Adele Walsh on movie adaptations

I’m not the only perpetual adolescent in the world, and the plan is for this blog to feature a range of ‘adolescent’ voices, from young-adult authors, to young-adult readers. Adele Walsh, or as you may know her, Persnickety Snark, is one of the, if not the name in Australian young-adult blogging. Of course, if you said this to her, she’d humbly point out five or six bloggers she thinks are far better – but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m right :-). Every month, thousands flock to her review/commentary website for their young-adult book fix, and we’re excited to announce that she’ll be dropping by this blog every so often, to share her always-relevant two cents.

ADELE WALSH:
Please, don’t rob me of my childhood

The two Ms had a huge part in my love of the Australian young adult literature scene – a Ms Marchetta and a Mr Marsden.  Both were teachers that never taught me in the classroom, instead they influenced me on the page.  Both created two conflicted and strong female protagonists that really spoke to me as an Australian kid. Before that, I had thought of Australian books as whatever came from Mem Fox’s brain. It sounds narrow minded and doesn’t reflect my fantastic school librarians influence at all, but that’s what I thought as a mild-mannered tween book nerd. Hush was great and all but until Josie (Looking for Alibrandi) and Ellie (Tomorrow, When the War Began) came along, I hadn’t really seen myself, or more importantly, who I wanted to be, in the books that I was reading.

The convoluted machinations of the Alibrandi family and the depiction of Sydney allowed me to see myself and my country in startling clarity.  I was twelve and I felt as though my world had opened up. Ellie came along three years later and I embraced her with fiery pride. These girls might have been struck with embarrassing crushes like me but they were strong, smart and impressively verbal. They weren’t perfect but neither was I. Melina Marchetta and John Marsden’s characters are forever ingrained in my memories of my teen years as a result.

You might be wondering at this point why I’m rambling on. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you. With the release of the film adaptation trailer of Tomorrow, When the War Began this month, I was struck with a familiar fear.  One I had exactly a decade ago when the adaptation of Looking for Alibrandi was released in theatres. 

In 2000, I had just entered university and was finally in the same age range that Josie Alibrandi and Ellie Linton were when their lives turned upside down. Childhood passions are curious creatures, we hold tight, protecting them from our adult existences. I always used to chuckle when I heard claims that a director ruined a person’s childhood. While it might be melodramatic in some cases, revisiting a childhood landmark or bringing a book into the celluloid can often do just that. It shatters the golden memories that we have of that time in our lives when discovery was joyous.

I exited the cinema in 2000 sorely disappointed in Looking for Alibrandi. I was the only one amongst many of my friends to feel that way. It took me a year to realise I was being ridiculous. Cinema is a vastly different medium than a novel. Nothing was ever going to meet the internal movie that I had relived in my imagination for many years. It didn’t matter that Carly and Ivy were merged into one heinous teenage girl or that the passage of time seemed so much more compact. (That being said, I was devastated that Josie’s cousin, Robert, didn’t feature more heavily but with time I understood that it would have tampered with the narrative flow.) The essence of the novel was there.  In great part this was due to Marchetta’s role as screenwriter. The movie didn’t ruin my childhood image of Josie, Nonna Katia and their family history; it just gave me a deeper appreciation for the novel.

In the ten years since Looking for Alibrandi’s release I have seen other representations of my childhood remade… badly. I have to admit that I refuse to see the adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are due to the fact that it is perfect in my mind and I don’t wish to tamper with that image. I might be robbing myself of reliving that adventure in a different medium, but I am satisfied with the memories I already possess.

The Tomorrow, When the War Began movie went into production in late 2009 under the direction of experienced film maker, Stuart Beattie. With the current Internet age, I was well aware of the progress of producing from scripts to casting to the start of filming. I have been much more aware of the process of recreating a vivid childhood adventure than I was in the case of Marchetta’s novel. I also had an avenue (my blog) to moan about certain developments and share my concerns. When local soapie actors were hired to fill two of the eight central roles, I was outraged. A pin up girl as Ellie? My strong, wilful, intelligent Ellie was going to be depicted by an actress who readily showed off too much cleavage at the Logies? I was quite bereft. I was similarly peeved when a British actress was hired to play one of the teens – they couldn’t find someone good enough with an actual Australian accent? The actor playing Homer doesn’t have a big enough nose! I was scraping the bottom of the complaints barrel and didn’t care. Ellie and Homer were mine and they needed to be perfect.

With some time, some distance and the release of the teaser trailer, I am less concerned. The trailer has managed to depict some ordinary Aussie teens in an impossible situation. It doesn’t look cheap (and nor should it, the budget is around the $20 million mark), the English actress’ accent isn’t half bad and they scuffed the pin up girl up. I don’t know what I loved more – the sight of the jets flying over the camp, Homer getting sacked or Kevin flying through the air as flames chased his back. I have faith that the movie adaptation Tomorrow, When the War Began won’t besmirch my beloved teenage reading experience. And should it go the other way, I know I can accuse it of robbing me of my childhood…

Adele Walsh, Persnickety Snark

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William Kostakis

Blogger William Kostakis is an award-winning, twenty-year-old young adult fiction author. His debut title, Loathing Lola, was released in 2008.