Tomorrow, when the war began

I’m not sure why, but I figured I’d start this new blog with a rant.  I’m centralizing my author page and moving away from my old one, instead of having it focused entirely on my book “A Cold Black Wave” as I’m technically working on my 3rd book.  So, anyway, my wife and I watched the above mentioned movie the other night and I was appalled by it on a number of levels (she enjoyed it, but has never seen Red Dawn).  Apparently, this is a YA book series and I’m being heretical by judging a book by its film right now but I don’t care.  As an admitted fan of the original Red Dawn, I loathe “Tomorrow, when the war began”.  Let me count the ways.

First of all, this is an outright rip-off of Red Dawn.  Can I take a semi-cult status film from the 80’s and write a series about it and call it something else?  I’m thinking 1987’s “The Gate” would be perfect.  I’ll call it “Hellhole” and string out the exploits of the film over a 7 book series.  I don’t even need to read “TWTWB” to understand this is exactly what author John Marsden has done.  I would give this movie a break if there were anything original added to the Red Dawn premise, but not only is there none, but what does exist was poorly copied from Red Dawn.  I can safely say that there is not one ounce of originality in this film.  Not…one.

The characters, acting, action, and plot are all far worse than Red Dawn.  And for those who hated Red Dawn, this is saying a lot.  But you know what?  For those who hate Red Dawn, they may love TWTWB with its greater focus on teenage love affairs.  Red Dawn was terribly xenophobic, but it had good reason.  It actually had a face and a name to the enemy, who was relevant to the times:  dirty commies from Russia and their satellite nations.  The new Red Dawn remake wanted to use China as the enemy, but chose the implausible North Korea instead, because the film distributors didn’t want to offend the Chinese.  So they chose a nation as scary and intimidating as a South Park movie.  In TWTWB, the enemy doesn’t matter.  It could be anyone.  It could be the US.  It could be aliens that look like humans.  I suppose anything is better than actually using North Korea.  Seriously?  Kim Jung Il?  That Korea?

As implausible as the setup was in the original film, there was a setup for the invasion and a real enemy.  In TWTWB, the enemy is a nameless Asian nation who somehow managed to invade Australia…something the Japanese couldn’t accomplish during WWII with their lightening-fast Pacific campaign.  These sneaky bastards have, however, snuck an entire division onto freighter ships and unloaded them at the docks.  Surprise, bitches, you just been invaded!  The Russians did a dastardly similar tactic like that in Red Dawn.  You don’t say!

What’s worse is that TWTWB attempts to keep the YA love interests alive throughout the story, as if this is just as important as their fight to survive.  No worries, chill out in a diesel rig you just hijacked from the enemy and talk about your love interests.  I’m sure the enemy is not looking for you at all, especially since they’ve all been alerted to your theft just moments ago.  Other oddities:  nearly everyone has somehow been captured and put into camps.  In Red Dawn, the invaders (and writer) understand this is not only impossible to do but makes no sense.  A girl who never wielded a gun before, hip-fires an AK-47 on full-auto and manages to kill four baddies before they can take cover.  Oh, also, the baddies are an early version of Star Wars’ Storm Troopers, about as accurate as a Somali high on khat.  Until the end of the movie, of course, which supposed to set up a cliff hangar because someone actually gets injured by a bullet.  Gads!  I’m sure love will heal her.

I have nothing against John Marsden for writing this series.  God bless him, and I hope he is enjoying his success.  Maybe I’m just getting older.  I understand the tilt towards a YA audience, but the sheer unoriginality is what boggles my mind…and the fact there is large audience waiting for such unoriginality with open arms.  Maybe what Ellie alludes to in the movie is correct when she says, “The books are always better”.  Here’s hoping, but I will continue my heresy and say I won’t be reading those books anytime soon.  Anyone want to open my closed mind on this one?

