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Tomorrow, When the War Began

2010 | 104 min | M | 2.39:1

Tomorrow, When the War Began


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Theatrical release date

 24 February, 2012
 08 April, 2011

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Tomorrow, When the War Began Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 22, 2012

The similarities between “Tomorrow, When the War Began” and 1984’s “Red Dawn” are numerous, perhaps litigiously so, yet the differences in execution are extreme. Adapted from the 1993 novel by John Marsden, the teen guerrilla concept has been comprehensively sugared up to appeal to today’s younger audiences, turning the stomach-churning prospect of WWIII into a daffy high school melodrama where the characters are more preoccupied with love interests than world-changing events. Junky, with an emphasis on theme park stunt show heroics, “Tomorrow, When the War Began” is undeniably entertaining, but also profoundly silly, making “Red Dawn” look like a documentary by comparison.

Facing their last year as high school students, a group of teens look to kick off the doldrums of daily life and spend some time in Hell, a lush getaway in the far reaches of Wirrawee, Australia. Gathering for a camping trip, resourceful country girl Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), lovesick pal Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her spineless boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), devout Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings), Greek lout Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), self-loathing beauty Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), and shy Lee (Chris Pang) take off into the wild, stirring up hormonal urges while bonding in the middle of paradise. Returning home, the gang discovers an Asian military force bent on capturing Australia has taken over their town, forcing the teens into hiding. Deciding it’s up to them to save their imprisoned families and free Wirrawee, the makeshift army of scared kids employs their familiarity with the land to mount a resistance effort, putting their lives in great danger.

John Milius’s “Red Dawn” has endured a lot of flak over the years for its teens-in-wartime concept and patriotic posture, but the combat shock and devolution of the characters from cheery kids to callous soldiers remains a potent arc to this day. “Tomorrow, When the War Began” doesn’t share that same patience or basic interest in ruthless developments, keeping to a blockbuster attitude of fearlessness, managed by writer/director Stuart Beattie. It’s a movie created for young audiences, eschewing an oppressive air of wartime gloom to stick with the shallow interests of these teen characters, who never seem to grasp the larger problem at hand, always returning to flirtations and petulant freak-outs while the world burns around them. It’s a “Twilight” take on “Red Dawn,” leading with romantic issues over militaristic ones, looking to appeal to the core demographic with a healthy display of adolescent exaggeration.

Not that anyone was expecting “Saving Private Ryan” with this type of material, but it’s disappointing to witness Beattie maintain distance from the conflict at hand, reluctant to introduce realism to a story that begs for some fright. Here are these juveniles facing the utter demise of their hometown, watching as the enemy shoots innocents and furiously patrols the area on the hunt for strays, and the script offers more screentime to acts of flirtation and stolen smooches, observing the gang pair up in what seems like a matter of days (the script doesn’t convey the passage of time very well). The character of Ellie is a major letdown, finding the one personality with awareness and actual blood on her hands also sucked into the tedious crush zone, as Lee makes a pass during the midsection of the movie, breaking the young woman’s concentration. The handholding asides defang the effort, defusing the tension while rendering the whole enterprise on the silly side, especially when there’s a continental attack that demands more attention than it ultimately receives.

When locked into action mode, Beattie provides a conventional assortment of shootouts and car chases, keeping the enemy enigmatic and the explosions numerous. “Tomorrow, When the War Began” locates a sense of danger when the teens confront their situation, venturing back into the town to survey the invasion or plan a critical attack on Wirrawee’s lone bridge, thus preventing reinforcements from arriving. The battle sequences are equal to the violence of a basic cable production, but the bold guerrilla attacks keep the premise alert, distracting the kids away from games of love to take charge of the situation.

The climax of the picture is ripe with cringing symbolism, also fitted for a non-ending, as Marsden’s narrative is spread out over seven books, pausing the action to wait for box office returns before a sequel is officially ordered up. It’s tacky but expected. Hopefully, now with the stakes raised, “Tomorrow, When the War Began” might be able to chew on meatier material, giving the teen strike force of Wirrawee something more to do than worry incessantly about their romantic status.

Starring: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis
Director: Stuart Beattie

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