Umbrella Entertainment makes their U.S. debut with a 4K restoration of 1981’s ‘Attack Force Z.’
Home video labels are typically country-bound by region code restrictions, distribution access, and simple geography, meaning their titles are only available for sale in their home countries. Region-free players have helped break down those walls, but once in a while a label actually jumps borders to offer official releases elsewhere. The UK’s Arrow Video now releases straight to North America, Criterion recently opened up shop in the UK, and now Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment has arrived on our shores with an early 80s war classic, Attack Force Z.
Z Special Unit fought against Japan during World War II and consisted of commandos from Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain. Their missions ranged from assaults to rescues, and while they sustained heavy casualties at times they were known for their bravery under extraordinary circumstances. Here a five-man team is dispatched by canoe to an island in the Straits of Sembaleng after a plane carrying very important cargo is shot down and crashes in the jungle. Chinese villagers live on the island under Japanese occupation, and when the commando team arrives it’s not immediately clear which side the locals are on.
Captain Kelly (Mel Gibson) leads the team which quickly loses a member to enemy gunfire. Well, he’s wounded and unable to continue, and knowing what he signed up for means he’s not surprised when one of his fellow commandos, Sergeant Costello (Sam Neill), finishes the job. Also along for the mission are Lieutenant Veitch (John Phillip Law) and Able Seaman Bird (Chris Haywood). The four reluctantly partner up with a local man to find the downed plane, but loyalties, motivations, and the desire to stay alive lead to further conflict. They won’t all be coming home.
Director Tim Burstall found local success in the 70s with a handful of T&A romps including Stork and The Sex Therapist, but he found wider acceptance a decade later with Attack Force Z. The film no doubt reached an increasing audience over the years thanks to the early appearance of Gibson and Neill, but Burstall delivers a solid little war film regardless of the star power.
The tropical setting pairs sweaty, attractive visuals with the ugliness of war, and the villages and surrounding jungle are used to strong effect. Action beats are equally appealing with effectively abrupt shoot-outs culminating in a bigger clash that leaves casualties on all sides. There’s a not-so subtle theme here about the indiscriminate losses, the general futility of war, and how too often the warring parties both exit once it’s over leaving the locals to pick up the pieces of their damaged landscape and lives.
Attack Force Z keeps the action localized, but tension, suspense, and thrills make for a grand time with it all the same.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray features a new 4K scan & restoration from the original inter-positive (a print made from the original negative), and the result is a more vibrant picture than fans of the film are used to. The image is sharp, the colors are bright, and it looks and sounds fantastic. Extras are slight, but the featurette that’s included does offer some insight and fun anecdotes.
- The Z Men Debriefed [26:56] – Producer John McCallum and actors Chris Haywood and John Waters share thoughts on the production and memories of working with Mel Gibson, Sam Neill, Chris Haywood, and John Phillip Law. Their recollections on Law’s concerns about how his hair looked are great fun.
Buy Attack Force Z on Blu-ray from Amazon.