From the moment it was first revealed that Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof were collaborating on a super-secret science fiction film for Disney, codenamed 1952, there’s been much speculation about the project. We eventually learned that it would star George Clooney, and just last week it was announced that the project was now officially titled Tomorrowland, referencing the attraction at the various Disney parks over the years. But could it be that this new Tomorrowland is somehow related to a project already announced years ago?
Way back in 2008, word broke that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was signed on for a Disney flick called Tomorrowland. The Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore were hired to pen a script based on an original idea, an “an epic-sized action adventure set in space.” At the time it was unclear whether it had anything to do with the theme park attraction other than the name, but Blastr provides a few more details:
The script is a family-friendly space opera with funny, futuristic tones, but this project seems temporarily marooned in a development nebula. Its fish-out-of-water plot has modern-day test pilot Rip (The Rock) transported 350 years into the future while testing a new concept plane. The future is a bright, fantastical place where every gadget or device is much more amazing than you’d expect. Stranded, Rip must figure out how things work, causing people of the future to believe Rip is a villain trying to destroy Earth.
There hasn’t been any real news on The Rock’s Tomorrowland since then. Fast-forward to yesterday, when Disney announced that 1952 was now being retitled Tomorrowland. Is it the same project? Or is the Bird/Lindelof version simply swiping the title from another Disney project that was lingering in development hell? There are certainly some intriguing possible connections between the two.
Consider the story of how 1952/Tomorrowland came about. Before the Tomorrowland connection was revealed, the project was said to be about a man’s encounter with aliens, and to be in the vein of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was also reportedly inspired by a 2012 meeting between Damon Lindelof and Disney head of production Sean Bailey. During that meeting, Lindelof was granted access to a mysterious box labeled “1952.” Last week Lindelof tweeted a picture of the box that gave us a look at its contents. Among files and pictures of Walt Disney, we identified what we believe to be a copy of the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, seen peeking out from beneath the photos below, with the large stylized “A” and the yellow cover. (See our previous story for why we came to that conclusion.)
Why is that issue important? In addition to several other stories, it contains the first appearance of Buck Rogers, in the story “Armageddon 2419 A.D.,” written by Philip Francis Nowlan. At the time I dismissed the likelihood that Tomorrowland might be about, or related to, Buck Rogers. His story doesn’t really mesh with the early rumors about 1952’s plotline. It does, however, sound a lot like the reported plot of The Rock’s Tomorrowland.
In his original incarnation, Anthony “Buck” Rogers is exposed to a strange gas after a cave-in, sending him into suspended animation until the year 2419. This concept of a time-lost Rogers cast into the far future has been modified over the years, such as in the 1979 TV series, which reimagined Rogers as a NASA pilot who encounters a space anomaly that leaves him frozen until the 25th century. The Rock’s character in his Tomorowland was reportedly called “Rip,” but the story itself sounds like a played-for-laughs version of Buck Rogers. As for Bird and Lindelof’s secret sci-fi project, it’s definitely strange that the character’s debut appearance is among the items inside the 1952/Tomorrowland mystery box.
It could certainly all just be coincidence, of course. If either of the Tomorrowland projects were a straight-up Buck Rogers reboot, it seems likely Disney would have led with that recognizable name. According to IMDb, the two are still listed as separate projects, so it will be interesting to eventually see if there are indeed any connections between them. If they are indeed unrelated, it seems likely that The Rock’s Tomorrowland is now either dead or in need of a new title. This could just be a case of Disney being determined to cash in on the name value of Tomorrowland, and trying for several years to find a project that fits the title. After all, Pirates of the Caribbean certainly worked well for them…
As for the possible Buck Rogers connection, it seems really unlikely that Bird and Lindelof’s mystery movie is as straightforward as a Buck reboot. I do think it’s possible, however, that their Tomorrowland draws inspiration from that character, and from that whole subset of golden age sci-fi serial heroes, as well as from Disney’s theme park’s retro vision of the future. I do think you could make an awesome Buck Rogers movie, mind you, but after all the fun of guessing and speculating, it’d be something of a letdown to learn that Bird and Lindelof’s Tomorrowland is actually just a rehash of something from yesteryear, rather than an original new story.