I was pleased that the film adaptation of John Marsden’s YA novel Tomorrow, When the War Began was quite faithful to the book.
What I liked.
The visuals of film actually do more justice to Ellie If-It-Has-Wheels-I-Can-Drive-It Linton than the book. (Vehicles driven: tractor, 4WD, motorbike, garbage truck and fuel tanker.) Likewise, when Ellie and Fiona blow up the bridge at the end of the movie, it’s much easier to understand. (Park fuel tanker under bridge. Soak long, thick rope in fuel. Trail rope from fuel tank, down the back of the truck and along the ground to create a rudimentary fuse and voila, industrial-sized Molotov cocktail.) In fact, generally the action works better in the film that the book.
Corrie has a larger role in the movie that the book, which means her long, close friendship with Ellie has more emphasis. Actually, something I found interesting was that a male character, Chris, who enters halfway through the movie, had less to do in the movie that the book. Chris dies in the second book, which makes me think Tomorrow’s Powers That Be decided Chris and not Corrie was the bigger throwaway character.
The egalitarian friendship of the eight is maintained, and I felt there was less focus put on the couples, or at least the four that become couples after it begins. Ellie/Lee and Fi/Homer both have their awkward, getting-to-know-you moments but nothing that dominated the film. There’s also a bit which I don’t recall being in the book where Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin abandons Corrie and Ellie to save his own hide, and Corrie never wholly forgives him – even after she’s been shot and he takes her to hospital, there’s no tear-jerking reconciliation between the two. (I was fully prepared to project popcorn at the screen if she said something along the lines of ‘I will love you until I die’.) If the series continues to get made into movies and continues being faithful to the source, this is the last we see of Corrie, and it was refreshing that we weren’t subjected to dying words of forgiveness.
They also maintained the ethnicity of two characters – Lee is Asian and Homer Greek. And all eight characters have distinct characters and accents, contrary to an issue I have with Australian film and television (admittedly, less so film) is that, no matter where it’s set and where the characters are from, they all speak with what I refer to as a middle-class Sydney accent. But all eight characters had a distinct way of speaking, to a point it felt a little unusual for a small country town. Lee, Homer and Fi – who was brought up very privileged and speaks Queen’s English – I would have expected but in the others I found it an unusual, if pleasant, occurrence.
In the book, Ellie in torn between her attraction to two of the boys, Lee and Homer, before ending up with Lee. The movie condenses this so she never thinks of Homer as more than a mate, to a point in a conversation with Fi where she is concerned that she might be stepping on Ellie’s turf with her interest in Homer, Ellie is flabbergasted and it’s clear the thought never entered her head. I like that version better, and I liked that Ellie and Homer could be pally and muck around without it so much as being hinted at becoming something else.
They also capture perfectly the moment when super-Christian Robyn found it within herself to kill: Ellie and Fi are trapped behind a fence, their plan gone awry, a dozen enemy soldiers shooting at them. They’re sitting ducks while Robyn’s partner in the plan, Chris, just backs against the wall looking scared. Robyn yanks the gun out of his hand and lets loose hell on the soldiers attacking her mates. I believe we are all capable of violence and killing in the right circumstances, and that scene captures Robyn’s circumstances perfectly.
What I Didn’t
An omission from the book that really jumped at me was when the eight are back at camp, talking about the enemy and the unfair distribution of wealth. You have Australia, a large country with a small population that lives in relative luxury, not to mention the massive amount of natural resources at its command. To the north, you have neighbours like Indonesia and India, smaller, far more densely populated with far less resources and therefor a far poorer quality of life. While none of the characters think that gives them the right to just grab another country, most of them at least grasp the unfairness of such distribution of wealth and why other countries might be envious and resentful. This exchange doesn’t appear in the movie, and I felt the loss of awareness of privilege was a detriment to the film.
Marsden intentionally didn’t mention the nation that invades Australia by name, although there was a general consensus that it was an Asian one. (My money was on Indonesia.) In the movie, the invaders are Asian, but don’t appear to be of any particular ethnicity; I don’t know anything about Asian ethnicities, but there appeared to be several represented in the invading forces. I don’t know if it was sloppy casting – ‘calling all Asians! We don’t care if it covers twenty countries, people will never know!’ – or a deliberate attempt not to pin the blame on one nationality and perpetuate the ugly ‘yellow peril’ stereotype that’s been around since at least the Second World War, but I found it irritating. Also, the soldiers came across as a lot more vicious in the movie, with a couple of scenes that undermine the book’s claim to civilised behaviour (blowing up an RAAF plane, shooting a PoW point-blank for complaining). Coupled with the omission of a discussion our heroes have about the uneven distribution of wealth and land in the Asia-Pacific region, the movie felt more geared towards an ‘evil Asians, stealing our stuff’ mentality than the more open-minded one of the book.
Also, in order to condense the book, Ellie and Fi’s discussion about relationships takes place in the fuel tanker while waiting for the others to complete their part of the plan. Fi turns off the walkie-talkie so they can talk without being overheard so of course when the enemy soldiers, who Robyn can see, are sneaking up on them, Robyn can’t warn them and they only know when said soldiers bang on the door. Kudos to Fi for reacting immediately and poking him in the face, but girls, seriously? In the middle of a hit-and-run attack, vastly outnumbered by soldiers, and you turn off your only means of communication? To talk about boys? Seriously?
1993 vs 2010
The book was published in 1993 as a contemporary novel; the movie was released in 2010 as a contemporary film. While I’ll give them leeway for both being contemporary pieces, I got a chuckle out of the cultural and technological references in the movie to things that either didn’t exist or weren’t in common usage in 1993:
- Mp3 players
- Camera phones
- At least one laptop per household
- The Lord of the Rings movie
- Ellie’s paper-and-pen journal has turned into a video journal. Powered by what batteries?
But negatives caused by a condensed storyline – and possibly lazy casting – and the odd references to things that didn’t exist when the book was published aside, I felt Tomorrow, When the War Began was a strong, faithful adaption of the book, maintaining the strong, varied characters and their distinct personalities, at some points even improving on the original material. It’s part of a seven-part series of books and, based on the adaptation of Tomorrow, I would definitely see any sequels.