Forbidden Ground Review
France, 1916. Three British soldiers, Sergeant-Major Arthur Wilkins (Johan Earl, also the film's writer and co-director with Adrian Powers), Corporal Jennings (Martin Copping) and Private O'Leary (Tim Pocock) are ordered to take part in a charge on German trenches and find themselves stranded in no man's land, fighting to survive...
Mateship, the bond between two men especially, is a perennial Australian theme. The experience of war, the dangers, the prospect of instant death at a young age and the sense that each day could be your last, puts that mateship in extremis. And while Australian cinema has touched on other wars, such as the Boer War (Breaker Morant), World War Two (for example, Kokoda and Attack Force Z) and Vietnam (The Odd Angry Shot), often it's the Great War, now with its last participants having passed away and approaching its century, that it returns to. Gallipoli is the great example, which depicts a national tragedy through the story of a mateship (or a coded homoerotic love story, as some would have it). Forbidden Ground, released on UK DVD before its Australian cinema release, brings the mateship theme to the fore by casting its three principals adrift in no-man's land. As a film, it's certainly not on the level of Gallipoli, but like Kokoda and Beneath Hill 60 it's an efficiently made but not overwhelming film that rather takes our outrage on trust.
There's a second strand to this film, however, and as with Beneath Hill 60 it acts as counterpoint and contrast to the main action. It's introduced rather tricksily by what seems at first to be a flashforward but which turns out to be a dream from Grace Wilkins (Denai Gracie), Arthur's wife, pregnant as a result of an infidelity (the latter rather too conveniently overlooked) and turned down for an abortion by her doctor, turns in desperation to Eve Rose (Sarah Anne Mawbey) to help her. These scenes are shot in brighter, more saturated hues than the all but monochromatic sequences on the front. However, the parallels between the sacrifices of young men in war and the position of women seems quite overdetermined – and is none too subtly emphasised by heavy crosscutting later on – and the film simply doesn't have the punch it seems to want to achieve. The result is certainly watchable, well enough made and acted, but there have been better Australian war films before and there will be better ones later.
Entertainment One's DVD is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. It begins with trailers for Mud, Hammer of the Gods and the aforementioned Beneath Hill 60 .
Shot digitally, Forbidden Ground is presented in its intended ratio of 2.40:1. As this is a brand new film, digital in origin to intermediate to final result, you'd expect nothing less than a flawless transfer. Forbidden Ground doesn't have a filmic look – once you can tell the difference between a digitally-captured movie and a 35mm-originated one, you'll almost always spot it – but I'm not in any doubt that it's the intended one. The scenes in no man's land are dark and all but drained of colour, with the yellow-reds of flames standing out. By contrast, as mentioned above, the scenes at home are warmer and brighter, with some saturated colours, especially the greens of leaves.
The soundtrack comes in two options, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). It's a pretty immersive track, especially in battle scenes, with bullets flying in all directions and the subwoofer helping out with explosions. Subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing and are white in colour. Subtitles translating occasional German dialogue are fixed and yellow, which does make them stand out against the almost black and white of the scenes they appear in.
The only extra, other than the trailers mentioned above, is “Biting the Bullet: Making Forbidden Ground” (33:12), and is something of a bland affair, featuring to-camera interviews with both directors and Denai Gracie, with much B-roll footage from the shoot in Dubbo, New South Wales, including on-location contributions from the cast and crew.
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