Gallipoli: 2-Disc Anniversary Edition Review

”What are your legs?”
“Steel springs.”
“What are they going to do?”
“Hurl me down the track.”
“How fast can you run?”
“As fast as a leopard?”
“How fast are you going to run?”
“As fast as a leopard!”
“Now let’s see you do it!”

The following review is much the same as the one in my reviews of the original Region 2 release (reviewed in September 2001) and the new Region 1 Special Collector’s Edition. However, the Region 4 2-Disc Anniversary Edition – released in April 2005 – contains a considerably different set of extras..

It's 1915, and eighteen-year-old Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is the fastest sprinter in Western Australia. Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), a few years older, is about as fast. They meet at a race, which Archy narrowly wins, and soon become firm friends. However, war is underway in Europe. At first Archy is turned down by the army for being under-age, but with Frank's help he treks to Perth and signs up under a false name.

To Australians, Gallipoli (in Turkey) is a key event in their history, when thousands of young Australian men were needlessly slaughtered. Perhaps inevitably it took Australians to make the film version of the story. Robert Stigwood and Rupert Murdoch's names feature prominently in the credits: whatever their crimes against culture, they can be forgiven for this film. However, Gallipoli is less a war film than a film about male friendship, or "mateship" as the Australians put it. It's a perennial Aussie theme, here given depth by the wartime setting. (With both stars' good looks, and scenes where they carve their names in stone, it's not surprising that some people have read Gallipoli as a coded gay love story.) David Williamson's script is firmly structured into three acts: the first three-quarters of an hour in Australia, a middle act in Egypt and the final half-hour at the front in Gallipoli. There's a considerable amount of larkish humour in the early and middle stages, where the war seems far away, but Williamson and Weir expertly darken the tone to an ending that packs a considerable punch. The final shot is hard to forget.

Of the two lead actors, needless to say one became a major star and the other didn't. It's hard to see why that would be, as both Gibson and Lee's characters are given equal weight – if anything, as the film begins and ends with Archy, Lee is on screen a little more than Gibson. Lee has played leads in a few other films (Emma's War (1986) and The Everlasting Secret Family (1988) had British cinema releases, both of them brief) but seems to have worked mostly for TV in the last decade. There's solid support from a reliable cast.

Compared to another major film about World War I, Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, Gallipoli is a different, much warmer film. We're certainly meant to feel the injustice of the officers ordering young men to their death, but it's their idealism and patriotism that comes over much more strongly. Like Newsfront, but in a different way, this is a film is specifically about Australia rather than just simply made and set there: notice the number of times in the dialogue that Archy and Frank are dressed as if they were the country. Again like Newsfront, it's a film that makes Aussies feel good about themselves. The only commander we see much of is Bill Hunter's kindly Major. By contrast, Kubrick is far more interested in his monstrous commanding officers than he is in the men.

Looking back, Gallipoli, along with its successor The Year of Living Dangerously started a second phase in Weir's career. If you take his debut, The Cars That Ate Paris as an interesting, flawed and somewhat anomalous first effort, then the first phase (Australian-made and financed) consists of Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave. These films have a sense of nature being larger and more mysterious than we can comprehend; they are films that suggest more than they explain. Weir has kept his sense of the atmosphere of place, but has only really returned to such themes with his underrated 1993 film Fearless. With Witness he has worked in America, but Gallipoli and Living Dangerously are Australian films made with major-studio funding. They are stories on a larger scale (apart from Cars and the later Master and Commander, they are the only Weir films shot in Scope), and deal more with socio-political subject matter than the mystical, inward-looking themes of their predecessors. Much of this is due to David Williamson, who wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for both films. A playwright as well as a screenwriter, Williamson is a master of sharply edged dialogue, as anyone who has seen Don's Party will know. As a result, parents of young children may wish to know that the language in the script doesn't test the bounds of a PG certificate in terms of strength, but it certainly does in quantity.

This DVD edition, released by Fox Australia, is encoded for Region 4 only. It contains the feature on a dual-layer disc and a second, single-layered disc with further extras.

The film is transferred in a ratio of 2.35:1. This appears to be much the same transfer as on the Region 2 version: it’s a little washed-out and soft, and there is some print damage. It’s certainly acceptable, but not spectacular: if picture quality is your deciding factor, then the new Region 1 version wins. All versions have fifteen chapter stops, with the divisions in the same places. The Region 4 transfer appears to much the same as the 2001 version. Screen captures follow, in the following order: Region 1, Region 2, Region 4.

The film was released in mono, but this, like the other editions, features a remixed track in Dolby Digital 5.1, with no original track available. It does seem that Weir favours remixing his early mono soundtracks (everything prior to Witness) and I have no reason to doubt that a remix is his preference here. The track makes effective use of the surrounds for ambience and some directional effects. The subwoofer gets some explosions to work on towards the end. Unfortunately, the extracts from Jean-Michel Jarre’s then-current and fashionable Oxygene are mixed loud. They always sounded out of place and now date the film more than anything else.

On the first disc is also the theatrical trailer, which runs 1:30. Scored to Oxygene, it’s different to the international trailer in having no voiceover, particularly not one that assumes you’ve never heard of Gallipoli. Also on the first disc are filmographies for Weir, Williamson, DP Russell Boyd, Gibson and Lee.

Disc Two begins with interviews with Peter Weir (15:09) and a very American-accented Mel Gibson (11:36). Extracts from both are included in the Region 1, but these are the full versions. Weir describes how the film sprang from his visit to the battle site and his reading of accounts of the campaign. Gibson looks back on a film which he rates very highly and which he thinks gave a significant boost to his own career.

The rest of the extras are more historically based, which is understandable given the subject matter and the fact that this is an Australian release. “Boys from the Dardanelles” (21:35) was a seventieth-anniversary (1984) documentary, in which 240 surviving veterans attended the opening of the Gallipoli Gallery at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Some of the veterans talk to camera about their experiences, illustrated with archive footage. It’s sobering to reflect that none of them are alive today. The sound is scratchy and the picture quality none too hot, but this is a worthwhile extra.

Rupert Murdoch’s joint venture with Robert Stigwood produced Gallipoli, even though Murdoch himself took a back seat. However, Murdoch did have a family connection to the campaign: his father, Keith Murdoch (later Sir Keith) was a reporter at the scene and wrote a letter to the then Australian Prime Minister in which he was very critical of the way the campaign was being run. This letter is credited with changing the course of the War and is included on this DVD. Forty-nine screens of text (and 1915 typing at that) is likely to be hard on the eyes, though – as an alternative you can download the letter as a PDF from the DVD. On the disc, the letter has a short (2:44) introduction from Sir Keith’s widow, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.

The extras continue with a 30-image stills gallery and “In-Depth Gallipoli Material”. The latter consists of historical information, articles on the background to the conflict, the leaders of both sides and the day-to-day lives of the men, presented as a series of newspaper clippings. Finally, teacher’s notes and the Murdoch letter are available as PDFs for those with DVD-ROM capabilities.

The extras are more in-depth than those on the Region 1, and will certainly appeal to anyone specifically interested in the history of the Gallipoli campaign. For more general viewers, the Region 1 has a six-part documentary which will be satisfying enough, and has a better transfer than this DVD.

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