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14 comments

  1. Tamara B

    I just came across your blog as I am currently watching Red Dawn, and wanted to see if anyone would prove me correct in believing that Red Dawn has copied my beloved TWTWB. I read this series as a teenager (I’m all Australian), and LOVED the books. Couldn’t put them down. I watched the TWTWB film at cinemas and was disappointed by the acting also… and I have also possibly grown out of the YA themes. Now I am beyond disappointed to see now that the Red Dawn was in fact released in the 80s, and the current one is a remake. I feel like very cheated and totally it looks like you have opened my eyes up on this one!

    • Tim Scott

      Since I grew up in the 80’s, the original Red Dawn was one of those movies that helped defined the decade. The Cold War was still very much alive, so the Russians were a legitimate enemy. Had they used some nameless (or harmless) Asian nation, there’d be no bite to the film. In fact, one of the extras during the scene where Russian paratroopers fall from the sky had blown off course during the shoot and landed in a tree outside someone’s house. The owner had come out with a rifle, and the dangling extra (in full Russian military garb) had to desperately explain that he wasn’t part of a real invasion. The original Red Dawn was also the first film to get a PG-13 rating. It’s a war film, plain and simple, and a lot of people get killed in unsavory war-like ways. This certainly separated the original film from the TWTWB film, which fluffed its depiction of war. SPOILERS: Patrick Swayze’s character executes three people at point-blank range in the original film: one a wounded Russian soldier, an unarmed Russian prisoner, and the leader of the counter-insurgent task force. He also very nearly kills one of his own friends who had been outed as a traitor.

      I’m sure the TWTWB novels are great, as they appear to be widely enjoyed. I don’t mean to knock John Marsden because with or without Red Dawn, he seems to have crafted a very enjoyable series that is unique to Australia. I don’t think you are alone in seeking a connection between Red Dawn and TWTWB, as this post has seen the most traffic on my blog and most people who come here are searching for similarities between both films. I haven’t even seen the new Red Dawn yet, but I’m sure I’ll catch it someday just to see how bad it is. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. ren

    I have seen tomorrow when the war began. And just now watched the new red dawn movie. Yes they are very similar, and TWTWB was released after the original red dawn, but perhaps it is a cry that the same thing can happen to other countries besides the united states. Our enemy has a face, we know who they are before they even attack us, and we stand by and let them attack before doing anythimg is the first message in red dawn. The second and only one that most people see is our fight for our homeland. In TWTWB the first message to be found is that some countries aren’t under threat when they get attacked. They don’t see it comming and don’t have time to prepare. The second message is fight for the homeland. Whether it is america, or australia, why must you criticize the same views on the same subject presented to very different countries? I for one like them both.

    • Tim Scott

      Hi Ren, and thank you for stopping by! I completely agree with you in regards to the similar theme, which could technically be used from the perspective of nearly any nation in the world, as we all have a past or present enemy that would want to invade (even we aren’t expecting it at the moment, as you mention). To be sure, it’s not a story that is uniquely American or Australian, it’s just that we’ve now had two stories told from those perspectives. Maybe the French will make their own movie next? 😉

      I’m not sure the US population was necessarily afraid of a Soviet invasion in 1984 either. Which is why the original Red Dawn resonated so much, because as unrealistic as it seemed (We could NEVER be invaded, we’re America!), at that particular time the “Red Dawn” scenario wasn’t totally implausible either. This is why, in the US anyway, shows like 24 and Homeland are extremely popular. They hit close to home with plausible scenarios that we, the viewer, can fearfully imagine as happening. If a story can make us believe an invasion or an attack is even remotely possible in real life, it adds a certain fear factor that makes us far more engaged with the story and characters.

      This is the problem with TWTWB. The theme “fighting for our homeland” is similar to Red Dawn, but without making the viewer consider, even for a moment, that an invasion of Australia is possible. It’s fantasy without the fear. Why would anyone invade (motive)? What set up Australia’s (and its Allies) to being completely unaware of the attack? Where’s the US and their vaunted Pacific Fleet? I understand the story focuses on the teenage guerrilla’s, but the human element of the war has been completely removed due to the fact we have no idea who the invaders are or why they are there. The kids are fighting robots as far as I’m concerned. Kill ’em all, who cares?

