Tomorrow, When the War Began – The Movie

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
  • iPhones
  • Broadband
  • At least one laptop per household
  • The Lord of the Rings movie
  • Beyonce
  • 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.


  1. says

    I absolutely loved this book series when I was in middle and high school, and was so excited to see it was being made into a film. I haven’t heard anything about a US release however, so I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to see this.

    • Scarlett says

      Angela, I looked it up, and the budget was extremely high, $27m, which doesn’t get greenlit for movies only intended for Australian audiences. So Icoupled with its popularity in Australia, I would say it will get an international release at some point

    • says

      Wow, I really liked this book when I read it as a kid. I didn’t know they made a movie of it! I will have to check it out when I get a chance.

  2. scarlett says

    Well it’s done very well money-wise – the best grossing Aus film for the year and I believe up there with Aus movie grosses for the year – and gotten largely good reviews so fingers crossed it gets an international release. There’s talk of doing the next two into movies.

    Oddly enough, I had a dream last night where I was watching said next movie, except tyhey’d combined the second and third books, something my sisters and I thought was a good idea. It’s a shame TPTB didn’t think to make all seven movieos ‘together’, Harry Potter style. I can see a lot of time being wasted while they negotiate and meanwhile teh actors get too old to reprise the roles.

  3. says

    I really enjoyed the movie, and didn’t think it would live up to the book but it did. I with it had run longer so the characters could have developed on screen a bit more, plus the relationships of Ellie and Lee and Fi and Homer. Was much more action packed and I would have preferred it stuck to the book for the ending where they blow up the tanker. but that’s just being picky. It was a really good film adaption that stuck pretty much to the book. Can’t wait for the next 2 to be made and I think overseas audiences will love the movie

    • scarlett says

      Actually I liked that they didn’t focus too much on the relationships. One thing I didn’t like about the book was that six of them were in relationships and Ellie saying she wished Robyn and Chris would foorm a relationship, as unlikely as that was, so they could be a perfectly group.

      Something i did like was how Homer was all ‘she’s so pretty, she’d never look twice at me’ and meanwhile, it turns out that Fi hasn’t been asked out once because all the boys are so intimidated by her. It was a nice change from the pretty girl who a string of boyfriends under her belt.

  4. says

    Yeah, I agree with you about the irony of Fi never having been asked out because of boys being intimidated by her, and Homer thinking she’d never give him a go. It happens in real life too. I have a friend who is very attractive and she’s never been asked out by a boy, and she genuinely doesn’t think she’s attractive, which she is. I wouldn’t want Robyn and Chris forming a relationship either…they are such opposites…though they do say opposites attract

    • Scarlett says

      Yeqah, Robyn and Chris would only go out if she adopted him as her pet-progect to save. And Robyn, while firm in her beliefs, seems too ‘live and let live’ for that.

  5. Sally says

    Gabriella’s comment about ‘Yellow Peril’ brings up an interesting flaw for me.

    In the books the Invaders’ insignia for officers of a certain rank features a Crown. This implies that their country either was colonized from the UK or had a royal house of its own — in the film. all their uniforms bear a Red Star.

    So instead of a ‘Yellow Peril’ we have a ‘Red Peril,’ another nightmare for conservative Australians.

  6. Gabriella says


    IT WAS INDONESIA, I TELLS YA! That’s the opinion I’ve held for fifteen years and nothing will dissaude me of it.

    Mind you, the North Koean flag has a red star and Kim Jong II doesn’t seem big on respecting sovreignity.

    I’m in the middle of reading The Ellie Chronicals. I can’t help but wonder if Marsden is drawing paralells to Israel/Palestine or even England/Ireland in the sense that you can’t really help yourself to another country’s land/resources without a lot of aggro on both sides pretty much forever more.

  7. Hannah says

    I have to say that I don’t agree with you when you say Ellie was “torn” between Homer and Lee. Admittedly I haven’t read the books for years – so I could very well have forgotten parts, or more subtle things (I’m going to have to go borrow it from the library and re-read it now) – but I don’t recall her ever really seeing Homer as anything beyond a friend and brother.
    I vaguely remember at one point she was somewhat jealous, but attributed that more to Homer’s attention being diverted away from her to Fi. I was also very young when I read it, so perhaps lost some connotations and deeper meanings.

    Anyway, I too loved the scene with Robyn where she kills the soldiers firing at Ellie and Fi. It was brilliantly shot, edited, acted, composed… everything. I was watching the movie with my brother, and he (who had never read the books) was certain she was going to die. We have a bad habit of saying out loud what we think is going to happen, and as soon as that scene began he just looked at me and went “She’s going to die, right?”. I can see exactly how one would come to that conclusion, with all the techniques that were used, but I think it was almost much more… significant… than any of the other deaths we saw. We see Robyn, to whom violence is against all that she believes in and feels, prepared to go against all that in order to save her friends. It really showed her devotion to her friends, but also, as you said, that all of us are capable of killing and the moral and personal challenges and sacrifices war results in.

    Also, I loved that Marsden never identified who it was that had invaded Australia. I was hoping that in the movie they too would be able to avoid it in a similar manner – and was disappointed that it was obviously an Asian country in the movie – however expected as much. It’s a lot harder to conceal the appearance and nationality of people in movies than books..

    ..and I think Andy Ryan did a great job as Chris, hopefully he’ll be more prominent in the next movie. I actually preferred the character/Chris’s characterisation in the movie compared to the novels.

    At times I couldn’t help but wince/want to look away. Like when Ellie and Lee were discussing Hell, and he was talking about how people put labels on things etc. It wasn’t so much the scripting, or subject, but more the acting and way in which it was said.
    Perhaps that’s a very good thing, as it was during the time when Ellie and Lee were extremely awkward around one another, and was acted well so I too felt awkward/mildly annoyed and uncomfortable. Like when you’re watching something that’s either embarrassing for someone or so awkward you can’t help but want to look away or be anywhere else. I’m not sure, but I didn’t particularly like the feeling/that scene. I am easily irritated and bored by cliched, sappy and angsty scenes and conversations is movies though.

    And this comment has been exceptionally long and disjointed. Yay, procrastination!.. my old friend.

  8. Gabriella says


    Well, as a matter of practicality, I don’t think they could have avoided racial casting for the enemy. What would they have done, have all the enemy hooded for the entirity? While well intentioned, I think it would have looked really stupid, An all-white enemy? Actually would have been cool as a bit of ironic subversion but somewhat implausible. So it was one of those things for me that was a case of ‘pity they have to identify the invaders as Asian, but I don’t see what else they could have done.’

  9. Sally says

    “A white enemy”? 😀

    One fan suggested that the Invaders were French — he’d been upset at them since the Rainbow Warrior incident (

    Me? I bet they’re Americans! What happens is this — Australia gets a rush of blood to the head, tries to assert its independence and asks the US to remove its military/spy bases from Oz soil. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!!! The US ruling class goes ballistic, winds up its military and points it in the direction of the newest threat to “Our [US’] Freedom.”

    And what the US military does to central Sydney makes Fallujah look like a McDonalds’ children’s playground!

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