It's unfortunate in the extreme that the First World War has largely fallen by the wayside. If we hear anything about the conflict at all, it's usually on the History Channel or another network airing a documentary full of grainy, black and white clips of men stumbling over the top of trenches. Interest in historical events tends to drop off significantly when those involved pass away, and in the case of the generation that fought this horrific war not only have they exited the stage, they have left the building as well. I developed a life long interest in "the war to end all wars" after seeing Peter Weir's 1981 film "Gallipoli" in a small, run down art house theater at the age of ten. I didn't understand the historical context at the time, but this dramatic interpretation of events that unfolded in the Dardanelles during 1915 left a lasting impression on my impressionable mind. I recently rewatched the film and can say that it still works as an intense drama and as a serious antiwar statement. Weir's overt hostility toward the British commanders at Gallipoli, however, doesn't stand up as well. By the way, this is one of the films that propelled Mel Gibson to international stardom.
Weir decided to focus his film not on the massive armies battling away in Europe, but on two individuals living in Australia. Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) are two of the fastest runners in the country. Hamilton trains with his demanding grandfather, who promises the young lad that if he works hard he may yet go down as the next national sports hero. Frank, on the other hand, wanders around the country with a few buddies taking any job he can get and generally just having a lot of fun. News of the escalating war in Europe is vague and distant, referenced only when someone brings up a news story they saw in the paper. Archy wants to go and fight, attracted by the lure of glory that has suckered millions of young people since the dawn of time into disaster. Frank doesn't think of war as glory, and when his pals bring up the idea of enlisting he quietly makes his position known. Both of these young men's lives are forever changed after the end up competing against each other in a foot race at a regional fair. Archy barely wins, but a friendship develops between the two that soon finds Frank tagging along when Archy decides to enlist in the illustrious cavalry. Frank agrees to join with Archy, once he discovers that the ladies love a soldier, but goes into the infantry after failing to qualify for the light horse unit.
It really doesn't matter anyway since horses won't make a bit of difference when the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers head first to Egypt and then the Dardanelles for combat against the Ottoman Turks. What the war effort needs are bodies capable of running headlong into a withering wall of machine gun fire, and cavalry troops minus their steeds will work in this capacity just as well as infantrymen. Before they reach the killing fields, Archy and Frank reunite during a training exercise in Egypt. Hamilton convinces his commander to enlist Dunne in the cavalry, claiming that his skills as a runner rival his own and that both men will make a major contribution to the regiment. Weir shows us plenty of carefully crafted scenes of the men having a good time in Cairo, of the deepening camaraderie taking place even as the war looms larger and larger in the background. The movie takes a doom and gloom turn as the ANZAC forces land at Gallipoli to take part in the fighting. Casualties mount as attacks designed to expand the beachhead fail under Turkish machine guns. Soon, Archy and Frank know they will have to go over the top too, and realize they will certainly perish in the process. The conclusion to "Gallipoli" is one of the most emotionally grinding, soul shattering denouements in motion picture history.
The only thing I found extremely irritating about "Gallipoli" is the cheesy synth musical score, which now sounds so early 1980s that it dates the picture terribly. I think the message about how people join up to go to war for all the wrong reasons, however, is still highly relevant. And if there was any war that everyone should have avoided, it was World War I. Generals and leaders still subscribed to antiquated notions of warfare, never taking into account machine guns, poison gas, and airplanes would decimate the troops. The fatalities were truly appalling, with millions perishing in muddy trenches during the four year conflict. Weir expertly depicts the squalid conditions of the trenches, but he goes too far blaming the film's fatal charge on the British commanders. First of all, far more British soldiers died during the campaign in the Dardanelles than did members of ANZAC. Second, why place the onus for the war on the British? Plenty of commanders on all sides made mistake after mistake in this conflagration, mistakes that resulted in so many fatalities that it's a wonder humanity didn't rise up and cast their leaders into the fire.
