Today: July 9, 2024

Tomorrow, When The War Began

By Jamie Steiner. Despite its inconsistencies, some atrocious dialogue and even more questionable acting, director Stuart Beattie has fashioned a hugely enjoyable, high octane action-drama

By Jamie Steiner

Despite its inconsistencies, some atrocious dialogue and
even more questionable acting, director Stuart Beattie has fashioned a hugely
enjoyable, high octane action-drama
out of Tomorrow: When The War Began,
adapted from John Marsden’s high successful franchise. However, the film is
richer than it first appears, exploring ideas of the other, Australian
colonisation and a refreshingly positive representation of youth’s capacity for
heroism.

When 17 year old Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) and seven other
friends are granted permission by their parents to trek to ‘Hell’ (actually
resembling a lush and serene nature reserve), a fun weekend break soon
fades into horror as they return to find their homes and families under attack
from a foreign military. With pets left to die and parents missing, it up to
Ellie and her ragtag gang to evade capture and somehow free their countrymen.

Initially, it stretches credulity that Ellie’s friends would
agree to go on a holiday together in the first place (would Greek rebel and
serial lawbreaker Homer (Deniz Akdeniz) risk losing face by being seen to
associate with devout Christian Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings) or
goody-two-shoes-cum-love interest Fi (Phoebe Tonkin)?), each character is too
concretely defined by a singular trait (Ellie is a farmer, Fi a spoilt city
girl, Lee a cog in his parents’ Chinese restaurant, Kevin a cowardly jock etc.)
but once the revelation of the invasion takes place, a dynamic emerges which
allows each performer to come into their own, reacting to the extreme situation
they find themselves in. The weakest link is arguably Lee (Chris Pang), a
rather wet individual prone to cringing philosophical insights and amateurishly
delivered speeches. Similarly forgettable is Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a
rather arbitrary figure in the grand scheme of events whose presence is purely
perfunctory.

Tonally, it borrows the Famous Five’s spirit for
adventure (“It’s an awesome feeling when you’re going to change someone’s life
forever” declares an excited Homer), bringing it up to date with a
contemporary cast and a modern setting; Enid Blyton’s creations certainly never
helmed a gigantic garbage truck in a high speed duel or engaged in a running
semi-automatic gun battle. It is a nice touch that, even though romances
inevitably bloom, female characters are by and large fairly strong and
independent, Fi initially being the exception. Caitlin Stasey is particularly
impressive as Ellie, a natural leader who is not immune from succumbing to
pressure. Like all good children’s stories, there is an absence of all
authority figures, forcing Ellie and her friends to assume responsibility and
find their inner strength, often surprised by their own bravery.

It is an intriguing premise to have a story set in modern
times where White people are seen to occupied by a ‘foreign’ force (seemingly
Chinese of origin), creating Whites as the ‘other’ in the process. Seen in this
light, it is an interesting commentary on occupied Palestinian and Iraqi land
with echoes of the Vietnam War, three of cinema’s most widely covered
conflict-zones. There is also a curious shot in the film of a poster depicting
a colonist in military garb, with his gun raised, approaching a tribe of
Aborigines. An obvious mirroring of Ellie and her friends’ situation, it
creates a powerful parallel between their ongoing predicament and that of the
experiences of Australia’s native population some two centuries ago, still an
uncomfortable topic Down Under.

“We’ll keep fighting until this war is finally won” says
Ellie, in a dramatic crane shot intended to set up the second instalment. Based
on the merits of the first, the makers have a challenge on their hands if they
are to follow it up with equal aplomb but, whatever the outcome, they’ve
certainly secured an audience for it.

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