought to the Inventions Hall at the Fair is a great encapsulation of America’s can do spirit. The contrast with the heroine’s project, to keep the launch pad at Cape Canaveral from closing down, is a little heavy handed but it is clear. We stopped being dreamers.

So I’m settling down for an uplifting movie about how we lost our way and might get it back again, when evil robots try to kill the pretty little science terrorist, and then they disintegrate three police officers out of nowhere and do it with a creepy mechanical smile. Wow, this is a PG rated family film? It features the same kinds of blue guts splattered we saw in “The World”s End” only from humans rather than robots. Watch out for the sudden car accident that also runs over a little girl. Nothing says family entertainment like that. Suddenly our whimsical fantasy film has become an action picture complete with a pint sized Terminator to lead us to the resolution. By the time Clooney comes back to the screen, the film feels completely different. The pursuit of the two science dreamers across different dimensions includes dismemberment of the  robot pursuers in several grim but amusing booby traps. Then it is followed up by a Coke joke. The story meanders around trying to show us background material, but this is one of the few times I can think of where an exposition laden conversation between the two leads might have helped the movie move forward rather than slowing it down.

When story returns to Tomorrowland, it is never clear why things there have gotten as bleak as the other dimension we occupy. The macguffin that is referred to is incompletely explained and the visionary technologies that exist seem to be put to no better use than tracking kids down to kill them. Yep, that’s the joy of Tomorrowland. At the very end of the story, the characters try to redeem all we have experienced with a renewed promise, but they have not explained how the same problem cannot occur again or why a new set of dreamers will make any difference. Hugh Laurie’s Governor Nix asks at one point how we managed to have the dual problems of obesity and starvation simultaneously? It’s a pretty reasonable dilemma, I’ve got another one for you, How are we supposed to expect the future to be a place for our dreams, when it is trying to kill us at the same time?