      I speak again from the view of only seeing the movie. In the original Red Dawn, the film makes a case against war by humanizing the Soviet invaders and not making the protagonists out to be super-humans who can’t be killed. There are characters on BOTH sides who are cold and calculating, some other’s have a conscience, but most of the kids fighting on both sides are just that…scared kids. Are the invaders in TWTWB all fearless adults who love the fact they are in Australia getting shot at and killed? In the original Red Dawn, when the guerrilla’s attack the Soviets in the mountains, we get a very up close and personal view of the horrors of war. The Soviet soldiers are pleading for their lives, and you can see on the faces of both sides that they are just kids who have never killed anyone before and are terrified at what is going on. In TWTWB, war is an adventure where everyone except the protagonists die or get injured. That’s the problem I have with the film. It’s fantasy, does nothing to dispel the horrors of war, and steals scenes from the original Red Dawn (which comes off as stealing, and not a “homage” to its predecessor). It has nothing to do with the fact the story takes place in Australia.

    • hwy505

      Ren, if you watched the Original “Red Dawn” you will find out that the Russians had indeed invaded other countries with other Soviet Bloc nations – when Lt. Col. Andrew ‘Andy’ Tanner (F-15 pilot) has this exchange:

      “Col. Andy Tanner: Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.
      Darryl Bates: Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
      Col. Andy Tanner: There *were*.” (1)

      So, in this context it was implied that this just didn’t happen in the USA.

      (1) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087985/quotes

  3. Karla

    My attempt to open a closed mind
    Im just watching Red Dawn now – not having seen or realised there was an original film – I have paused the film to explore the TWTWB similarities. I am an Australian and absolutely agree that the TWTWB film was poor. It was all around disappointing and embarrassing, in no way does it compare to the series by John Marsden, I read the books years ago – and studied book 1 in school. The books allow for character development, they also enable the Australian (I should say all) youth to explore many themes including identifying with the nameless enemy. As an aspiring writer, I often look at how and why an author writes and presents people, characters, themes etc One could argue that an un-identified enemy is a metaphor which for a fiction series is justifiable. In the hope to restore Marsdens name – as is often the case, the book/s really are better than the movie. I would recommend reading the series – keeping in mind the target audience. Even if John Marsden did ‘rip off’ the original Red Dawn film, are not all works and ideas recycled in some way?

    • Tim Scott

      Hey Karla! It’s been really interesting to hear how many people didn’t know about the original Red Dawn. Although, if you live outside of the US then it’s more understandable. Even here, it’s been relegated to a sort of 1980’s cult classic where most of the fans grew up watching the film.

      Thank you for explaining more about the book series. When I originally wrote this post, I was so appalled by the film a lot of my contempt came through in my rant. I’ll give the original book a chance since if I was John Marsden, I’d hate to be judged by a movie that reflects poorly on my writing too! If the story and characters are interesting enough, the nameless villain wouldn’t be as big of an issue. And true, all stories are some derivative of another before it…the problem with the film version of TWTWB is that it literally ripped off Red Dawn in some instances. The premise of teenagers fighting off an enemy that invaded their homeland hasn’t necessarily been done many times before, so the obvious comparison is to the 1984 version of Red Dawn. That’s how far back you need to go to compare TWTWB to something similar. For the US audience, the TWTWB movie is our first exposure to its existence…just as Aussies are now figuring out Red Dawn existed before TWTWB. I had no idea there was a book series back in the 90’s.

      So, I’ll give the first book of the series a read and compare it to the movie AND the original Red Dawn. In the end though, my view of the TWTWB movie will remain unchanged and I’m glad you agree with me on that! 🙂

  4. CaptainNapalm

    The original Red Dawn is a war film. The filmmakers are telling a story about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in using characters and a setting that the target audience – kids and teens – can relate to.

