London Australian Film Festival 2011: ‘Tomorrow, When the War Began’

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Just why Stuart Beatties’ award winning adaptation of John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993) was selected for the closing night of this year’s London Australian Film Festival beggars belief. What is utterly perplexing is the rapturous response that it received from a packed Barbican theatre.

The film did display some immense CGI that mostly involved the films Australian backdrop and numerously over indulgent scenes of things blowing up, and at times it did offer a handful of funny moments, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that if this had been produced by Hollywood, it would have surely been considered a flop – at least on an artistic level.

Its stylised and poorly delivered script, coupled with a series of weak performances and pitiful attempts at conveying pivotal plot moments cancels out the hard and impressive work that was done by the films special effects team. So what could possibly have given this film such appeal, and what on earth helped it to achieve award winning status?

It certainly isn’t the way in which it hustles scene-to-scene without addressing any key parts of its story properly – like who is it that we are meant to believe is invading Australia – perhaps it doesn’t say in the book either but some details would make for a much more interesting watch. Also, why it is that only one group of teenagers are able to stand up against the aggressors who have decided to impose themselves down under?

For an audience to suspend their disbelief and accept such a far-fetched story in today’s world of modern warfare, some basic tackling of story and plot needs to be addressed – Beatties’ film fails to do that at all.

The only explanation left is that John Marsden’s original novels have a strong and devoted fan-base that bring with them extra filmic knowledge about the characters and their backgrounds, and details about the events that unfold, suggesting that this is a read first, watch later type of film, which in turn would help to explain the sporadic fits of laughter that broke out during the movie.

Regardless of its flaws, when compared to the huge action movies produced stateside, the budget of TWTWB (2010), with its occasionally impressive effects and stunning visuals, was meagre and would be considered just mere pocket change to the fat cats of Hollywood.

In addition, the film offers a stand-out performance from Neighbours’ actress Caitlin Stasey, who manages to deliver, regardless of a shockingly weak script, moments of brilliance. Her performance suggests that there is something underlying; a brooding array of emotions that are waiting to come to the surface that only materialise themselves in one powerful scene, but the suggestion that they are there throughout is well delivered in itself.

However, aside from Stasey’s great performance and the moments of explosive CGI, Tomorrow, When the War Began fails to achieve its full potential. Perhaps the finger can be pointed at the script, or maybe at the film’s supporting cast, but ultimately it doesn’t achieve what it appears to be setting out to accomplish, and that is replicating the same level of success as other big box office disaster/invasion movies, like War of the Worlds (2005) or The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

When all is said and done though, all that is really left is a pretty cast who never fail to look good, and some great effects that may make you bounce a little in your seat, but if that doesn’t interest you, pick up the book, and then get hold of the next six instalments to save yourself from having to endure the film’s two planned sequels.

Russell Cook

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