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Paramount Home Video presents
"There's a feeling that we're all involved in an adventure that's somehow larger than life."
DVD ReviewOne of the awful recurring truths of history is that each generation of young men (and, increasingly, young women) must discover the horrors of war for themselves—in everything from The Iliad to Jarhead, there's no taking the word for it from those who have gone before, who have discovered that medals and notions of glory are just the window dressing on dismemberment and death and chaos. Gallipoli succeeds brilliantly at telling us one more in this necessary but sad line of war stories, from generations ago and half a world away—obviously inspired by such movies as All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory, this movie succeeds also in being the international coming-out party for two of the brightest lights in Australian cinema, Peter Weir and Mel Gibson.
Weir's story begins in Western Australia in 1915, with Archy Hamilton, who can run like the wind—his Uncle Jack trains him, taking their precious time away from the chores, in the hope that Archy will sprint his way to glory, not entirely unlike the young men in Chariots of Fire. Archy's only real rival at the big local meet is Frank Dunne, gifted but undisciplined—Archy carries the day, but the two young men forge a bond. And it's one that leads them to enlist in the service of the Empire—Archy is far more gung-ho than Frank, who is looking for a chum but is rightly jaundiced about the beginning of the hostilities: "It's not our war," he keeps telling Archy about the Great War, but they're swept up by the fervor of combat, by the call to action, by the challenges to their young manhood.
It's a war movie, so you know that they're going to take the bait; and it's with a growing sense of dread that we watch, because in a film like this, we know that there's no way that all of our boys are going to escape unscathed. Weir displays a great eye for expressive, telling detail, and it's a story that has a particular resonance for his countrymen, intimately familiar with the details of the battle. That's not the case for American audiences, but we're brought along nonetheless—the soldiers train in Cairo, and some of the images are spectacular, such as when the young soldiers play a makeshift game of Australian football in the shadow of the pyramids.
Futility and carnage are the notions that run through the movie—Archy and Frank and young men like them are sent into the breach, little more than cannon fodder in a military maneuver that, at best, will serve as a diversion for the attacking British forces in Turkey. And the dissonance between the lives of the young soldiers and the dangerous dreams of their commanders will infuriate you, while no doubt reminding you of the seemingly perpetual disconnect between, say, reports from the Iraqi front and a Donald Rumsfeld briefing, in which all is candy canes and lollipops.
Archy is at the heart of the movie, and Mark Lee gives a winning and understated performance in the role. But the breakout actor is of course Gibson, dangerously handsome and charismatic, at once eager to puncture the pretensions of the British and caught up with a boy's fervor for playing soldier. This is a powerful and poignant movie, made all the more sad by the fact that its lessons are never taken to heart by those in a position to send young men into harm's way.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Very strong effort here—the source print seems to have been close to pristine, and the transfer has been done carefully, making for some glorious images, hardly marred at all. The blues and greens look particularly sharp.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The film is generally true to period, though the synthesizers on the soundtrack give away the fact that the movie is from the early 1980s. Generally well balanced, on both the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The John Wayne Collection
Extras Review: Six accompanying documentaries (with a Play All option) comprise Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli, and earn this disc its Special Edition moniker. The Call to Adventure (10m:04s) concentrates on the historical circumstances depicted in the feature; among those interviewed are Gibson, Weir, Lee, and screenwriter David Williamson. Touching History (08m:48s) looks at the letters and diaries of soldiers who fought in the depicted battles, and The Theater of War (14m:53s) is about financing and casting, featuring a cameo by another illustrious Australian, Rupert Murdoch, who carries a producer's credit on the movie. Into the Trenches (15m:12s) is about the rigors of principal photography, almost all on location, and almost all exterior. The participants in the project recall their favorites scenes in Moments in Time (08m:26s), and Reflections (06m:22s) is a look at the reception the movie received, both in Australia and abroad.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA beautifully made and handsomely transferred film, with a set of informative documentaries, all in the service of reminding us that, for every country and generation, war is hell.
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