    I found Red Dawn a frustrating movie. It has the bones of something really interesting but the filmmakers never bothered to assemble them into a skeleton let alone flesh anything out. To me it felt like instead of writing a script John Milius and Kevin Reynold’s sat down and wrote a list of plot points and money shots that they’d like to have in their movie and filmed that. It’s a very episodic film, which can work but doesn’t in the case of Red Dawn because the film is always in a hurry to get the next bit. The movie is overstuffed with underdeveloped sequences.

    As an action movie I found it boring. Milius takes this “just the highlights” approach to a lot of the action. It feels like he’s cut the set pieces down to just the big moments of violence. Most of the action is presented with almost no build-up (Examples: you never see Swayze and co train, you don’t see them plan). There’s very little tension (Examples: every attack the wolverines make is a one sided massacre that’s over almost before it’s begun [1] – and how did they get so good? And where are they getting all their equipment, ammunition and explosives from? – and characters are rarely in any danger unless they are required to die). Milius has trouble giving each member of his young ensemble a distinct presence during the combat scenes (and outside of them too for that matter) and the staging and choreography of much of the action feels deliberately simplistic so to accommodate characters that he doesn’t know what to do with. And because of the movies significant structural flaws the story never develops the momentum you want in an action picture.

    The book series which TWTWB originates from is all about adolescence (BTW the movie is terrible and loses sight of most of the substance of its source). In it the war is a loose metaphor for growing up. The action/adventure aspects of the series aren’t modelled on real life incidents, they’re inspired by the fiction of the author, John Marsden, grew up reading – Enid Blyton and WE Johns (especially in the first book, TWTWB), and Alistair MacLean, Fleming and other thriller writers of that vintage (especially in the sequels).

    They aren’t realistic but they do a have an emotional authenticity to them which really comes through in the introspective passages (though I imagine that some might find the main character’s frequent angsting and philosophizing about the meaning of life the universe and everything annoying). Events from the character’s childhood on the land are frequently referred and flashbacked to which serves to establish a melancholic tone, further develop the setting and underscore the tragedy of the kids current situation.

    The filmmakers aren’t entirely to blame for TWTWB’s failings as an action movie. All the set-pieces in the novel that they’re adapting from are fairly weak. However, the filmmakers can definitely be faulted for embellishing them in ways that make them even worse. The violence that the characters witness and perpetrate in the sequels (which is not-coincidently when the series transitions from a Kids on an Adventure story to an Ensemble on a Mission story with the increase in stakes, scale and brutality that that that entails) is handled much better.

    The war doesn’t dehumanise the kids in TWTWB began as much as it does in Red Dawn but the series does an decent job showing how they cope with some of the horrific stuff they’re confronted with and an outstanding job at depicting the grief the kids feel for their dead comrades, friends and family members.

    Overall it’s a pretty solid series. I think the whole works better than any of the individual instalments do. All of the books feel a little incomplete on their own and tend to have problems that are easier to overlook in the context of the longer work.

    Regarding lack of identity of the enemy. The books were written to be timeless and John Marsden was careful to never tie the series down to a specific place or geopolitical situation. Except for a couple of bits that occur in New Zealand all the locations in the series are fictional (I don’t think there’s a real Australian place or city mentioned in any of the books). The story is written to occur in the near future relative to reader. The enemy is whichever country seems most likely to do IT at the time the books are read (for example someone who read the first book in 1993 when it was first published probably assumed that the invaders were from Indonesia, a person reading it in 2013 might assume China).

    The invaders don’t have as much depth as the invaders in Red Dawn but they’re an effective presence. Marsden smartly never has his characters kill more than a very small number of them at a time in combat and not very often. This means that whenever the kids do kill the moment is weighty and memorable. Large numbers are killed by acts of sabotage resulting big explosions but these scenes are usually followed by sequences of the kids observing or encountering invaders that aren’t inhuman monsters. And the main character is quite empathetic towards the suffering that she inflicts on them. They’re presented as people and not faceless cannon fodder to be mown down en-masse.

