Attack Force Z (1982)
By: David Michael Brown on February 12, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Director: Tim Burstall
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sam Neil, John Philip Law
Screenplay: Roger Marchall
Country: Australia
With 2008 bringing us probably the most ultra violent war film ever made with Sylvester Stallone's Rambo, it's interesting to travel back to the early Eighties to look at an Aussie war film starring such Antipodean acting legends as Mel Gibson, Sam Neil and John Waters.

Towards the end of the Seventies films like The Wild Geese and Enzo. G. Casterelli's Inglorious Bastards set the bar for daring, seemingly impossible missions that resulted in death and destruction. These films were more violent than their predecessors in the Sixties like The Guns of Navarone and A Bridge Too Far and achieved popularity in the then burgeoning video market. The plots of all these films, often based on actual occurrences, all followed a similar blueprint and Attack Force Z is no exception. Mel Gibson, as Captain P. G. Kelly, leads a crack military unit on a mission to rescue the survivors of a plane crash in the South Pacific during WWII. As usual one of the castaways holds the secret that could end the war and as always, the fall proof plan goes horribly wrong until there is barely one man standing.

The action scenes are nicely handled although there is a distinct bargain basement feel to the whole thing. Some of the scenes look exactly like what they are, actors running around the jungle with fake guns. There is no real sense of dread whenever a gun is shot. This maybe has more to do with the script than the actors, there are a couple of wasted moments when major cast members bite the dust that should have emoted a bigger reaction than they do. There is no real time to develop the characters before they are off on their mission. This isn't helped by the score by Eric Jupp, a clichéd, bombastic arrangement that hinders every scene that it accompanies. Saying this director Burtsall does a sterling job with what he's got, especially considering he was second choice after Philip Noyce. His previous films like Alvin Purple, Peterson and Eliza Fraser unfortunately didn't prepare him for a war film and its fairly evident that he was a hired hand for this film.

The Aussie cast obviously had fun. Neil plays against type delightfully and watching Gibson you can see the Hollywood superstar breaking through. John Philip Law was obviously cast to draw in the American crowds, a bizarre choice as his two most famous roles both stem from Europe with Roger Vadim's Barberella and Mario Bava's Danger Diabolik. To be honest he is the weak link in the team. The rest of the cast was made up of Aussie Television stars and big time Taiwanese and Chinese actors including Sylvia Chang who would go on to be a bigger star than them all in her homeland.
The film is given a loving transfer; the lush greens of the forest look inviting. The film still has the wonderfully cheap sheen that all Aussie action and exploitation films of the era but the film looks great. Clean, sharp with very little dirt or speckles present except for a few dark scenes.
The stereo track is loud and punchy which is a blessing in disguise considering the films score but a good job has been done and it's a dynamic mix, the explosions and gunshots rattle the speakers.
Extra Features
The Z-Men Debriefed is a new 25 minute featurette that includes interviews with most of the cast crew with the, unfortunately expected, exception of Mel Gibson, John Philip Law and Sam Neil. They all look back with fondness and have some nice memories of the shoot including the joys of growing a big beard in China, getting drunk on rice wine and Mad Mel in particular, "I could tell immediately that he wasn't going to be a very good actor but he would be a fine action actor!"

Add to this a theatrical trailer and a photo gallery and the usual Umbrella Propoganda and you have a fine DVD on your hands.
The Verdict
For all its faults Attack Force Z is a 'Boys Own' adventure full of action, adventure and daring do's. The involvement of Gibson, Neil, Waters and the film's chequered production history elevate the film beyond its bargain basement warfare into a fascinating piece of Aussie film history. As John Waters calls it "Its sort of the Dr Who of Jungle warfare movies!" When was the last time Mel Gibson appeared in a film that cost $30,000?
Movie Score
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