Attack Force Z [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (28th March 2023).
The Film

On January 10, 1945, the joint British/Australian/New Zealand commando force Z Special Unit deploys a five-man team Australian Captain P.G. Kelly (Gallipoli's Mel Gibson), Dutch Lieutenant Jan Vietch (Barbarella's John Phillip Law), Australian Sergeant Danny Costello (My Brilliant Career's Sam Neill), British Able Seaman "Sparrer" Bird ('Breaker' Morant's Chris Haywood), and New Zealand Sub-Lieutenant Ted "Kingo" King (Summerfield's John Waters) along the Straits of Sembaleng. Their mission: find a plane that went down in the mountains and extract its contents before the Japanese army find it. The stakes are so vital that only relatively green leader Kelly knows the particulars about the plane's contents, and any injury that hinders a member of the unit is a fatal vulnerability. The unit dispatches any Japanese forces they come across with lethal precision, and are about to conduct a raid on a farm until English-speaking Chinese Chien Hua (Legend of the Mountain's Sylvia Chang) asks them whether they came from the plane or are looking for it. Her father Lin Chan-Lang (The Frogmen's Koo Chuan-Hsiung), a local resistance fighter, arrives just in time to prove his family's stance against the Japanese occupation and offers to guide them up the mountain to the location of the plane.

Kelly's men, particularly Veitch whose uncle was crucified by the Japanese, question his trust in Lin, particularly after they witness his fellow countrymen blow up the remains of the plane. Chinese-speaking Costello discovers more reason to doubt Lin after they visit the village near to the crash and the latter lies to Kelly about the villagers' ignorance of the crash; that is, until Kelly must divulge the identity of the inhabitants to the plane. As Kelly must regain the trust of his own men and convince Lin and the villagers to risk a massacre by the Japanese army to help them, the island's Japanese squad Captain Imanaka (The 18 Bronzemen's Yi Yuan) target Lin's farm and his family upon learning that some of his men were killed not only by automatic weapons but by Chinese throwing knives.

A fictionalized account of true events, the Australian/Taiwanese co-production Attack Force Z manages to simultaneously be "Ozploitation" and an Australian prestige project, with the narrow timeframe of the story, stripped-down plot, pictorial beauty of the locations, and the resources of the Taiwanese production and stunt teams compensating for an obvious low budget and a production troubled by weather and the replacement of original director Phillip Noyce (Newsfront) by Tim Burstall (Petersen). Characterization is as pared-down as the plot, but a romantic subplot feels more de rigueur for a war film from two decades than some of the film's more understated concerns about the unit's "use" of the locals; indeed, Law and Chang have only slightly more opportunity to emote than Gibson, Neill, and Koo. The relatively downbeat resolution of the film The Wild Geese this is not despite the whittling down to the team by the climax may perhaps have been the reason that the film did not do well theatrically as a "war film"; however, the film's replay value not only as down-and-dirty actioner with the presences of then little-known Gibson and Neill has gained the film a cult status in the home video realm.
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Video

Shot in 1979 but not screened until 1981 at Cannes and 1982 in Australia and the United States, Attack Force Z came to VHS stateside via Media Home Entertainment sub-label VCL in 1984 followed by a Virgin Vision tape in 1987. While Australia's Umbrella Entertainment made an anamorphic region free PAL DVD available in 2004, stateside Image Entertainment gave us a non-anamorphic letterboxed edition in 2007. Bewilderingly, the film made its Blu-ray bow stateside in 2011 from Cinevision featuring a pillarboxed fullscreen transfer from a video source so flat and faded that one wonders why the company even bothered with the format at a time when it was still expensive for niche labels. Fortunately, Umbrella Entertainment was able to make use of a new 4K restoration from the original 35mm interpositive for their 2017 all-region Blu-ray which MVD Visual subsequently ported stateside for their Blu-ray release the same year. Severin Film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a newer "2K from the original negative at The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia" and the results are not substantially different after the extremely rough-looking opening credits opticals which might make one doubt the claim of the source. The image is overall slightly brighter with minutely better shadow detail while framing gains a sliver along the top while losing a sliver at the bottom. The grading is not substantially different, suggesting that both restorations used the same reference materials. The end credits appear to have been digitally-recreated (which may be why the background does not look as coarse and degraded as the opening sequence).
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Audio

The sole audio option is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track the Umbrella and MVD Blu-rays featured uncompressed LPCM featuring a mix of English, Mandarin, and Japanese dialogue. The track is generally very clean but there are a handful of moments of absolute silence that call attention to themselves amidst other moments without dialogue, music, or effects where there is just a faint layer of surface noise which may either be an overzealous use of digital noise reduction or moments where the audio track had to be synched to the image without filling in those millisecond gaps with looped audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available for the full track or English subtitles for the Mandarin and Japanese dialogue. Do note that the translation on both tracks covers only dialogue that was subtitled with burnt-in subtitles on theatrical prints while dialogue that is subsequently translated by Costello or Chien Hua along with English dialogue translated to Mandarin is not subtitled.
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Extras

Ported over from the Umbrella DVD and Blu-ray is "The Z Men Debriefed" (28:05), a documentary featuring interviews with executive producer John McCallum and actors Waters and Haywood in which they discuss the replacement of Noyce with Burstall noting Noyce's different interpretation of the material and his dissatisfaction with the local resources and Burstall's efficient style of filmmaking the evident charisma of Gibson and Neill, Law's concern with how his hair looked throughout the shoot, Taiwanese superstars Chang and Koo, Waters' short role and the reasons behind his character's early killing, and Haywood's experience with the Taiwanese effects team and a mishap in which a technician lost an eye. The documentary runs roughly two minutes longer on Severin's edition because it is in 1080p24 while the earlier Blu-ray editions featured it in 1080i60 from a 50i source.
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The disc also features an image gallery (2:33) and a theatrical trailer (2:45).

Overall

If Attack Force Z does not quite succeed as an Australian prestige "war film", it does havve replay value as down-and-dirty actioner with the presences of then little-known Gibson and Neill.

 


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