The remake of Red Dawn may or may not be coming out this fall, but Australians are already getting something better: the film adaptation of the classic invasion novel Tomorrow When The War Began. And the first review is out.
As we mentioned a while back, Tomorrow is the directorial debut of Stuart Beattie, who wrote Pirates of the Caribbean and G.I. Joe. It's about a group of vacationing teens who are on a camping trip in a remote location known as "Hell" despite its immense beauty, and then they see tons of military planes flying overhead. When they get back to their town, they discover the dogs are dead and their families have been rounded up and put in makeshift concentration camps by the invaders, who are some vague, unspecified Asian nationality. So the teens decide to grab some guns and fight back.
The first review of the movie (that I've seen, anyway) is up at Crikey, and it sounds like a pretty solid teen action film. Crikey's Luke Buckmaster says the pacing is pretty great, and there are plenty of character-development scenes without the film seeming to run out of steam. He adds:
Beattie goes a sterling job maintaining an upbeat rhythm without dumbing the material down into slabs of inconsequential action. There are countless pace pick me ups: gun fights, explosions, background flashes of wartime activity and encounters with strangers, including a cameo from Colin Friels as a frazzled dentist ("you picked a helluva weekend to go camping!") and some comedic relief from the town stoner ("either I've been smoking some really weird shit or it's not your typical day in Wirrawee").
The film looks great and the slick cinematography by Ben Nott (who also shot Daybreakers) is unexpectedly stylistic.
And the film is a bit racier than the books, but only a bit more — there's cleavage, violence and a few off-color jokes involving the stoner.
In one scene, Beattie winks at audience members who are wondering how the movie will stack up to the books, with an exchange between two female characters. One of them is reading My Brilliant Career, leading to this conversation:
"Better than the movie."
"Books usually are."
Talking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Beattie says, "I just wanted to acknowledge to the fans that I agree with [them]. I think books are great. Books are always better than the movies. I get you. I hope you enjoy the movie, though, anyway." And he says he deliberately spends a lot of time making the characters relatable, because otherwise you won't care about the action.
The choice to show the faces of the invaders, and make them Asian has understandably caused some controversy — although the film is careful not to give them a nationality, and in fact, one character says "What difference does a flag make?" at one point. The books' original author, John Marsden, told the Herald Sun that he'd avoided giving the invaders a "racial identity" on purpose, and the film's decision to change this was one of his few concerns.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Jennifer Conley, director of Asialink at the University of Melbourne, worries that the film will spread anti-Asian sentiment at a time when Australia's economy is ever more dependent on Asia:
When I complained about this to a journalist friend, he said, quite sensibly, that I should not get too anxious about the invader issue in the movie. The film is pure escapism and they needed a credible candidate for invasion. The alternative, he suggested ironically, was New Zealand.
Now that's a movie I'd like to see.