I am not qualified to properly review this disc. The only way this marvelous DVD set could even begin to be discussed in the manner that it deserves would be if a group of scientists, space-exploration historians, animation experts and Walt Disney aficionados combined resources to carefully comb over every inch of this remarkable content and meld their insights together. Like many of you I’ve been happily purchasing most of the Walt Disney “Treasures” sets as they have become available. Also like many of you, I’ve focused my purchasing on the sets that I presumed to have strong entertainment value—in other words, cartoons with characters with which I was familiar. My finest privilege as a DVD reviewer is receiving content that I ordinarily would not have gone out of my way to purchase as a consumer, and thus encounter (always to my surprise) some of the most memorable moments in my film experience. Disney’s “Tomorrow Land” Treasures set is one such DVD experience. I was unable to force myself to “skim” the content to expedite this review and was helplessly held captivated by feature after feature which bears testimony to the imagination, creativity, and (almost prophetic) vision of Walt Disney's Tomorrowland.
Classic 1950’s science fiction has always been one of my favorite film genres. My father was first-generation “sci-fi” and having the opportunity growing up watching so many classic films with him on television, and being privy to his commentary about the history behind these movies had a great impact on me; It will be a pleasure to watch every minute of this DVD set all over again the next time I'm able to visit home. If classic sci-fi is a genre that holds a place of interest for you, then you absolutely MUST own this DVD set. Films like Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds (based on an older book by H.G.Wells I know but still interpreted through a 1950’s mindset), This Island Earth, and even some later films like 2001 A Space Odyssey will look different to you after watching the features contained in Tomorrow Land. Disney’s Tomorrow Land establishes a context of social climate that gives foundation and meaning to these films. It will help you better understand what contemporary 1950’s audiences were thinking and how they were reacting to new and fascinating concepts like atomic energy, the possibility of life on Mars, and space travel and exploration (concepts that still are "new" and fascinating for many of us).
After spending the four hours with this set, I feel that in some way I had the opportunity to step back in time 50 years ago and “callibrate” my ideas, concepts, and aspirations for space travel more closely to the 1950’s mind. Just like you hear folks who were at Woodstock tell you that “it was a special time, and it can’t be recaptured or recreated ever again”, the 1950’s were the “Woodstock” of science-fiction imagination. Even if that experience can’t truly be recreated, spending time with Disney’s Tomorrow Land set will help acquaint you with what it was.
Exposition of two of the six full-length features…
Man in Space:
Walt liked to call it “Science Faction”, and that phrase perfectly describes his concept of Tomorrow Land. The visionary genius of Walt and his team is depicted in prophetic accuracy in “Man in Space” where the first return-to-Earth “space shuttle” flight is illustrated step-by-step with uncanny synchronicity to the modern-day reality--to the point of producing chills. Remember, Walt and his team conceived, produced, and aired these features before Sputnik orbited our skies! This short feature (50 minutes long) was the very first installment of the “Tomorrow Land” TV series and aired on March 9, 1955. As with each feature on the set, Leonard Maltin precedes the program with a prologue that is insightful, interesting, and educational. His contributions to this series are profound and his participation in the introductions that he provides helps establish context and meaning, enabling the interested viewer to gain the tools to interpret this content to its best advantage and derive a greater reward for the time spent viewing. I encourage you to spend time really listening to his commentary preceding each show and don’t be tempted to “skip” ahead with the remote.
Chapter stops are appropriately placed throughout each feature (allowing the viewer to skip Maltin’s intro, skip the title credits, and advance chapter by chapter within the program itself) though I didn’t see any menu or booklet documenting their existence. As with all the features films/programs contained on this disc, this one is presented in its entirety including all credits and promotional material such as ads for coming Disney attractions and/or films. I must sincerely commend Disney for preserving the full integrity of these programs by doing so, and I’m sure all the serious collectors out there feel the same way. Television in the 1950’s was black and white. However, all of the animation and many of the live-filmed sequences were created in full color in the studio. For this feature (and others) Disney has provided full-color whenever possible given the availability of source elements during restoration. In the case of “Man in Space”, this means that the program is essentially in full and glorious color excepting the opening and closing credit/promotional sequences.
