October 05, 1981 12:00 PM

Peter Weir, the Australian director whose Picnic at Hanging Rock helped give Down Under films a leg up here two years ago, has turned his perceptive eye on his country’s involvement in World War I. The focus is the battle at Gallipoli in Turkey, where thousands of Australian troops were massacred while trying to establish a beachhead in 1915. But this is not a conventional war movie; the battle occupies only the last few minutes. It is about two young, idealistic members of the Australian Light Horse regiment who meet as track competitors, enlist as “mates” and travel some 7,000 miles to uphold their country’s honor. Weir makes every scene an event. The cast of Australian actors (Mel Gibson and newcomer Mark Lee are the protagonists) is extraordinarily skilled, the photography is superb and the story moves. The film’s two Australian expatriate producers, newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch and Robert (Grease) Stigwood, have honored their native country with this superlative work. (PG)

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