Tomorrow When The War Began is an adaptation of a book series written by John Marsden about a group of Australian teenagers who go camping on their school holidays and return to their hometown only to find it has been invaded by an occupying Asian military coalition.
The film was written and directed by Stuart Beattie, a Hollywood writer whose previous credits include The Pirates of the Carribean trilogy and 30 Days Of Night.
Although there is an ensemble cast, the story is narrated by a heroine named Ellie who delivers the film’s opening and closing monologues via a video camera recording. Ellie is a likable and friendly girl who shows natural leadership skills from the onset and an ability to relate to different personalities when she brings together the oddball crew for their holiday camping trip. There is her best friend Corrie, Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin who is a rugby league player, the spoilt princess Fiona, the God-fearing Robyn, the charming Greek bad boy Homer and the industrious hard working Lee whose parents run a Chinese restaurant. Together they form a complete microcosm of Australian culture!
I like what Beattie does with this cast. He introduces each character and initially plays them as readily identifiable stereotypes and then spends the rest of the film stripping away the audience’s preconceived notions of them. He is pretty successful in using this formula and over the course of the film, I came to care for each person in the group and their fate. Towards the end of the film when the stoner kid is running around a paddock with a shy Christian schoolgirl carrying an AK-47 as they both try and save the town together, the film had firmly entered into Joss Whedon territory and it was excellent.
Tomorrow When the War Began may be an Australian production but Beattie’s Hollywood experience serves him well here and the film has a very polished feel to it. The cinematography looks incredible and the gorgeous panoramic shots of the mountain region around Werribee are a highlight. The stunt work and pyrotechnics during the film’s many action scenes are also world class. I was pleasantly surprised at the intensity and creativity shown during the film’s action set pieces. There is a particularly entertaining sequence involving Ellie driving a garbage truck which slams into a dune buggy which is roped to a lamp post, sending it soaring through the air in a tetherball-like fashion.
So the characters are entertaining and the action sequences are suprisingly well done. What of the story itself?
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the film’s tone. A popular Nineties work of fiction about Australia getting invaded by a random Asian nation sounds on paper like it could be the by-product of an era when the country that was caught up in anti-Asian xenophobia. The series was written around the time Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party were at the height of their notoriety and the influx of Asian immigrants was a heated political issue.
Much like how Beattie sets the audience up with an expectation of the characters only to pull the rug out beneath them, the film’s tone is also not what you’d expect. Not long after the invasion, there is a point in the film when the heroine Ellie gazes upon a painting of the colonialists landing in Australia, with two Aboriginals looking on at their arrival. A none-too-subtle commentary providing some context to their own enforced subjugation.
Another interesting direction they take with the film is with Ellie’s love interest, which is Lee. This particular interracial partnership stands out in a year where mainstream cinema copped a lot of flack for its ‘white-washed’ adaptations of The Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender. Kudos to Beattie and the production team for sticking to the original material and not marginalizing or Anglicizing Lee in any way. It gave the film an added dimension, especially since the invading Asian nation is mostly kept at arm’s reach and never really humanized, save for one scene.
Tomorrow When the War Began doesn’t have a particularly complicated storyline and a lot of the plot developments are telepgraphed from pretty early on. However, the journey the characters take is still an enjoyable one to follow and by the end of the film I was certainly looking forward to the next instalment. The good news is that in December 2010, there was confirmation that a second chapter had been greenlit for the series and the plan now appears to be that they will adapt the remaining Tomorrow books into a trilogy of films.