Peter Weir’s Gallipoli is a remarkable film. Starring an inexperienced model, who was only intended to be used for a photo shoot to promote the picture and shot on a small budget, this film’s longevity and frequently attained levels of excellence could have never been predicted. That doesn’t mean Gallipoli will be turning up on any all-time best lists any time soon, as the first half has a tendency to drag its feet. However, a solid hour two punctuated by one of the most haunting images I have seen in a…war film elevates the material from slow-paced and dragging to something that actually works, and is certainly worthy of recommendation. Mark Lee, the model-turned-actor mentioned above, stars opposite Mel Gibson, and delivers a performance of such credibility that no one could have ever guessed he didn’t know the first thing about acting. In fact, he holds his own with the already seasoned Gibson, and the two make a believable pairing as a couple of naive young men hungry for adventure, who make the mistake of seeking it during the First World War. Their paths lead them to the disastrous real-life battle of Gallipoli, where strategic incompetence led to the senseless slaughter of a great many Australian soldiers.
The sense of pride in one’s country is always there, and the movie seems to endorse such a feeling. However, the anti-war message is never far from the surface, and it wells up prominently in the third act like blood from a liver wound that reappears as quickly as it’s washed. Still, it’s anti-war without being partisan, and remains true to all the soldiers, who gave their lives for their country, their beliefs, and most importantly, their mates. Weir’s directorial style also provides the film with two strong legs, and has since been imitated in every great modern war film, especially Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The underwater shrapnel scene of Gallipoli is recreated with equal skill and effectiveness by Spielberg, but let’s remember: Weir did it first. And Weir’s constant use of exterior locations, while nearly achieving overkill status from time-to-time, demonstrates the director’s expert sense of landscape and scope. It’s a beautiful picture to watch, but not always one to entertain. However, hang with it through the first hour, and you’ll be blown away by the crescendo of fear and violence Weir’s film has reached.
Previous incarnations of Gallipoli have never come close to looking this good. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation has expert color reproduction, and the frame remains as clear as fresh spring water throughout. Flesh tones appear especially authentic, and scenes such as the nighttime landfall on the shores of Gallipoli prove there’s nothing failing with the job Paramount has done on contrast. Whatever the picture tries, it achieves, and as a result, Weir’s eye for detail has been completely restored, and serves as a clear explanation for why his career was able to grow beyond the Australian film community.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track takes it easy until the film gets interesting. Then a full workout comes in the final thirty minutes. The Battle of Gallipoli rushes at you full force with every pop and zing of machine gun fire, as well as throttling cannon blasts and explosions. In each case, it feels like the attack is coming from every angle, and it really helps build the feelings of fear and paranoia that, at this point in the film, have replaced the young soldiers’ delusions of grand adventure.
Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli is the only bonus feature, but as such, it does an excellent job digging deep into the heart of the film, as well as the inspiration behind it. In reality, this “making-of” is a six-part documentary, which covers everything from the development of the feature to the actual battle. In it, you will be reintroduced to the surviving cast and crew as they are today. You will see some of the actual letters from soldiers, which were used as the heart and soul of the film. And you will visit the actual Gallipoli, which beyond the addition of a cemetery, has changed very little since the historic battle. This documentary is the kind of bonus material that makes you appreciate the film so much more.
War movie buffs, take note. I have seen this film available for less than ten dollars. At full price, you’ll pay only $14.99. For the package, the restoration, and the film, it’s insanity not to pick this one up. Gallipoli is sometimes too slow, but it rewards the patient viewer with a powerful conclusion that thrusts its intensity down your throat, and is sure to haunt you long after the final frame.
Special Features List
- Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli (six documentaries)