    Summing up. Red Dawn and Tomorrow approach a similar premise in different ways. Red Dawn is a (IMO bad) war film. Tomorrow is a (IMO good) coming of age story.

    [1] That’s not to say every action scene in Red Dawn is a look away, look back and you’ll miss it massacre. There are some more involved scenes but they only happen when the kids are on the defensive or running away. Every scene of the kids acting offensively is kept as brief and broad-strokes as possible.

    One of the consequences to this approach is that the film really distances itself from its characters during the middle section where the protagonists are pulling successful attack after successful attack (it also doesn’t help that Powers Boothe shows up at this point and is immediately promoted to main character for the duration of his appearance). So when film enters its final stretch and tries to show how messed up the war has made these kids it’s dramatically unengaging. Shooting a childhood friend is tragic, sure, but in Red Dawn it’s abstractly so because by that point in the story I no longer have any idea about who these people are.

    • Tim Scott

      Hey CaptainNapalm! (Nice name btw!) Thank you for that comprehensive look at both films and the book. A lot of people come to this specific blog post looking for comparisons between both stories, so they’ll be served well to read your comment. I agree on all your points regarding Red Dawn, although some of them didn’t bother me as much as it does for some people (which Red Dawn has always been notorious for…it’s never been considered a great film by any means, and people like it/hate it on most of the factors you describe). A lot of the smaller details, for example, I filled in for myself. I assumed they took weapons and supplies from enemies they killed so I never felt like there was a huge illogical jump from hunting rifles to fixed machine gun nests and grenades. Were the Russians totally inept? Sure. Then again, they were always being ambushed in the mountains and not in toe-to-toe firefights.

      I think growing up and watching it also factors into how much someone enjoys it. For a new viewer watching the film today, it would likely come off as corny and amateurish at best. Which is why I was probably so scathing of the TWTWB movie, which wasn’t even remotely interesting even by today’s standards. And if Red Dawn had a lot of unbelievable moments in it, TWTWB took it to an entirely new level! Since Red Dawn, some unbelievable war films and series have been released which make the action in Red Dawn (and TWTWB) seem childish and simplistic in comparison. They both have their target audience, though, and it definitely is a younger audience. The cast in Red Dawn, for example, starred actors and actresses of the 80’s that soon became household names (not necessarily because of Red Dawn, but by the end of the 80’s, everyone intimately knew the majority of the cast members via Dirty Dancing, Platoon, etc) so Red Dawn held a staying power long after it was released.

      It sounds more and more that the movie version of TWTWB was a hack job that didn’t do the original series justice, which isn’t necessarily surprising. You’re right, in that Red Dawn was a more of a portrait of a brief time in fictional history, and didn’t dwell too much on any specific person or interpersonal drama. Highlights, as you mentioned. Nevertheless, being a product of the 80’s, I still enjoy Red Dawn for what it is but entirely understand anyone who doesn’t like it for all the reasons you point out.

      After all of this, I’m still going to watch the film follow-up to TWTWB, if only in the hopes of seeing some true development and separation from the Red Dawn storyline (and maybe better acting!). That’s more than I can say of the Red Dawn re-make, which I really don’t want to see at all!

      Thanks again for stopping by and adding such detailed analysis on these two films (and the TWTWB series!).

  5. Greg

    Just watched the Red Dawn remake. Came onto the internet to see why it ripped off TWTWB… Im glad I did.

    Obviously, I didnt know Red Dawn existed before TWTWB.
    Red Dawn, in my opinion, is a better movie, done on a much bigger budget with at least one well known star.

    Let’s face it the TWTWB movie was pretty crap. It was an adaption of a series of books that could never be captured onscreen.

