3 Stars

Tomorrow, When the War Began Movie Review


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The Aussie film industry has been in a major slump for some time now. Even the wonderful Greg McLean’s follow up to Wolf Creek, entitled Rogue, sank at the box office like a led balloon (and it’s a good movie!). Again, using some foreign investors, successful screenwriter (Collateral being one of his efforts) and maiden director Stuart Beattie is attempting to deliver the Australian version of a decidedly Hollywood popcorn flick...

Based on the highly successful Tomorrow Series of novels by John Marsden, When the War Began follows protagonist Ellie (Caitlin Stasey)—a bright and pretty rural Australian teen—and her friends as they go camping for a weekend. Upon their return, they discover Australia has been invaded by an unspecified foreign military power, and, just like 80s’ flick Red Dawn, they slowly become guerrilla fighters in their attempts to survive and eventually resist the occupation of their home.

Beattie is one of the most respected writers in the industry today, and John Marsden’s success with the novels is something of legend nowadays, so it comes as a bit of shock that this film’s dialogue and writing is very much on the clunky side. This is a very straight forward story (and let me say here and now a very enjoyable one) but the over-simplification of themes and metaphors grate on the ears throughout the film’s entire run. To be fair, it’s more a failure of characterization than all the writing, but the effect is off-putting. I have not yet read the novels, but have been told by someone in the know that Beattie is very faithful to the dialogue... he should not have been, if this is what it sounds like out loud.

The actors are all fresh faces, for the most part, on the big screen, and their handling of the clunky script is admirable but ultimately a pale comparison to the explosions and action that unfurl around them. There are signs, however—should this flick do enough green to continue the series—that they might grow into their characters and up the acting ante in latter instalments. You don’t get to bond with most of the teens, and they appear rather stereotypical for the most part; one-note wonders playing their specified notes at the predictable and requisite time.

The cinematography and action are of a world standard and do the story justice. The editing, specifically transitions and following the tempo of the actors’ cadences, is terrible. A smoother hand was needed and this film would have presented much better, even with the clunky dialogue.

All in all, if one is to remain impartial, this flick is more miss than hit in its execution, but dammit I am an Aussie, and it was fantastic to see an Aussie movie trying to break free of the ‘Indie’ staple to which it’s usually relegated. All involved provide enough worthy entertainment to warrant another visit, and I’m sure they’ll polish up even better next time. There is a reason this story (in books, so far) has reached millions of people, and it would be fantastic to see it do the same on the big screen.

For sheer popcorn fun, well executed action, and some breathtaking Aussie vistas, this film is worth a look. At the very least, it has encouraged this reviewer to check out its source material. An imperfect—but nonetheless encouraging—beginning to a potential new film series. Here’s hoping it breaks the financial woes of yore and endures to accomplish this.