Man in Space also introduces the basic “formula” to which the rest of the series subscribes: We start off with some live-action discussion introducing the topics covered in the episode, and we then have “silly” animation that depicts the history of the various topics, which then gives way to very stylized and “reality looking” animation for present-day and future depictions. I found the “realistic” animation sequences depicting the space shuttle launch/orbit/landing absolutely spell-binding (in the case of “Man and the Moon”, equally spell-binding live-action and special effects are used for this stage of the show). This process of intermixing styles is very effective. For one, it helps break the monotony of the 50 minute features so that they feel more like an assemblage of entertaining and engaging “shorts” all leading to a common goal as set forth by the program’s host. For another, it helps de-mark the time-line of chronology as the show takes us along the path of progress from ancient history to modern day to future. I found myself continually impressed at every level with the feature: style, content, imagination, animation technique, and interest-holding ability of the show. Science-fiction/faction fans, you will be impressed.
Man and the Moon:
This was the second feature aired in the “Tomorrow Land” series and it sustains the quality of content/presentation as the first. The topic of this program centers around man’s first (theoretical at the time) orbit around the moon. Models are used to clearly and understandably convey the often very obtuse phenomena such as the lunar eclipse, phase-changes of the moon cycle, and how an spacecraft orbiting the Earth would use its own orbit to “sling shot” a trajectory out into space and then use the same principle to return from the moon’s gravitational pull. About the only vision illustrated here that hasn’t come to pass is the “2001 style” spinning-wheel space station that generates its own artificial gravity. That actually says more about the sad state of funding and lack of public interest for our current space program than it does about any error with Walt’s unfulfilled prediction.
As mentioned earlier, in this program live-action with special effects are used to capture the future moon-orbit sequence. Despite the occasional momentary glimpse of suspension wires (which would have been completely invisible on any 1950’s television during broadcast), I was astounded at the quality and realism of the portrayal of space flight by the sets, props, actors, and special effects team. The portrayal of weightlessness in space is presented with the same authentic sense of believability as in 2001 A Space Odyssey. No kidding. The general lighting and juxtaposition of models, live-action, and painted background imagery used to compose the finished scenes really sets a standard for the time period. Any defects you notice in the production that say “special effect” would have been obscured by television broadcast and keep in mind that this was the medium for which this series was created (though many features, at least in part, also were projected theatrically as well as distributed for educational purposes but these were subsequent presentations). The Disney team really achieved quite a feat considering how seductively beautiful the end result is even when displayed on my high-resolution front projection system. Simply, simply, gorgeous.
Like with all the other Treasures sets you own, this one comes in an outer tin canister case that is just oh-so-cool. Unlike previous incarnations of the Treasures series, this one is not “stamped” with the serial number. Inside there is an “extra wide” double-shell DVD case containing two DVD discs along with some generous printed booklet material. Also inside you’ll find a certificate designating the individual production number of your set out of the total run lot.
This is presentation with class. If only Disney would produce more of them! Get them while you can. They are all limited issue.
I’ll have to check back on the forced-trailer issue (can’t remember at the moment. Those of you with the disc in hand please chime in and I’ll update more quickly). If you’re familiar with the previous Treasures sets You’ve got the same sort of menu style and “flow” here. Because Tomorrow Land contains just a handful of 50 minute full-length features (along with some extra bonus material on disc 2), there are no options for “alphabetic or chronological” listing. The shows are simply listed chronologically as they should be. The first disc contains three (the first two I’ve discussed earlier along with “Mars and Beyond”) and the second disc contains “Eyes in Outer Space” (about satellites), “Our Friend the Atom” (about atomic energy), and “Epcot” which wasn’t a Tomorrow Land feature, but really a marketing slick Walt put together (just a few months before his death) to help garner political support for his plans for the Walt Disney Resort in Florida (incidentally, this is the first time the full feature has been shown in compete form to the general public).
Each disc has an “overall” introduction by Leonard Maltin as well as a brief introduction for each feature presentation. Again I cannot express the value of Maltin’s contributions highly enough. Each disc offers only English audio and optional English subtitles “for the hearing impaired”. The menus are nicely rendered and really fit the look and feel of the historic material. Bravo Disney for another superb job.
Who would have thought that a bunch of 1950’s 4x3 animated/live action features designed and created for broadcast television would have me ooohhing and aaaahhing and making very clear the advantages of viewing material on a high-definition front projection system. Ok maybe I would. But after watching Disney’s “Tomorrow Land” I think it even more.
