It’s a weird thing.
The other night was supposed to be just a typical movie night. Dinner, couple of drinks, then kick back, watch some trailers and enjoy a bit of cinematic escapism. Mull it over briefly afterwards, say your goodbyes, drive home and forget all about it.
Not with this one.
As soon as the film concluded with its ill-fitting, James Bond-style credits sequence, I immediately became aware of feeling strangely melancholic. By the time I got home, it was apparent the events and dialogue of the movie weren’t the reason for this… rather, it was the sheer fact that 15 years since reading the book for the first time, I’d finally seen the movie adaptation of Tomorrow, When The War Began. I guess it’s like when you hear about or see a picture of someone you once loved – even though they might be buried deep in the past and long forgotten, hearing their name or seeing their face can nevertheless stir something hidden away and, at least for a time, bring old emotions and memories back to the surface. That’s exactly what Tomorrow, When The War Began did.
To put my objective reviewing hat on for a moment, the movie itself wasn’t brilliant. In trying to establish their very different and distinct personalities, the opening scenes resorted to almost cartoon-like exaggeration when introducing the seven teenagers. For starters, Homer wearing a “Fuck the police” T-shirt was the crudest, most uninspired attempt at signifying a bad boy that I’ve ever seen. More damningly, casting that Home and Away guy as Kevin was a serious mistake, since even though I don’t watch Home and Away I just kept seeing… yep, the Home and Away guy. I didn’t see Kevin at all, and I’d bet a lot of Australian viewers – TWTWB’s target audience – had the same problem with such an identifiable star, who looked and behaved exactly the same in his TWTWB incarnation as he does in his H&A one. Overall though, the worst characterization of the lot goes to the late eighth entry, Chris. The movie’s Chris was, in my mind, utterly at odds with his book persona. In the book, from memory, he was a skinny, nerdy, mysterious genius, reserved and serious in demeanour, with a penchant for spending time alone and writing dark and beautiful poetry. A far cry, I would’ve thought, from the unabashedly retarded, socially comfortable and down-to-earth stoner of the movie, who gave me the recurring impression that a sidekick from some Adam Sandler comedy was just taking five on another set.
To be fair though, Ellie was pretty much spot on and most of the others weren’t far off the mark. Lee was great too, now that I think about it – a just-right blend of Buddhist calm and dark horse intensity; an archetypal piano prodigy with a hard, Viet Cong-type edge that you could see coming through as soon as things get ominous. But all this is digressing off the point, which isn’t a review of the movie but what it did for me.
Even though it fell far short of the book, the movie was still a faithful adaptation and basically brought it all back. Essentially, it made me remember how much I loved those books and in particular that first installment, When It All Began. Reading TWTWB was, all in all, probably the most powerful reading experience I’ve ever had, and throughout my teenage years I revisited the series several times, often re-reading the entire backlog whenever a new one came out and loving it every time. Hell, weird as it may sound, I even fantasized about being in Ellie & Co’s scenario… there’s undeniably a certain romance in finding yourself part of a teenage partisan gang, hiding out in the bush, fighting for freedom & country, and all the while discovering love, camaraderie, an inner strength you never knew you had and a profoundly changed, raw and mature worldview. Reading the series absorbed me into a much deeper, more rugged and more meaningful world, and now that I think about it, it even made me love Australia, the way it captured the regional Australian way of life, the Australian bush etc, at a time when I felt little in common with Australian teenagers… a little like Chris, I guess. Book Chris.
Anyway. As far as the movie goes, it could’ve been better but I’d still recommend seeing it – although it lacks the soul of John Marsden’s writing, and the acting occasionally regresses to a wooden, school play-esque reciting of lines, it’ll nevertheless bring back everything that you loved about it… and like me, you’ll remember how much something like a book can mean to you, and what a beautiful thing that can be.