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Book vs. Movie: Tomorrow, When the War Began

November 11, 2012

Tomorrow When the War Began - MovieIntroducing a new blog feature: Book vs. Movie! I’ve been thinking about starting this for a while, and when I saw that the Tomorrow, When the War Began movie was available on Netflix, I knew it was time.

The Source Material
You can find my review of the book here. The Tomorrow series has become a favorite of mine. I’ve been dragging it out for as long as I can, savoring each installment and leaving plenty of time in between because I don’t want it to end. I’ve read five of the seven books so far and loved every one. The basic premise is that a group of Australian teenagers goes on a camping trip and returns home to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign army, and they decide to fight back. Let’s take a look at how the movie version measures up.

Plot
This was impressively accurate. The movie sticks pretty close to the book, without leaving out anything major or making any weird additions. It does leave out a couple of subplots and details, like the story about the hermit who used to live in their refuge in the bush (which makes sense), and Ellie’s confused feelings for Homer (which is A-OK by me, as that was my least favorite part of the book). There’s also a bit of a change to the climax of the story. Without giving too much away, the final mission, if you will, only involves half of the group in the book, while in the movie, all eight are included. It worked in the book the way it was, but I think including everyone made more sense for the movie adaptation, so I’m okay with it.

Tone
The tone was generally well-done. Most of the back-story and introspective stuff is missing, but I think that’s appropriate. The balance of action, drama, and introspection was perfect in the book, but I think too much of Ellie’s thoughts and memories would have bogged down the movie, and they did a pretty good job of conveying the psychological and emotional aspects without spending too much time on them. The seriousness of the situation came through for the most part. There are explosions and car chases and so on, but the violence is never treated as glibly as in a typical action movie. There’s always an underlying sense of fear and horror.

That said, some of the more disturbing effects of the war are only touched on lightly. In the book, for example, when the teens first return to Ellie’s house and then to Homer’s, they find a lot of dogs and other animals on their farms dead because they haven’t been fed in days. In the movie, however, there’s only one dead animal, which lessens the horror of the situation a bit.

The movie starts and ends with Ellie in front of a camera, telling the story, which is supposed to mirror the conceit in the book that Ellie is writing it all down. I understand the reasoning, but I don’t think the video idea works as well. It opens up all kinds of questions, like where did they get the camera? Why is Ellie the only one telling the story? And it’s not like the rest of the movie is in home video style, so it just doesn’t really work for me. They could just as easily have shown Ellie writing the story down and used a voice-over.

Characters
In general, I think the casting choices were all good and each of the actors did a great job. They didn’t all match the images I had in my head, but looking back at the book, there isn’t much in the way of physical description, so I can’t really complain about that.

  • Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) looked just like I pictured her, and Stasey really captured her pragmatism and willingness to do what needs to be done despite her fear and doubts.
  • Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is hard to judge, honestly. She’s the character I have the weakest hold on and she doesn’t actually do a heck of a lot in either the book or the movie. She’s actually a bit stronger in the movie, I think, mainly because [mild spoiler:] they cut the part where she falls apart after her house is destroyed.
  • Kevin (Lincoln Lewis) was excellently cast as well. His cowardice is played up a bit in the movie, which adds some drama between him and Corrie and also, I think, counterbalances the absence of Ellie’s dislike of him, which is pretty well-established in the book.
  • Homer (Deniz Akdeniz) changes drastically throughout the course of the story, and I think the contrast between his troublemaker pre-war self and the soldier he becomes was well done. My only issue here is that his farming background is almost entirely left out.
  • Lee (Chris Pang) was great. I had forgotten how intense he is right off the bat and how quickly he guesses what’s happened when they first return from the bush. In the snake-in-the-sleeping-bag scene early on, the movie has Lee killing the snake, whereas in the book, it slithers away peacefully. This is an interesting change and kind of foreshadows how much more intense Lee eventually becomes.
  • Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) was fairly perfect. I had pictured her as even more delicate and waif-ish, but my mental images of characters tend to be exaggerated. Her portrayal as sheltered and clueless about the outdoors was accurate, and while she didn’t seem quite as strong as I know her to be, I think that’s just because I’m more used to later-series Fi.
  • Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings) seemed more childlike and naive than I remember, but again, it could just be that I don’t remember as well what she was like at the beginning. She definitely is a reluctant soldier and concerned about the morality of what they’re doing, though, and that comes through loud and clear.
  • Chris (Andrew Ryan) seemed less thoughtful and more of an idiot stoner. I feel like he’s deeper in the book, but maybe that doesn’t come out much until book two.

Other Thoughts
One thing that bothered me is that there are multiple scenes where the group drives around in the daylight. What? No. Traveling in the daytime is something they avoid as much as possible in the books, especially if they’re anywhere near town. I can see how it would be difficult to shoot a movie when so much of the story takes place at night, but this definitely bugged me.

One of the things I love about the books is all of the (sometimes incomprehensible) Australian slang, for which there is a helpful glossary at the beginning of each book. Most of that was missing from the movie, which may partly have been to make it accessible to a wider audience (you can’t really include a glossary with a movie, after all), but I think it was also partly due to the loss of Ellie’s internal monologue and the fact that, as a result, so much of the farming culture is missing. That’s largely unavoidable, but I think it’s a shame because farming is so much a part of who Ellie is.

And the Winner Is…
The book is better, of course (As Ellie says in the movie, “Books usually are.”), but the movie is an excellent adaptation and I heartily recommend both.

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