Disney Does Steampunk Rockets in 'Tomorrowland'

Steampunk-Style Space Capsule in 'Tomorrowland'
A steampunk-style space capsule created by Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Gustave Eiffel is one awesome feature of the new Disney movie, "Tomorrowland." (Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — What do Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Gustave Eiffel have in common? In the world of "Tomorrowland," out this week from Disney Studios, they colluded to invent the future.

The film features an altogether fantastic backstory for the world of tomorrow — a physical location that people in the present can travel to and from. And while this intriguing bit of the story that includes Verne, Edison, Tesla and Eiffel occupies a fairly small part of the film, it is arresting while on-screen. 

While on the run from grinning killer robots (that look like the Terminator being played by a leering Jim Carrey), the movie's heroes make their way to Paris by mid-film. Their destination is the Eiffel Tower — only it isn't the great Victorian masterpiece as you know it. ['Tomorrowland': Disney's Retro Future Sci-Fi Film in Pictures]

The film is directed by Brad Bird ("The Iron Giant," "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles," and "Mission – Impossible: Ghost Protocol") and produced by Damon Lindelof (of "Lost" fame). It stars Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and George Clooney.

In the film's mythos, a cabal of Verne, Edison, Tesla and Eiffel, while having different (and, in the case of Edison and Tesla, downright combative) personalities, have left a secret at Monsieur Eiffel's tower. There is a vast array of subterranean clockwork at the base of the structure, and when triggered, it goes through an amazing transformation.

A secret rocket launches from an unexpected place in the new Disney movie, "Tomorrowland." (Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

Eiffel's great monument is none other than a gigantic Victorian-era launch gantry, and enclosed within it is a steampunk-style, rivets-and-girder-work rocket. The rocket comes complete with an interior straight out of a high-class restaurant of the 1920s— all polished leather, dark wood and brass —  and soon blasts off into the great beyond. After a loop of the moon (shades of 1968!), it makes its way back to Earth and — ah, but for the rest of the tale, and the related tech, you'll have to visit a theater near you.

As mentioned, this steam-and-gears backstory occupies a minor role in the film. But if you want more, breathe easy. "Before Tomorrowland," a Disney hardcover book, acts as a companion/prequel to the film and is already available at a bookseller near you. There is a related Kindle title, but be aware that it is just a short graphic novel section of the longer print book. It is also only available on select devices (presumably, ones able to display color graphics).

Frank Walker (George Clooney) inside a lavish 1920's-style rocket capsule in the new Disney movie, "Tomorrowland." (Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

Personally, I found the idea of a cabal composed of Verne, Edison, Tesla and Eiffel just too compelling for the brief treatment the movie offers. And in case M. Verne et al aren't enough to fulfill your craving for name-brand, old-time heroes, the book adds Amelia Earhart (vanished aviatrix), Robert Peary (polar explorer) and a host of other early 20th century luminaries to the mix. The book is set generally around the 1939 World's Fair, a venue that inspires the film itself in myriad ways. Even pre-WWII Nazis get in on the literary action. The writers didn't miss a beat.

If you have gotten the impression that the universe of "Tomorrowland" is a big, rangy place, bingo. If the movie is a large idea, the book makes it vaster still, and the graphic novel adds still another dimension.

But above all else, make sure you are ready to cherish the conversion of Eiffel's tower into Jules Verne's launching pad. It's not on-screen very long, but it's luscious while it lasts.

"Tomorrowland" is in theaters now.

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Rod Pyle
Space.com Contributor

Rod Pyle is an author, journalist, television producer and editor in chief of Ad Astra magazine for the National Space Society. He has written 18 books on space history, exploration and development, including "Space 2.0," "First on the Moon" and "Innovation the NASA Way." He has written for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, WIRED, Popular Science, Space.com, Live Science, the World Economic Forum and the Library of Congress. Rod co-authored the "Apollo Leadership Experience" for NASA's Johnson Space Center and has produced, directed and written for The History Channel, Discovery Networks and Disney.