August 31, 2013
Gallipoli (1981)
Grade: 78/100

Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Hunter

What it's about. Set in Australia, Egypt, and Turkey in 1915. Earnest and heroic youth Archy (Mark Lee) and the somewhat older and more cynical Frank (Mel Gibson) are champion short distance runners. Despite their differences, they become close friends, and enlist in World War I to aid their ally England. Archy, a good rider, becomes an officer in the Light Horse calvalry. Frank ends up as a grunt in the infantry.

Frank is dispatched to Egypt, where he is reunited with three former railway workers who joined up earlier: Bill (Robert Grubb), Barney (Tim McKenzie), and the surprisingly prudish Snowy (David Argue). The four have several misadventures with Egyptian merchants and prostitutes. During a training mission, Frank comes across Archy, who compels his good-hearted superior, Major Barton (Bill Hunter) to allow Frank to join the Light Horse regiment.

In short order, the unit is sent to the Turkish front, Gallipoli, and is ordered to launch a suicidal assault on a Turkish machine nest, as a diversion to allow a British invasion nearby. Barton asks Archy to serve as a message runner, but Archy insists that the assignment goes to Frank, effectively sacrificing his own life to save his friend.

How others will see it. Gallipoli was purportedly the most expensive Australian movie ever made up to that time. In fact, the costumes, sets, and multitude of extras are visually impressive. The accents are relatively easy to understand.

The movie was generally well received, especially in its home country, where it was nominated for a slew of Australian Film Institute awards, winning eight, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor. Curiously, BAFTA and the Oscars both ignored the movie, perhaps due to the film's anti-British slant.

Today at, the user ratings are quite high at 7.5 out of 10, and are unusually consistent across age groups and genders. The user vote total of 22K is respectable, given the pre-internet age of the film and its non-Hollywood origin. Doubtlessly, Mel Gibson's leading role helps draw attention.

Most user reviews at are positive. The relatively few negative comments often derive from the film's most controversial aspect: the insinuation that Aussie troops were there to be slaughtered as bait for the benefit of the British troops. Research on World War I quickly determines that the U.K. casualties were much greater, both in terms of raw numbers and on a per capita basis.

Some viewers wanted to get past the human interest segments, which dominate the film, in favor of extended battle scenes. I understand the natural preference of action to drama, though if both are well done, that is what matters, rather than any ratio.

Finally, the Jean Michel Jarre synthesizer score seems dated today, though it was similar to other period films of the day, such as The Bounty and, of course, Chariots of Fire.

How I felt about it. However, the film reminds me more of Paths of Glory, another World War I movie about a suicidal assault from one trench upon another. Gallipoli concentrates on events prior to the slaughter, while Paths of Glory depicts the aftermath of such an ill-advised offensive. Like All Quiet on the Western Front, the idea is to humanize the front-line soldiers, who are fictional but representative. Their inevitable deaths demonstrate the tragedy of war, especially when multiplied millions of times over to account for all of the dead.

In Gallipoli, Mark Lee is the earnest, young, and eternally heroic Luke Skywalker, while Gibson is the self-centered jerk who comes through in the end, or at least tries his best. Lee is too good to be true, but we can identify with Gibson, who is in no hurry to die pointlessly in a foreign land.