Few things linger in the collective memory of war as crushing, senseless defeats. World War II is remembered as much for Pearl Harbor and Dunkirk as it is for D-Day or VE Day. The most emblematic moment of Gettysburg is not the defense of Little Round Top, but instead Pickett's Charge, which led to the deaths of 6,000 Confederate soldiers. For Australians and New Zealanders, the word "Gallipoli" speaks volumes the pitched, complex battle between Allied and Turkish forces on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 was designed to break the Turkish lines, leading to the fall of Constantinople and one less German ally in the war effort. That it failed is almost beside the point; any long-term military campaign must include successes and setbacks. But the charge of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) 3rd Light Horse Brigade on Hill 60, which pitted young men with bayonets against heavy Turkish machine-gun fire, saw hundreds of soldiers cut down in a matter of minutes. The Gallipoli campaign directly led to the founding of ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, but Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli has since seared the event into the consciousness of two nations, and the awareness of filmgoers worldwide.
Mark Lee and Mel Gibson star in Gallipoli as Archy Hamilton and Frank Dunne, two young men from western Australia who have little in common, save for a talent at winning foot-races. Raised in the outback and trained by his grandfather (Bill Kerr), 18-year-old Archy's skills at running and horsemanship are prodigious. He's also easily goaded into bets with others, leading to a barefoot cross-country run that bloodies his feet only a few days before an important race. Archy wins the meet anyway, and just after tells his grandfather that he's not returning home, but instead joining the Light Horse Brigade, bound for Gallipoli. Archy's denied entry due to his young age, but in short order he joins up with fellow runner Frank, who suggests they hop a train to Perth, where the entrance standards are more lax. During the journey, Archy even convinces Frank to join up himself, even though Frank holds little regard for a war being fought half a world away. Unable to ride well enough to join the Light Horse, Frank finds himself in the infantry, but a few months later the old friends meet again at a training camp in Cairo, just prior to their deployment to the Allied trenches. It's a lighthearted reunion, but one that also belies the hellish warfare that awaits the entire ANZAC force upon their arrival on the shores of the fabled Gallipoli.
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Few would accuse Peter Weir of plagiarizing the works of George Lucas, but some parallels between Gallipoli and Star Wars are virtually impossible to ignore, particularly in regards to male archetypes and myth. That Archy Hamilton is a rural farmboy who desperately wants to leave home in order to join an army and a battle that seems worlds away from his own arid surroundings, and that he meets up with a rascal like Frank Dunne, who's a brisk runner but also an entrepreneur, forger, and street-savvy con artist, parallels Luke Skywalker and Han Solo closely enough that one is tempted to ask Mr. Weir if he even considered such when he wrote the script's original treatment. Then again, like Lucas, Weir tapped into a broader archetype the trenchant, almost mystic bond between a good and bad son that has been rendered multiform in countless movies, including The Shawshank Redemption, Chariots of Fire, Kiss of the Spider Woman, L.A. Confidential, Brokeback Mountain, Sideways, and My Own Private Idaho. In fact, the archetype is so compelling that plot almost becomes secondary, or at least can be allowed to wander. Archy and Frank's daring crossing of a dry lake bed fifty miles wide is brilliant not for what happens on the way, but instead for what happens between them (Archy reveals himself to be a risk-taker, but also more savvy in the outback), and while Gallipoli runs less than two hours, its epic scope suggests a three-hour picture that would remain compelling throughout. The bond between Archy and Frank exists not only despite their differences (particularly in such concepts and honor and valor), but also because each sees qualities in the other that they are driven to protect: Archy admires Frank's free-spirited ways, while Frank is struck by Archy's intelligence and genuine courage. It's this unspoken bond that leads the pair to the bullet-ridden beaches of Turkey, where Weir daringly ends his film with a young man suspended and shattered, but caught in flight it remains one of the most emblematic images in the history of cinema.
Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" release of Gallipoli features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a clean source print that ably captures cinematographer Russell Boyd's natural-light compositions. Audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround mixes, both of good quality, although Brian May's synthesizer scoring does not hold up as well over time as Peter Weir's classical selections. The sole extra is a good one, "Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli," six-part documentary running 57 min. (with a "play all" option), and featuring new interviews with Weir and stars Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, as well as co-stars and various crew members. Theatrical trailer, previews for other Paramount titles on DVD. Keep-case.