    Watching the TWTWB movie after reading the book left me as disapointed as I was after watching the The Power of One movie after reading it’s book. Niether movie holds a candle to the written word combined with a readers powerful imagination. I am glad in both instances I read the books before I watched the movies… If I’d watched the movies first I would never have bothered reading the books.

    I never saw the original Red Dawn although I will be keeping an eye out for it….

    I did read the Tomorrow When the War Began books as a teenager so when I watched the TWTWB was disappointed.
    There is a huge difference, the storytelling from the Ellie could never be captured in a movie environment. The conflicts, the love, the hate, the whole emotional discharge and writting style is not something I think a movie could ever capture… I actually went into that movie ready and willing to be disappointed.

    PLEASE! PLEASE!! PLEASE!!!
    Read the books!

    Do not think the movie is a good representation of what the author was going for.

    • Tim Scott

      Hi Greg! Sorry for the late reply, I didn’t realize I had this comment waiting for me. I definitely plan on reading the books. It’s always disappointing when a movie fails to live up to the novel, but it can and has been done. For TWTB, they failed pretty miserably. Whatever conflict, love, and hate that the novel captured so well CAN be translated to the big screen. Even if they can’t match what the novel offered, there’s no reason to butcher it. Novel or no novel, there’s ways of making all three of those elements believable. The problem with the movie is that they aren’t remotely believably because they were done so poorly.

      Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was adapted to the big screen and done very well. For me, it captured the dark despair of the environment and their situation which was painted so vividly by McCarthy in his novel. The affection of the father towards the son, and the innocence of the son were all captured in the film. So, it’s really too bad a good novel (As TWTB seems to be) pulls up lame as a film, since it does little to drive any interest in actually reading the novel. (Of course, I may be wrong here and sales of TWTB books very well may be flying off the shelf since the movie came out).

      Definitely check out the original Red Dawn, at least for reference. It’s pretty good too! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Boots

    I totally agree, this movie is a straight up carbon copy of Red Dawn and I amazed how many people have never seen it. It seems that many YA authors are recycling classic movies and simply throwing in a dash of teen romance to make it their own. I’m of course speaking about the Hunger Games, which at its core was a rip off of Battle Royale. However, I found that hunger games at least had the decency to change the lore of battle royales story slightly and add a few new concepts, while TWTWB has done nothing but change the accents of the characters to Australian.

    • Tim Scott

      I agree. The filmmakers were clearly lazy in how to interpret John Marsden’s books, apparently. It’s like the director took one look at the synopsis and just said, “Give me the cliff notes. This is just Red Dawn in Australia, right?” and decided to copy the 1984 classic instead of referring to the actual books.

  7. maya

    I’d heard of TWTWB for years but never bothered to look into it. Recently a friend explained it to me once and the first thing I said was, “wait, isn’t that the plot of Red Dawn?” She informed me that Red Dawn came out in 2012 and that TWTWB was written long before. She had no clue about the 1984 original.
    The premise sounds exactly the same – country gets attacked, small town kids go off into the woods and become guerrilla soldiers and fight back.

    Except they’ve thrown in unnecessary romantic subplots and reduced the female leads to love interests. This sounds almost as bad as the 2012 remake of Red Dawn. Part of what made the original so good was the focus on the osychologcal impacts being soldiers had on the kids. When they had time to sit, they ate and they planned battle strategy’s, they didn’t sit around and talk about who-likes-who.They didn’t act like average teenagers, wasn’t that part of the point?

    TWTWB sounds like blatant rip off of Red Dawn, except a hell of a lot more ridiculous. Red Dawn may of been cheesy, but the Soviet was a legitimate fear at the time and tensions were high. As an Australian, having an invasion here is laughable, I found the fact that the country is an ‘unknown Asian nation’ proves how ridiculous the idea is. All Asian nations that have the military to invade us are on good terms with us. And if this was an East vs West thing, in what world would the first country they invade be Australia? It just sounds like lazy writing to me. Seems like the only reason it was set in Australia was because if it was set in America he’s straight up be sued for copyright.

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