Sunday, 22 August 2010


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

It would perhaps be unfair, although entirely apt, to dub the big screen adaptation Tomorrow When The War Began, from the bestselling series of books by Australian author John Marsden, Neighbours Goes To War, or Tour of Duty: Summer Bay. The casting of two pretty young things from either Aussie drama certainly does little to dissuade the notion. But while the acting ranges from TV soap to solid, the overall result is impressive nonetheless.

Debuting director Stuart Beattie, best known as a screenwriter of such films as Australia and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, has certainly been given a huge budget (by Oz standards) to bring the popular book to the big screen; impressive action sequences and cinematography obviously taking up the bulk of Paramount's investment.

The premise of TWTWB is not entirely new: teenagers taking on an invading enemy. The 1984 film Red Dawn (which has been remade and releases late 2010) saw US high schoolers defeat a force of marauding Russians. Here, a group of teenagers from country town Australia head off into the bush for a carefree camping weekend before returning to school for their final year, only to come home and discover their town, and indeed the nation, has been overtaken by an undisclosed Asian invasion force. What to do? Why, fight back of course.

There has been some suggestion that by making the invaders Asian (and generic at that) that the filmmakers are somehow feeding into Australia's xenophobia and racism. But logically, if anyone was to invade Australia it is more likely to be our Asian neighbours rather than those across the Tasman. Perhaps singling out one particular nation (Indonesia, anyone?) was considered too political.

The remake of Red Dawn positions China as the invading force – Cold War foes the Russians are no longer deemed a threat, and a Middle Eastern enemy perhaps a far too sensitive choice – and so far I've not heard any debate about American anti-Sino sentiment.

More troubling, I'd suggest, is the whole 'kids with guns' and a patriotic call to arms of Australia's youth, timely given recent suggestions that Australia should introduce compulsory military training for all 18 year olds, similar to that in other countries.

I'm not sure if Beattie was intending to be political with his first feature (and never having read Marsden's books, I can't say what tone the source material adopts) although one instance is both cheeky and telling: a character catches sight of a town mural depicting a meeting between early Europeans and the indigenous locals, reminding us it's not the first time Australia has been invaded. That the invasion takes place as the town celebrates Australia Day is also rather pointed, as if to suggest you reap what you sew, or to put it more bluntly, karma's a bitch!

But forget all of this political discourse. Tomorrow When The War Began is best enjoyed as both action film and teen drama. Fans of the books can decide just how faithfully Beattie has adapted Marsden's vision but here's hoping Aussie audiences take to it in greater numbers than said forthcoming Red Dawn. Wait a minute, is that my opinion or a result of subconscious patriotic brainwashing?

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