Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tomorrow, When the War Began (a rambling review)

The film version of John Marsden's novel Tomorrow, When the War Began is finishing its run at local cinemas, so if you haven't seen it yet you should make the effort to watch it before it goes into the short period of limbo between cinema and DVD.

It has to be said, this movie rocks. It's enjoyable, pacy, well written, well acted, gripping and utterly believable (within the context of the plot). It's thoughtful and intelligent without being artsy. The characters are fun and appealing without being "quirky". The story is dark and grim without being depressing. And, as if that wasn't enough, it's an action movie that would appeal equally to teenagers and adults, men and women.

In short, I'm still having some difficulty believing this is an Australian film (feel free to shout me down in the comments).

TWTWB is not only an Australian film, it's an Australian film based on an Australian novel - and it still isn't artsy and depressing! The book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, was a phenomenon in Australian Young Adult Literature circles back in the 1990s, being one of the most popular books of the decade amongst teenagers and young adults. It took its readers seriously, and treated both its teenage characters and teenage audience like intelligent, capable people. The movie is pretty darn faithful to the book and does exactly the same thing - treating its characters and audience like intelligent, capable people.

Compare this with, say, Blurred. Blurred was originally a play which was also something of a phenomenon in its day - although while TWTWB was a phenomenon because kids like the books and wanted to read them, Blurred was "popular" by virtue of being used as a text in English and Drama classes across the country. Part of a subgenre of Australian Drama known as "Australian Theatre For Young People", the play was kind of artsy and depressing, but at the same time it had a bit of verve and a sense of humour. It treated its teenaged characters and audience like intelligent people. Lost, bewildered and eager to get stoned or drunk, but intelligent none-the-less. The characters were capable of thinking deep thoughts.

The movie took everything that made the play interesting and intelligent and replaced it with the least interesting clich├ęs and tropes you can think of for a typical teen comedy - you know, the kind that assumes teenagers don't actually think at all and are only interested in sex and fart jokes. The play wasn't my favourite play in the world (that would be a toss-up between The Importance of Being Earnest and Is That A Muffled Shriek? - although I'm also quite fond of The Matilda Women), but I liked it enough to be really disappointed with the movie. And, of course, now I know that Australian film makers actually are capable of making good movies that respect the source material and the audience. Now I know that we could have, if we wanted to, made a film version of Blurred that wasn't so depressingly awful. I never liked it. Now I just hate it.

By the way, you may have noticed the links scattered throughout this post take you to items we have in our catalogue. We actually hold copies of everything I've mentioned (including the entire Tomorrow... series by John Marsden) with the exception of the DVD for Blurred. Sadly, I think we're probably going to get that, too.

Now, I can pretty much guarantee that the JCU Library will be acquiring the DVD for Tomorrow, When the War Began in due course, which will mean that staff, students and community members will be able to borrow it from us and watch it for free, but I would like to encourage you to see it on the big screen - partly because the movie is good and worth watching, and partly because the box office takings may encourage Australian film makers to make more films like this (yes, just like libraries, film makers rely on statistics to prove people are using their services).

1 comment:

Yvonne said...

I really enjoyed this movie, more than I thought I would considering the book was so good, but Stuart Beattie did a great job of bringing the story to the screen. The book the movie was based on was not only written by an Aussie; the movie was produced in Australia, it had mostly Aussie actors in it, and the screenplay was also written by an Aussie. How's that for authentic Aussie-made. I have to agree with you about how well it was produced, it really does sit up there with other overseas made productions. We can be proud to have produced such a good movie that should do just as well overseas as it has at our box office - I think it's up to $9 million now taken at the box office, our most successful film this year