Kokoda, 39th Battalion (2006) or The Australians´ Fight in the Pacific

Kokoda 39th Battalion is an Australian movie by Alister Grierson and tells another story that took place in the Pacific during WWII. Only this time we don´t watch Americans fight for the Australians (as they do, amongst oher things, in the miniseries The Pacific), but the Australians themselves. The Kokoda trail on Papua New Guinea is the main trail that leads directly to Port Moresby. By means of this trail the Japanese were planning to arrive at Port Moresby and from there an invasion of Australia would have been easy.

Obviously the Australians did everything to prevent this. The 39th battalion who is in the center of this movie was essentially a battalion of untrained volunteers. The central story focuses on two brothers who joined this battalion together.

The opening of the movie shows us a sequence of still lives that are very beautiful. Pictures of fauna and flora of the island. After that we see what has to be interpreted as premonition like dream of  Jack, one of the two brothers. This is somewhat an exaggeration of what the terrain was like. Same as in episode 4 of The Pacific there is a constant rain, and the terrain gets muddier and muddier. Jack slips and is almost drowning in mud. In the end he looks like some almost amphibian prehistoric creature. Those first ten minutes make you believe you might watch a film like The Thin Red Line with a lot of flashback elements, daydreams but that is, as you soon realise, not the case. From that moment on Kokoda turns into Hamburger Hill, meaning heavy jungle infantry combat.

The men are surrounded by Japanese soldiers whose camouflage is so much more efficient than their own, whose fighting experience is outstanding, and whose cruelty, as the movie wants to make us believe, is beyond imagination.

This was one of the movies that made me think again and again: Why war? Why did that happen? Why did it have to happen. The efforts of the Australians seem so futile, that even though they won in the end, there is nothing noble in all this. It´s just horrible and hard to watch.

I first thought that this was an average movie but the overall atmosphere is so intense, the desperate fight of these badly trained men is so well depicted that I think it´s quite a good movie that I would recommend you´d watch. And, most important, the pictures of the dense forest and the instances of cruelty in the middle of the jungle aren´t easily forgotten and stay in your mind long after you´ve watched it.

Yes, it´s biased, the Japanese are shown as beastly monsters but still.

Furthermore it tells a quite soulful story of the deep bond between brothers.

DVD on Amazon

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11 thoughts on “Kokoda, 39th Battalion (2006) or The Australians´ Fight in the Pacific

  1. John says:

    One of the worst movies I’ve seen-as an Australian I thought it was pathetic.

  2. It wasn’t the worst but it was ordinary – to be polite. It really tells nothing on the story of that campaign or the battles along the track. It is very Thing Red Line meets Hamburger Hill but without the good qualities of either.

    To be fair, its not the movies or the movie makers fault. Its a near impossible task to try and tell the story of that campaign in the limited screen time you can give it. You can’t select one battle to showcase that story either as many of the battles were just so vastly different. Showing the barley trained and under-supplied Militia rearguard fighting withdrawal along the track means you won’t see the experienced Desert Warriors from the now professional AIF arrive and start the drive back across the mountain range which means you won’t have time to show the horrific carnage at the end of the campaign at Gona, Buna and Sanananda and it also means you miss that always forgotten but very important battle and first land defeat of the Japanese at Milne Bay.

    This movie opts for bland jungle fighting of anonymous men in anonymous terrain for anonymous goals. Its just …well…generic. I applaud them for tackling it – we haven’t really had any war or military themed movies or tv since the 1980’s so it was great to see. But, lets put it this way. I’ve re-watched The Odd Angry Shot and the ANZACs more times than I can count….with both shoes and socks off…I’ve watched Kokoda twice. And the second time was because I was stuck on a plane…..

    • To be honest, I had no idea that there was so much going on there. I liked it a quite a bit but have seen negative reviews as well. Good ones too though.
      ANZACs is undoubtedly better and so are all of the Australian New Wave movies and Hill 60 ceratainly too but I still felt it gave me a good impression of one aspect.

  3. Thomas says:

    I’m a little late reading this blog, especially some of the posts, but gotta say… everything here is so great and so true. As someone who’s originally from the area, I get a chuckle out of many things here.

  4. I’m a cynic and the best of times. Maybe I was just in a good mood, but I really liked this movie.

    “I know what I hate…. and I don’t hate this.”
    -Montgomery Burns

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