Paramount // 1981 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Neal Masri (Retired) // January 10th, 2006
"From a place you never heard of...a story you'll never forget."
Gallipoli is one of director Peter Weir's and actor Mel Gibson's earliest efforts. This tale of friendship during the horrors of World War I is an often overlooked but extremely worthwhile and gripping film.
Gallipoli is a hauntingly emotional tale of two friends from Western Australia who enlist to fight in World War I. Their travels take them first to Egypt and then to the Turkish Peninsula of Gallipoli. Though little known to Americans, the Battle of Gallipoli is one well known and significant to Australians. Through the eyes of these two soldiers, we witness the battle and its consequences.
World War I was the beginning of the modern age. The 20th century technological advancements that brought about miracles like Penicillin, space flight, and microchips also brought with them the power to inflict misery and destruction on mankind in a way heretofore unimaginable. In this sense, The War to End All Wars was the first modern war. The wholesale butchery made possible by "advancements" like automated weaponry, tanks, air power, and poison gas made WWI the most brutal and deadly conflict Western Civilization had seen up to that time.
Gallipoli was just one battle in this huge conflict. It does, however, hold a place in the Australian national consciousness similar to that of The Alamo in the American collective memory. Director Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show) brings us a very personal take on this battle, and on modern warfare. The film tells the story of two young men who join the war effort for very different reasons. Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee, The Everlasting Secret Family) is an idealistic youngster who is so anxious to get in on the action that he plans to lie about his age in order to enlist. Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson, Braveheart) is a bit older, but much more world weary and street smart than Archy. Both young men are excellent sprinters and meet during a race. They become fast friends and, as fate would have it, enlist together. We follow them through training and then on to Turkey where they end up on the peninsula of Gallipoli. Even though one would have to define Gallipolias a "war movie," there isn't a shot fired for the first two-thirds of the picture. Weir's focus is squarely on the two main characters and this was the right choice.
>From the brief plot points I've given, you'd probably say that this doesn't sound like a very original story, and it isn't. Clichés can be okay in moviemaking, though. There are only so many stories to tell. Familiar themes can be made fascinating and new again given a fresh perspective and skillful storytelling. Gallipoli does bring something new to the formulaic war movie. For starters, it is beautifully photographed. From vistas of the Australian outback to the pyramids of Cairo, this is a striking film to look at. More than that, however, the emotions of the film are real and heartfelt. The time spent getting to know the two main characters is worth it. When the fighting starts, we are emotionally invested in Archy and Frank and this is to Weir's credit.
Peter Weir has been making remarkable films for twenty years now, but has yet to become a brand name director stateside. Perhaps the Oscar nominations for last year's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World signal a turning point for him. I hope so, as I think he is a tremendous talent.
It is also fun to check out Mel Gibson in one of his earliest roles (prior to becoming Hollywood's preeminent director of Aramaic language movies). He is at the dawn of his sex symbol days here. Just coming off of the first Mad Max film, this movie would be a springboard to big things for him, including Weir's next film, The Year of Living Dangerously.
The film source used for this DVD's transfer appears to have been in tremendous shape for a relatively low budget release nearly twenty-five years old. There are some flaws to be found, but they're not bad considering the age. One thing that did date the movie for me was the Vangelis-like synthesized score. This was all the rage in the early '80s but has definitely fallen out of favor (an interesting coincidence is the fact that this film was released in the same year as another movie about guys with accents running track that was scored by Vangelis -- that one happened to win best picture).
Concerns about the synthesized soundtrack aside, the audio is presented in a respectable Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I think Paramount have done what they could, but the audio remains largely front focused -- not surprising for a film of this era. While we do get some surround and subwoofer action during the action and crowd scenes, don't expect this one to blow the doors off of your home theater.
The primary extra on the disc is a six-part documentary entitled Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli. The DVD producers appear to have gotten the participation of all involved in what look to be very recent interviews. All parties seem to be very proud of their work on this movie. The piece provides some insight into the history of the film and the restraints on the filmmakers due to budget. It is a worthwhile making-of piece and should please most viewers. Other than the documentary, we have the vintage theatrical trailer and that's about it. I must say I would have loved to hear a commentary by Weir and/or the actors involved. I can't recall ever seeing a commentary on a Peter Weir DVD, however, so I assume he must have a Spielberg-like aversion to them.
If you have not seen Gallipoli, you owe it to yourself to check it out on DVD. I'm not sure if I would upgrade from the previous barebones edition. If you don't own this movie, though, you have a good package here. Gallipoli is a film of shattering emotional impact. Peter Weir takes one battle and makes it a powerful commentary on World War I in particular, and war in general. He illustrates through a very personal story how soldiers, and indeed the world, were never the same after the War to End All Wars.
Though we are given a great movie and a well-done documentary on this DVD, I would have enjoyed a bit more in the extras department. This is scant criticism though. It certainly shouldn't scare you off from this fine movie.
This early '80s gem is polished up a bit and sparkles nicely in its second incarnation on DVD. Though just a step up from the previous barebones edition, the movie itself warrants your attention and deserves to be seen.
Gallipoli is free to go. The indelible performances, cinematography, and story are still as gripping as they were more than twenty years ago.
Review content copyright © 2006 Neal Masri; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli
* Theatrical Trailer
* Wikipedia Entry for the Battle of Gallipoli