Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, has stepped up their game over the last 18 months in their efforts to not only bring quality catalog titles to the market down under, but also be the first to release classic Aussie exploitation films in HD around the world. Classics like Road Games, Man From Hong Kong, Razorback (due for an upgrade soon), Body Melt, and more have found their first - and sometimes only - Blu-ray release through the speciality distributor.
We took a look at a couple of recent releases from Umbrella Entertainment and found them to be pretty decent overall, especially in a market that they have pretty much cornered at this point. Below you'll find our thoughts on early Mel Gibson actioner Attack Force Z, eco-horror killer croc film Dark Age, as well as a trio of documentaries from Australian film fanatic Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed, and Electric Boogaloo). All are worth your time, and I'd say worth your money as well.
Ozploitation veteran Tim Burstall (Alvin Purple, Stork, Petersen) directs a who's who of Australian actors in WWII action drama, Attack Force Z.
Mel Gibson leads the cast as the commander of an elite squad of commandos who've been sent to a Japanese occupied island in the South Pacific to rescue and return the survivors of a downed airplane. Along for the journey are his team, including John Waters (the actor), John Phillip Law (Barbarella, Danger: Diabolik), Chris Haywood, and a very young Sam Neill. Along the way the must make friends with the locals, who are wary of this intrusion, but even more scared of the Japanese interlopers who occupy their land.
One would imagine that with a title like Attack Force Z - apparently a real unit - that there would be action bursting from every scene, but strangely the film is rather subdued in that regard. There is the odd explosion or quick gunfight, but most of the film deals with espionage, building relationships with the locals, and even a bit of romance. The Attack Force only really gets it going in the final 10 minutes, at which point all hell breaks loose when they are on the verge of completing their mission.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the film, I definitely did, I just wish I'd had my head on straight before going in because it's not the kind of action extravaganza I'm used to seeing in early '80s Australian action.
Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray debut of Attack Force Z is decent, but not exactly a showstopper. One might be a bit put off by the first few minutes of footage, a lot of really grainy nature b-roll and what looks like stock footage, but it definitely gets better from there. Skin tones are decent, the color palette appears to be reasonable accurate, and the fine detail is about as good as one could expect without a massive restoration. The audio is similarly effective, Umbrella have included an original Stereo audio track that works just fine for me. Dialogue is clear and effects are well defined.
There is one significant extra on the disc and that is The Z-Men Debriefed, a half-hour featurette with interviews of Executive Producer John McCallum and actors John Waters and Chris Haywood. It's informative, if slight, though I suppose one could forgive them for not being able to round up some of the bigger names who've gone of to become megastars.
Attack Force Z is a fun film, and the Blu-ray is the best way to see it. If you can find it for a reasonable price and you're looking for some decent war action from a new angle, you could do a lot worse.