If Disney's new science-fiction film, "Tomorrowland," has the feel of an action television series—replete with fight sequences, high concept technology and, naturally, robots—that may not be a coincidence. Of the trio that conceived the movie, one was a showrunner for the cult hit drama "Lost," and the other cut his teeth dissecting the show's notoriously complex minutiae.
Jeff Jensen, co-writer of "Tomorrowland," rose to prominence writing synopses of "Lost" episodes, and was eventually tapped by the show's creator, Damon Lindelof, to help bring "Tomorrowland" to life.
The big-budget movie, starring George Clooney and costing nearly $200 million to make, functions as both sci-fi whodunit and an optimistic call to arms. It exhorts its characters to reignite the imaginative spark that fueled the biggest technological advances of the last century.
Along the lines of some of the year's most talked-about films, "Tomorrowland" also makes heavy use of an increasingly popular trope: artificially intelligent (AI) machines—not all of which are malevolent figures hell-bent on destroying the human race. The movie lands in theaters at a time when thinking, feeling robots are becoming more commonplace, and playing central roles in movies like "Avengers 2," "Ex Machina" and "Chappie."
Proving that robots are the new black, all three films have earned more than $1 billion worldwide—with "Age of Ultron" pulling in the vast majority, according to data from Box Office Mojo.
In an interview with CNBC, Jensen says Hollywood's fascination with high tech is the latest chapter in society's uneasy coexistence with automation. People are fascinated with what the future holds, yet still can't decide whether the steady encroachment of technology on everyday life will ultimately prove helpful or harmful.
"Science fiction writers are electrified by what machines can do, and concerned about a society that relies heavily on machines are doing to us, and at what cost to our humanity," said Jensen, a former comic book writer and author.
Yet unlike the genocidal Ultron in "Avengers 2," the bots at the heart of the action in "Tomorrowland" are mostly benign. Jensen told CNBC the movie's creative team made a conscious decision to avoid a "bad robot" scenario, which he felt is really a window into human insecurities.
Rogue machines are "not a new concern, but at the same time it is a renewed concern as we move into a world where we are constantly on our phones and online," he said.
"At a time when things are so hard for us in our ordinary lives, we like the thought of things being easier," Jensen said, adding that despite the risks, technology "makes our lives a lot easier."