"Gallipoli" wins the day in the end thanks to the charm of Mark Lee and Mel Gibson. Weir's cinematography sinks its claws in as well. Check out the shots of the Australian outback, the Red Cross party, and the landing at Gallipoli to learn why. The transfer looks good, but the only extra on the disc is a short interview with Weir about the making of the film. I wanted a commentary track for this film desperately, and still hope a special edition will arrive on the market in the near future. If you haven't seen "Gallipoli," check it out soon.
on December 17, 1999
There's been a few things said about this movie, several reviewers mentioned that it was slow-moving, and another pointed out with exasperating pedantry the historical inaccuracies, but I'd like to say that I think 'Gallipoli' is a good movie. It was well shot and well acted, the characters were real and believeable, the score was magnificient, the story was inspiring, and although the script had less action than, say, 'Saving Private Ryan' it also wasn't wasteful - one wouldn't have cared about the people if one didn't know them.
Which is also the point. If `Gallipoli' wasn't historically accurate, and it's tough to represent a yearlong epic in an hour and a half, one does get the point. Which, of course, is that wars, especially this one, and especially this battle, are stupid, self-serving and pointlessly destructive endeavors.
I'm dumbfounded by the reviewer who chose to lambaste the portrayal of the British officers in the campaign. I'm surprised an Aussie would say that, but then again there're plenty of Yanks who'll second guess Harry S Truman from now till the end of time, so who am I to judge. While I'm the first to admit that those words were probably not said, I have to believe that the blue blood of the capital officers taught them not to give a damn about the sweat and blood of some poor sons-of-criminals from a lost colony. I'm not alone, and I quote from John Merriman's History of Modern Europe, p1059, "Other [historians] agree with most contemporaries who believed that [Gallipoli] was a needless diversion dictated by British colonial interests in the Middle East and for which Australian and New Zealander troops paid a disproportionate price."
The aristocratic attitude of the officers in the Great War was the single thing that caused the casualty rates The well-bred officers didn't care that they were sending men with bolt-action rifles against entrenched machine guns because they were just peasants (or Australians) anyway. That is the historical truth, and I for one like how it came out in the training sequence as well as the battle sequences of this movie. It belongs in the collection of anybody who doesn't want to go to war.
This is one of the best films I've ever seen. Mark Lee and Mel Gibson are magnificent and positively radiant in this tale of two friends caught up in a horrifying war...the innocence of these characters, and their courage, will move you to tears. Peter Weir has made many wonderful films (like "Witness") but none in my opinion as powerful as this. The score by Brian May is beautiful and uses Albinoni's glorious "Adagio in G minor" for the titles, credits, and during the film. If you were only to see 10 films in your entire life, this should be one of them.
This excellent film is probably the best movie made by the talented Australian director Peter Weir. While Weir has a made a number of very good films, notably The Year of Living Dangerously and the recent Master and Commander, the subject matter of Gallipoli is the most serious of any of Weir's films. Gallipoli is the general title for the series of WWI battles in which the Western Allies attempted to force the Dardanelles and knock Turkey out of the war. Some, including Winston Churchill, himslef one of the prime movers behind the campaign, argued that Allied success at Gallipoli would have been decisive. This has been disputed by recent historians. The Gallipoli campaigns were the first large scale attempt at amphibious assault and were an organizational and tactical disaster. The Allied commanders flubbed several chances to beat the Turks. The Turkish defense was tenacious and much of the action became the trench warfare characteristic of much of WWI. The Allies failed, at great cost, though Turkish casulties were also quite high.
Gallipoli holds a special resonance for Australians. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was the first major overseas participation of Australian and New Zealand troops fighting as national formations. The ANZACs fought courageously, prefiguring the outstanding performance of Australian and New Zealand infantry in both World Wars. Gallipoli appears to occupy the place in Australian history that the Civil War occupies in American life. Australia (possibly also New Zealand) is the only country that regularly celebrates a major military defeat.
Weir's movie is a powerful depiction of the Australian experience at Gallipoli. The story is simple. A pair of friends from Western Australia enlist, are sent to Gallipoli, and one of them dies in one of the famous and bungled attacks characteristic of the campaign, indeed of the whole war. Weir uses this conventional war movie formula in particularly creative ways. A good deal of the movie takes place prior to enlistment. Weir uses these scenes to convey his image of Australia as rural, provincial, starkly beautiful, and in important ways, profoundly innocent. The war scenes are beautifully prepared and photographed. Weir and his team apparently used a careful study of photographs from Gallipoli to construct scenes in the movie. I recognized parts of scenes as being almost identical to some famous photos of trench life in Gallipoli. The scenes before and during the climactic assault are devastatingly powerful.
