Tomorrow, When The War Began (DVD)

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Tomorrow, When The War Began (DVD)

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN writer Stuart Beattie takes to the director’s chair for this Australian action spectacular that is thematically similar to Jo...

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Review of "Tomorrow, When The War Began (DVD)"

published 26/04/2011 | afy9mab
Member since : 11/07/2000
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Good
Pro Some good action sequences and a decent central conceit.
Cons A bland cast and generic writing.
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"The Sun'll Come Out..."

Seventeen year-old Ellie Linton takes a camping trip with her schoolmates, Corrie, Kevin, Fiona, Homer, Robyn and Lee. But when they return to their small town, they realise something is very wrong. Their families are missing and the local showground has been turned into a prison camp where the townsfolk are being held captive by an invading military force. When the soldiers become aware of the teenagers presence, Ellie and her friends decide it is time to fight back, using hit-and-run guerrilla tactics to try to halt the invaders’ progress.

Stuart Beattie steps up from just writing films, to directing with this adaptation of John Marsden’s series of novels “Tomorrow, When the War Began”. It is a reasonably successful foray behind the lens that shows the newcomer is adept at directing action and adding Hollywood gloss to a relatively low-budget production. There is some nice cinematography that shows off the sprawling vistas of the Australian bush and the high-grade film adds a professional sheen to the production. He gives the audience plenty of bang for their buck with some exciting chase scenes, big explosions and obligatory action movie overuse of slow-motion to make everything seem that bit more intense. There is some decent stunt driving and impressive pyrotechnics, slightly marred by choppy editing. But the director is rather unimaginative in terms of his shooting style, so some of the big set-pieces and emotional moments lack punch. Beattie is somewhat reliant on montages in the opening stages of the movie when introducing the characters. This means that we don’t get to know them on a deeper level, making it hard to see them as anything other than cinematic constructs. It doesn’t help that the director employs voiceover narration from Ellie, which sums up each player in just a few sentences. It makes them feel two-dimensional and suggests the director doesn’t have enough faith in his visuals to tell the story (the pitfalls of sidestepping from writing to direction, perhaps). The character arcs are also telegraphed from the beginning and the plotting is soapy throughout, so there are no surprises in terms of development. In addition, much of the young cast has been culled from Australian soaps, so the acting quality is variable, occasionally acting as a bar to believability. The pacing stutters as the movie shifts gear from action to teen issues and the hundred-and-three minute running-time feels somewhat generous.

Beattie’s screenplay is based on the books by John Marsden, which have a huge following in their native Australia. I haven’t read the source material, so I can’t comment on how they compare. However, I suspect they are written from a first-person perspective, if Ellie taking command of the story’s narration is anything to go by. It is one of many things that belies the literary origins of the production. These include her commentary on her unspoken feelings at various points, which robs the actors of the chance to express the sentiments non-verbally. There are also a lot of laboured conversations about relationships and the like that simply don’t ring true in the circumstances and some fairly big plot holes. For instance, there is no explanation of how the teenagers manage to survive in the wilderness or evade detection. In addition, the writer has a tendency to report most of the emotional events, instead of showing them. Meanwhile, moments of humour defuse the tension somewhat, but often feel a little contrived. This is also true of the sequel-baiting ending, which suggests the production would work better as a television series.

The characterisation is overly simplistic and limited by the sheer number of main characters. The result is that most of the players feel like stereotypes. Ellie is the most practical of all the teenagers, so she becomes their leader when war is declared. Homer is a small-time troublemaker, who uses his bad boy habits to act as tactician. Their guerrilla warfare also enables him to come into his own. Ellie’s best friend Corrie is clearly the one most likely to be a damsel in distress. Her boyfriend Kevin is a coward who has to man up. Fiona is the beautiful token rich kid who develops into a harder, more capable version of herself as events overtake her. Stoner Chris goes from casual observer to integral part of the group. Lee is a hard-working Asian boy whose main role is to act as a love interest for Ellie and Robyn is a deeply religious pacifist, who has to make the tough decision about whether it is acceptable to kill someone during a war. There are no prizes for guessing the outcome of that particular dilemma. The dialogue is frequently stilted and sounds as though it has been ripped directly from the pages of a book because it is rather too well rehearsed in places.

The young cast consists of a series of photogenic but bland soap opera actors hoping to make it big. Caitlin Stasey, who plays Ellie hasn’t quite got the charisma required to truly convince as an action heroine, but she looks good in a pair of shorts and knows how to hold a gun, so she’s passable. British actress Rachel Hurd-Wood essays a decent Australian accent as Corrie and exudes wholesomeness. But she is sidelined by the script and resorts to being a doe-eyed damsel in distress. Deniz Akdeniz plays Homer as an affable troublemaker and has a reasonable amount of screen presence. But he also has a tendency to play the end of the movie from the start, so you can spot his character trajectory from the beginning. Phoebe Tonkin is the token totty as rich girl Fiona, who leans heavily on the part’s lack of confidence to make her more likeable. Chris Pang barely gets beyond a stereotype as hard-working, smart Asian kid Lee, although it is more the fault of the writing than the actor. Ashleigh Cummings looks and seems a lot younger than the other teens as Robyn, coming across as conservative, sensible and uptight. Meanwhile Andy Ryan looks the part as stoner Chris and has the air of a pseudo-philosophical armchair raconteur about him. Lincoln Lewis is the least impressive of the performers as Kevin - a two-dimensional coward, who eventually has to man up.

The original music by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek features lots of tense strings and dark brass, accompanied by threatening percussion. It adds a sense of menace to the film that might otherwise be absent. The other soundtrack choices include tracks by Powderfinger, Temper Trap and Wolfmother, but the additional tracks feel like rather generic rock numbers that don’t add much, even though they generally fit the pace of the film.

“Tomorrow, When the War Began” feels like an action movie for beginners, thanks to its young cast. The direction is solid and at its best when showing action. The writing is perhaps too faithful to the source material, so it feels stilted at times. The performances were somewhat bland and didn’t capture the emotional impact of being caught up in a war scenario. I suspect it will have greater appeal for those of a similar age to the protagonists, who haven’t seen many war films, but older viewers may find themselves under-whelmed.

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Comments on this review

  • jonathanb published 24/06/2011
    Good review but not a film for me.
  • MizzMolko published 10/05/2011
    I think I'll also avoid this one but well reviewed : ) Eleanor x
  • eve6kicksass published 27/04/2011
    Think I shall pass, but another fine review there! Chris x
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Product Information : Tomorrow, When The War Began (DVD)

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN writer Stuart Beattie takes to the director’s chair for this Australian action spectacular that is thematically similar to John Milius’s camp Commie basher RED DAWN. In TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN a group of teenagers finds their jovial camping holiday come to a premature end when they discover their country is under from an unknown enemy. In an attempt to thwart what could be an imminent invasion the kids decide to fight back...

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