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It doesn't surprise me that Jim Hill is the one who connected some pretty obvious dots on "Tomorrowland," the mysterious new Brad Bird film that was formerly known by its working title, "1952."
After all, if there's anyone out there who has written more about the business of Walt Disney over the years, I'm unaware of them. Hill's been doing this for years, and he knows more about the parks and the studio and their history than almost anyone. He has a deep abiding love of Disney's work, but he's also more than willing to be critical of the way the brand has been managed over the years.
In March of 2012, he wrote a piece about an interview with Ward Kimball, one of the legendary animators who helped define the studio. In that interview, Kimball talked about being approached by the U.S. Air Force which was looking for a Hollywood partner to help them produce a documentary that would help acclimate the United States to the idea that UFOs were real.
Yes, that's right. Ward Kimball, a highly respected filmmaker and artist, claims that he was approached by Al Meyers and Edward Heinemann, two key figures in aviation giant Douglas Aircraft, as well as George Hoover from the Office of Naval Research, and they laid out they proof they had for him. He says he saw photos and film that proved the existence of these crafts. Kimball was a self-proclaimed student of Charles Ford, a man whose work focused on the unexplained and the extraordinary. Eventually, support for the project was pulled, even after Colonel Miranda (of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) told Kimball they had hundreds of feet of conclusive footage he could have. Miranda said that the main reason the footage couldn't be released was because they didn't have answers to offer the public about the imagery, and they didn't want to cause a panic until they could offer people some reassurance about what they were dealing with.
Kimball ended up having to pull the plug after pretty much building the entire documentary. Without that footage, there seemed to be no point in doing it.
Can you imagine if the world found out UFOs were real from an episode of "Disneyland" on TV? That's an amazing notion, and Kimball says Project Bluebook was an elaborate method of discrediting information that the Air Force knew was true. Hill was the one who connected that story with the early attempts at setting up the mystery of "Tomorrowland" in the minds of the audience. As we recently wrote, the project supposedly originated when studio head Sean Bailey had Damon Lindelof in to talk, and he brought out a box that had been kicking around WED Entertprises since the early days. There was a single label on the side of the box that read "1952," and the contents inside ended up sparking the project that Lindelof ended up co-writing with Jeff Jensen.
You can't help but notice that big blue paperback… a Bluebook… as well as photos, recordings, and even an issue of Amazing Stories magazine from 1928. This is what led Hill to make what seems like a very logical jump about how this could tell the story about that footage that was shown to Kimball, about the way the Air Force considered telling the truth before burying it, and about the nature of these things that are being discussed. Are they aliens? Are they from another time? And what role will George Clooney play in the film?
I don't really believe that the box has been sitting around the studio since 1952, just waiting for someone to open it, but I think it's a great foundation to use to build a larger science fiction film, and based on the way Jensen and Lindelof got comfortable with each other, with Jensen writing about "Lost" for Entertainment Weekly, it seems like a nice fit for the two of them. Brad Bird also has a perfect approach for this, as he's a fan of pop culture from earlier eras, and if you look at the way he evokes the '60s in "The Incredibles" without specifically setting the film in that time, he's got a great sense of what it is that sells period detail.
Ultimately, I don't really want to uncover everything about this movie early. I want to be surprised. But this is such a compelling rational case for what the film could be that I would not be shocked at all if it turns out to be at least close. What do you think of Hill's detective work? And more importantly, what do think of Kimball's amazing story?
"Tomorrowland" is set for release on December 19, 2014.