This film was made in Australia, by Australians, and for Australians. Some important aspects of the story are simply assumed. These are things that would be known by Australians but not by Americans. The infantry assault depicted in the film were diversions and part of the Battle of Suvla Bay, an attempt to break out of the limited beachheads established in the initial landings. Had the Suvla Bay attacks been successful, the Allies would have beaten Turkey in 1915. Suvla Bay almost succeeded and failed largely because of poor leadership and communications. Because of the latter, the sacrifice of the ANZACs was entirely wasted. Australian audiences would know this and this fact gives the ending of the film a particularly bitter flavor. The end of the movie shows the suicidal attack of the Light Horse on entrenched Turkish positions. The Light Horse suffered 50% casulties that morning.
on March 7, 2000
While Gallipoli is only a "war" movie for about the last 45 minutes, it is still among the best war movies made. In fact, I believe that the attention paid to character development, which fleshes out the characters and makes them more than just uniformed soldiers to the viewer, is really what makes this a great anti-war film.
I first saw this film in 8th grade, when my history class was studying the Great War and its causes. The callousness of the British officers as depicted in the movie was probably somewhat exaggerated, and there are historical inaccuracies in the film, but these are minor points best left to be argued by people who don't have a life. (Like those who argue about certain points of detail in "Saving Private Ryan")
All in all, I rate this movie among other anti-war greats as Stalingrad, Cross of Iron and Platoon.
on November 29, 2005
Those of us in the U.S. are raised with the story of "The Alamo" as a tale of young national sacrifice. Take that story, multiply it greatly, stick it in Turkey during World War I, and you've got Australia/New Zealand's national story of sacrifice.
This is a great, early Peter Weir classic. Two runners become friends in early 1900s Western Australia. Archy (Mark Lee) loves family, god and country, and yearns to serve his country in the Great War. Frank (young Mel Gibson) covers his painful youth with love of self, yet finds himself following Archy to war.
A great tale of honor and sacrifice set in the context of one of Australia's great and tragic campaigns of the first World War. The sets and sights are desert-rich. Some people are turned off by the Jean-Michel Jarre music in the sountrack, but I found it to be appropriate and mood-setting. Weir has a taste for picking music that adds tremendous force to scenes. Pay attention to the details, such as the bottle of Major Barton's "anniversary" wine.
This movie tore my heart out. I first saw in in a "arts" theater over twenty years ago. When it was finished, I just sat in my seat. I couldn't get the final frame and Albinoni's "Adagio" out of my mind for a couple of days. A must-see for any serious movie aficionado.
on November 2, 2000
I have recently finished watching and studying Gallipoli for my English class at school. I am a proud New Zealander, and what happened at Gallipoli is a part of my heritage. Any normal person will feel sad for the men who died and their families, and any moral person will know that it was a tragedy of the inhumane kind, but it was only after watching this film that I fully understood why we commemorate the day the soldiers' fate was sealed. This film is a masterpiece in the finest sense. I loved every minute of it, every line, every close up of a soldier who knows he will soon die, and most of all I love how for the first time in my life, I am still moved by a film, 2 weeks after I watched it.
on January 8, 2000
One of my ten all-time favourites. I've seen it many times, and I always find it wonderful - how it shows some young, idealistic persons, their thoughts, their relationships... and then the fim confront these people with the cruelty of war -
This film conveys very deep feelings, and the music of Jean Michel Jarre and the Adagio of Albinoni both help a lot to make the film so moving (after watching the film for the first time, I hurried up to find those pieces of music, also among my all-time favourites).
I've read some reviews in Amazon in which Australian and British reviewers argue about the role of the aussies in the WWI, or about the historical correctness of the film. I guess that if my country -Spain- was portrayed in a film in a way that I found unfair, I would also complain; but for me, those discussions are meaningless in this case: for me, this film is refering to wars in general - that's why my mother (a history teacher) shows this film to her students every year.
This film is a must; once you see it, you'll wonder why it is not as well known as it deserves.
on June 20, 2005
If the American Civil War was terrible, and it was, the "forgotten" or "ignored" war we call World War I was even more so. And as much as any battle in that "forgotten" and "ignored" war; Gallipoli is probably one of the most ignored and forgotten except in Australia, where this film was made, and New Zealand.
