Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Welcome to Hell
Tomorrow When the War Began
Dir: Stuart Beattie
Tomorrow When the War Began is a film that really needs little introduction; a group of teens go camping to a secluded area called Hell, when they return they discover the country has been invaded and they must, of course, fight back.
First off, if I hear one more person say how this film is a great achievement for the Australian film industry I think I'm going to scream; it's like telling the special kids at school they're improving, just to make them feel better. Had this not been a book (and book series) so deeply ingrained in the Australian subconscious this film would receive worse reviews than it has been getting. We're all being very kind to the special kid in the Australian film class; Tomorrow When the War Began borders on the embarrassing.
I feel it necessary to admit that I haven't read the book series, which is odd considering I grew up at the right time to read them. I did a writing camp with John Marsden in High School and for reasons I won't disclose I never read any of his work after that. But I understand how beloved this book series is to people and the challenge of adapting it to film was always going to be just that, a challenge. I can't speak of this film as an adaptation, but the weekend box office takings speak volumes; making in the ball park of $4 million.
It's not a new angle to say this film is like Neighbours or Home & Away, but there's a reason it keeps being brought up, it's true. While I will admit that I was surprised and at times impressed by Caitlin Stasey's acting, and Deniz Akdeniz as Homer was also a highlight, on the whole the rest of the young cast did little to inspire my patriotism or even raise my heart rate at their plight. The film is less than subtle when getting across its message to the audience, adding to my irritation at the very mediocre delivery of an interesting sounding plot. Some commented on the understated scene of Ellie contemplating a wall mural of the British invasion, but as "Shamu" in my screening shouted out, much to the amusement of myself and fellow cinema goers, "Just like the British!" - the message was as subtle as a hole in your head. A further scene which rubbed me the wrong way was the "loss of innocence/ leaving childhood" scene involving Robyn, the mousey Christian, taking arms, walking past a swing as she steps forward. There were few surprises when it came to direction, and it seems the budget caused character development to take a back seat to explosions from 3 different angles.
Many have commented on the race of the invaders, there's a great discussion going on at Cinema Autopsy's site, and to be honest I thought it made perfect sense that if we were to be invaded it would be by someone in the Asia Pacific region. What didn't make sense to me was why a country, or group of countries in the region, would invade Australia for resources, thereby implying they are short on resources, and yet rock up with so much artillery, gun power and cool moon buggy style vehicles. Also taking into consideration that the story is set in rural Australia, one would have to assume that metropolitan Australia must also be under attack, so in essence that's a lot of resources being used for an invader that is after... resources, but luckily this rural hostage situation provides our protagonists with a reason to be heroes so we don't question this.
While it is great to see an Australian film primarily aimed at teenagers, and the idea that there could be a franchise is something unheard of in this country, I don't think this is a great film. The level of action is entertaining and there are some humorous moments, the "wink wink" line about the book always being better than the film couldn't be more true, though they only further added to my awareness that rather than being a film an audience could become immersed in, Beattie was making an adaptation that he knew fans of the book could be forgiving towards.
It's not all bad news though, watching this film did make me wish I'd grown up in the country, that way I would have learnt to drive a tractor at 16 and in turn this would enable me to easily adapt to driving a garbage truck and a petrol tanker... or so this film would lead me to believe. Fans of the book will enjoy this film, and people who have never read the books might like it too, I just felt the action and drama were uneven, leading me, as a viewer, to feel complacent about the outcome for the characters. Despite this I'm actually interested to see the second film now, as the cinematography switched into "hero" mode in the closing scenes and the animated closing credits felt distinctly different to the film I had just sat through. I just hope the second film tones down on the amount of Australian wuss rock it pumps out.
3 / 5
Tomorrow When the War Began is in wide release now.