When: Thursday, 2 September - Thursday, 21 October
Where: Various cinemas
How much: $15
If anything is going to get us over our cultural cringe, it must be this serious, big-budget-ish adaptation of the Tomorrow series, a collection of YA novels that's as dear to generations of young Aussie hearts as almost any imported phenomena. And it's a whole lot bloodier than Twilight.
The adventures, penned by John Marsden, filled seven instalments between 1993 and 1999 and later a spin-off, The Ellie Chronicles. In case you missed it, Tomorrow, When the War Began follows Ellie Linton (Caitlin Stasey, far away from Neighbours) and her motley band of teenage friends, all residents of the fictional country town of Wirrawee, who venture out on a camping trip to a very remote location. There, they swim, flirt, billy-cook two-minute noodles and observe a fleet of small planes passing overhead in the dead of night.
Returning to a deserted, damaged town, they discover that the planes were part of an invading force that has chosen coastal Wirrawee as a strategic base from which to wage war on Australia. With their families imprisoned at the town showgrounds, scant access to information and their lives in peril, the group become guerrilla resistance fighters. If the premise asks you to suspend belief, it rewards you for your effort.
Although it's bookended by some stilted dialogue and inappropriately upbeat end credits, the film gets the important things right: explosions and emotional resonance. Tomorrow, When the War Began remains a universalising rather than a narrowing experience, which asks its audience to confront the violence of war and relate to young people living under occupation. Writer/director Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean, Australia) makes not-heavy-handed moves to make sure this comes across; Ellie's silent reflection over a mural of Australia's colonial settlement is one particularly poignant moment in a narrative where the invaders' nationalities are deliberately obscured (although, in a movie, they do have to have faces, and, yes, they're Asian).
It's amazing that this film balances the genres of rollicking buddy adventure and war drama while hurtling along at quickening speed and without needing to cling to nationalism or blokiness to find its course. And the explosions: well, they're great. Save your cynicism; this is one to get excited about.