I did not see Gallipoli when the movie first came out in 1981, but recently bought the DVD out of historical interest and a curiosity regarding the acting skills of a much younger Mel Gibson. This is not a "kids" movie, and though rated PG, (rough language and minimal nudity), there is also an intense emotional level to the last half of the film that parents should also be aware of.
This movie does an excellent job of showing the human side of war. That human side takes up a good part of the 111 minutes on the DVD version, and at times the pace of the story gets a little slow. You see the Australian "home front", far from the trenches of Europe. The newspaper gives accounts of the latest news of the ANZAC movements and battles. Two young men, (Mel Gibson and Mark Lee), met and become friends. They try to enlist together but end up in separate units. Other comrades enlist also. Both units end up in Egypt and in the course of training the two friends become reunited. Eventually one is able to transfer to the other's unit.
The actual battle scenes come into the movie rather abruptly. One moment you're at a ballroom scene in Egypt, and the next you're in a boat heading to the shores at Gallipoli. The encampment on the shore is lit up with strings of light bulbs, reminiscent of a crowded carnival midway. Grim "carnival" indeed as occasional enemy shells come screeching into the encampment area, and you see the wounded on litters or shuffling around with their assorted array of bandages. You don't see the dead, though in one trench scene a soldier shakes the protruding hand of a dead man and says, "Glad to met you."
I am not so sure that the British and ANZAC troops lost at Gallipoli due to superior Turkish arms and troops. The Turks did have the advantage of the high ground, but Allied failure was due as much to an inept higher command as anything else. The most glaring omission of command illustrated in the movie was the failure to synchronise the watches of the commanding officers responsible for the attack against a fortified Turkish position. The plan, as conceived would have worked, but a several minute discrepancy between the watches of the two officers became deadly. There was also the failure of the immediate superior officer to recognize the quickly changing face of the situation and his over riding the inferior officer actually on the scene.
As the decimated troops prepare for one last desperate charge, they know it is to death. The camera flashes from one man to another as they quickly scrawl that last note home to loved ones, strip off valued personal possessions to leave in the trench with those notes; and we see on their faces the resignation and foreboding realization that this was it. They would go over the top and not return. They were to be fed as cannon fodder to the scourge of war. The commanding officer on the scene swears he will not ask his men to do something he himself would not do, and he makes his preparations to go with them.
The ending was one of the most abrupt and saddest endings I have ever seen in a lifetime of movies. The emotional shock packed into the way this movie ends brought me to tears.
General William T Sherman, USA, once said, "War is hell." That is a true objective statement that has nothing to do with being "pro" or "anti" war. The truth of Sherman's observation was glaringly and vividly portrayed in the trenches of WWI, and Gallipoli was a prime example. Peter Weir did an effective job in bringing that to the screen, and a young Mel Gibson turned in one of his best ever performances.
on September 27, 2005
Despite being the seminal conflict in the modern world, World War I gets scant attention from the movie industry. Maybe this is because the War lacks the personality of a Macarthur, the villainy of a Hitler or the genius of a Patton. However, for some countries like Australia, New Zealand or Canada, the War gave them recognition and status, apart from their place in the British empire. "Gallipoli" follows the exploits of two young Australian men as they march into the tumult and utter meaninglessness of that War. Their journey does not end in the mud and filth of the Western Front, but rather ends in the windswept mountains of the Dardanelles. Weir expertly weaves the ever present Adagio for Strings, as the movie moves towards its inexorable and tragic ending. Yes, the other music in the movie seems dated now, and makes one wonder how much control Weir had in the other aspects of the soundtrack production. Apparently, he had enough control so that Albinoni's haunting Adagio foreshadows the loss of innocence not only for these young men, but also for their country. Anyone who has followed the movies of Weir realize his attention to detail, and "Gallipoli" is no exception. The little vignettes right before the end are worth mentioning here: the taking off of the ring and the track medals hanging in the trench. Many war movies have shown the moments before the attack, but few have captured it with as much raw emotional intensity as this. And after the attack, the Adagio returns as the blood red credits roll. Besides being a classic war movie, it continues to be one of Weir's greatest works.