Obviously we’re dealing with source material that is quite dated, and there are intermittent artifacts that are film-source/production related that probably would have looked no different to 1950’s audiences. To my eyes, very little of what artifacting there is seems to be due to damage due to age--which is likely a testament to the excellent restoration this material has received. In any case, “natural” film/production related artifacts don’t bother me. That’s the medium and that’s the content’s history. What does bother me are “electronic” artifacts that are introduced during film-tape transferring and/or subsequent mastering for DVD. Blessedly, this latter type of “artificial” artifacting is nary to be seen on Disney’s Tomorrow Land. Once or twice I might have seen the slightest bit of ringing around hard-lines in some of the animation sequences, but the effect was minimal, benign, and non-distracting (though causing me to shave off just a fraction of a point for final PQ score).
Lots of film grain in many sequences. And that’s good. It means the Disney compression/DVD mastering center hasn’t opted to digitally air-brush all that natural film-grain away…which would have left a “clean” picture but one devoid of authenticity and fine detail. Color balance is striking. I presume that a Technicolor process was used for most of the color sequences we see. Colors are sumptuous, rich, vivid, and bold. Animation sequences naturally impress the most with lush and vibrant hue(especially some of the animation for life on Mars), but even live-shot sequences are worth noting. What kept hitting me was the realism and varied hues of “red” that I kept discovering. Much of that revelation has to do with the accuracy of my DLP display. However, good mastering is the starting place for any such discovery. Reds that tend to purple, burgundy, scarlet and shades of orange. All there in seemingly infinite array. Stunning.
Black level is as good as it gets. The space scenes displayed black level as black as my projector can produce—in other words, black level is “absolute” on this disc giving the picture a wide and saturated dynamic range. Whites are bold without ever appearing “crushed” and grayscale is as good as the source material will allow. I noticed no compression artifacts from my 1.75 screen width distance. It felt like a privilege to watch these discs on my projector. That’s a pleasure reserved for very special DVDs.
Picture: 4.75/ 5
For once he’ll be brief. Try to stay calm. The audio is perfectly acceptable DD mono. Sound is quite listenable on a high-resolution audio system without sounding thin and irritating. Neither is there a thick fog of hiss or noise overlaying the sound. Sound is clear, dialog easily intelligible, and music and score have a reasonable sense of dynamic range and frequency response, again, given the source material and the intended “TV” medium.
Sound: 4/ 5
Please forgive me for not going into too much depth on these extras. I really want to get this review posted as it’s pre-release-date copies are already arriving in some of your mailboxes!
- [*]The Optimistic Futurist: A nice interview with Ray Bradbury hosted by Leonard Maltin. It didn’t quite captivate me the way I had anticipated but I still found it interesting and worth the listen.
[*][b]Marty Sklar, Walt and Epcot: I’ll fess up and let you know that I “skimmed” this feature due to lack of time. If I get a chance I’ll get more in-depth with it and post an update. What I did see was very interesting. Sklar was a contemporary of Walt’s and worked with him on many of his design concepts for Tomorrowland. His insights and the film clips include here will please any hard-core fan.
[*][b]Image Galleries: I’m condensing the three image galleries: “Behind the Scenes”, “Publicity & Publications”, and “Story and Background” into this section. The thing I want to mention that I found most intriguing about these image galleries is that many of the still-frame images are accompanied by audio commentary. That’s right. This is WAY cool and it made the whole “image gallery” experience, which normally bores me to tears, something of a pleasure. It also proved to be immensely educational and made the whole thing much more interesting and informative. I highly recommend you check these galleries out (note, not all images have audio commentary, it’s intermittent but screen-specific to the pictures the commentary reflects).
Also a side note: I’m now using my Momitsu v880 DVD player (which upscales all my DVD images to 1280 x 720 and sends them via DVI to my projector—woohoo) and sometimes the remote seems a bit flakey. In the case of the galleries, I couldn’t see anything visibly “move” on the screen when I tried to move the cursor around to select an image or previous/next icon. Let me know what happens when you try.
If you want to own historic animation/film content that influenced a whole generation in how they thought and felt about the concept of space travel, here's your chance. Understanding the broader cultural impact that these features had on American audiences in the early 1950’s, and how they helped to effect public support for government-funded space programs and helped educate and impassion a young generation for that unexplored frontier of space, brings to me an even deeper appreciation for the beautiful work captured on these discs. The depth of vision, imagination, and uncanny predictive accuracy for Walt and his Team of Tomorrow Land artists is a testament to their genuine dedication to make a difference. Any hard-core Disney collector, film enthusiast who enjoys classic science fiction, or astronomer/space-enthusiast owes it to themselves to take a trip with Walt through the science faction journey of Disney’s Treasures “Tomorrow Land”.