Bill O’Byrne’s Bargain Bin Blu-rays: Forbidden Ground

Forbidden Ground | Value for money: $$ 

  • Directed by Adrian Powers, Johan Earl.
  • Written by Johan Earl.
  • Starring Johan Earl, Tim Pocock, Martin Copping.

PHIL vs BILL Johan Earl is a better co-director/screenwriter than he is an actor. In this World War I drama, he plays one of three British soldiers pinned down in No Man’s Land ahead of an Allied bombing raid on German lines. His performance as a heroic sergeant major is surprisingly amateurish but the movie’s battleground sequences are tense and powerful, and the wartime themes are adeptly handled. There’s also a parallel storyline involving the hero’s wife at home that has a poignant twist. — Phil Wakefield.

PHIL vs BILL
Johan Earl is a better co-director/screenwriter than he is an actor. In this World War I drama, he plays one of three British soldiers pinned down in No Man’s Land ahead of an Allied bombing raid on German lines. His performance as a heroic sergeant major is surprisingly amateurish but the movie’s battleground sequences are tense and powerful, and the wartime themes are adeptly handled. There’s also a parallel storyline involving the hero’s wife at home that has a poignant twist. — Phil Wakefield.

You are about to get the entire plot of Forbidden Ground with all of its attendant twists and turns.

This is not just because I am a thoughtless, joy-stealing bastard. It is done as a favour so you can make an informed decision whether to see this low-budget Australian war movie and whether it sounds like the sort of thing you will willingly donate 95 minutes of your life to.

It’s the Western Front around 1916. (Somewhere after tin helmets being issued in 1916 and before gas masks being given out later that year. There’s the value of a C+ in a military history paper from Massey University right there, folks.)

A company of British soldiers is attacking an intact German fortification from their trenches with no pre artillery barrage, but the Sergeant Major Wilkins (Johan Earl, who wrote it, produced it, and used his pyrotechnic company and post production facilities to make it, so he gets a bit of camera time) leads his men out into the killing field.

He’s knocked out and when he awakes in no-man’s land it’s dark and he knows the German position is going to be pounded by heavy artillery at 9pm. Or 21:00 soldiery time. He finds young O’Leary cowering in fear and then pulls in a corporal who is missing a lower leg. Which I guess makes him a whole foot shorter.

So they have to get back to the British trenches before the barrage kicks in, and all the time the steely eyed HunBocheJerries are out to kill them.

OK, but because the other producer is Denai Gracie she gets to play the Sgt Major’s wife who is back in London with the unfortunate problem of being pregnant without having seen her husband’s own mini Sgt Major for over a year (if you get the military lingo). She goes looking for someone to terminate the pregnancy and when a doctor rejects this, the doctor’s nurse takes pity on her and takes her in. Which is a bit strange as Mrs Wilkins has a home but she’s a nice nurse.

Back in France the Jerries go -a huntin.

Our Boys have a few scrapes, pointless conversations and try and make it out of the range of the “big boys” as the clock ticks on and the corporal’s stump is getting really muddy what with all the shell holes and stuff. And it does look very sore.

They finally get close enough to the British trenches for O’Leary to make a run for it to go and get help, which he does, only for the British lieutenant who started all this nonsense demands the English sniper takes out O’Leary, who is running towards them yelling, I’m Irish. I’m Irish. (The making-of showed him yelling “I’m English”, which would probably have meant less chance of him being shot by his own side in 1916.

This scene never appeared in the move. Nor were there any tanks, aircraft or a man firing a Lewis gun from somebody's shoulder. Lying publicity bastards.

This scene never appeared in the move. Nor were there any tanks, aircraft or a man firing a Lewis gun from somebody’s shoulder. Lying publicity bastards.

Anyway, this is puzzling till he leaps into the trench, only to see that he has triggered a trip wire so the whole trench erupts in a wall of explosives. So it was a cunning plan to trap the Jerries.

However, by this time the shells have started falling and the Harry Hun patrol, which has been wandering around no man’s land aimlessly looking to kill three stragglers, retreats. Obviously that means they go back to their own trenches which are under heavy bombardment. It’s one of several dubious plot points.  Somehow a couple of them find the time to get some commonsense and come back and fight the Sgt Major. He wins. Huzzah.

Back over to Blighty and the Sgt Major’s wife has talked the nurse into attempted an abortion using a couple of bent bits of metal. It goes poorly and she bleeds to death.

The corporal dies in the Sgt Major’s arms, but not before giving him a letter to his beloved back home. And, it might not be a shock to you, but when the Sgt Major makes it back to England, he goes to a jail where the nurse is now locked up, and hands her the corporal’s letter.

So, and this may be a bit obvious, his wife died at the hands of the kind nurse who was the missus of the man he tried to save. Crikey!!! He looks as if to strike the nurse but hands her the note and walks away. A point is made. Maybe several. Many movies have Important Social Messages but are still Pretty Much a Waste of Time.

Hunnish stock figure.

Hunnish stock figure.

The making-of section kind of explains a lot.

The director, Adrian Powers, who is approximately 13 years old, says of the script: Mr Earl “belted it out really quickly … Conventional wisdom says you need to take six months to a year to belt out a really solid script. And it came out in just over a month. And it was, [telling pause] really satisfactory.”

That’s one 13-year-old who has to get better at picking his movie projects.

It doesn’t work on all kinds of levels. The script is terrible. Often the dialogue is like one character is replying to something said three lines ago. Lines and characters are clichés. The snide, poncey English lieutenant who demands the attack stands back and watches. In reality, they always lead from the front. That’s why officer schools were so busy. And some things make no sense.

So the British soldiers charge without artillery support – never done by anyone by 1916 – but the artillery will come in on the German trenches AFTER they have supposedly taken them. And then they have a cunning plan to booby trap their entire trench line and move back so that if the Germans manage a fantastic counter-attack, they’ll all be blown to pieces.

I mean, in a Commando comic this might make some kind of sense. Again, if you watch the making-of video, which I have linked to below, you will see some of the problems inherent in the production.

But one thing it does show are the excellent explosions Mr Earl’s pyrotechnics company can do. None of that CGI nonsense here, this has big blasts, very, very close to the actors with plenty of dirt and crap being thrown into the air. It’s what you can do when relative unknowns make up your cast.

There was a good idea in this film. With a decent script it could have been a good B war movie. It ended up about an F. Or K.

The making-of is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-aW8_ZmjrU

Bill O’Byrne is a failed practitioner in the art of making movies. He has an imaginary Masters degree in being able to sit goggle-eyed and stare at TVs for hours on end. He is previously the official astrologer for the New Zealand Army and once made a complete cock of himself in front of Douglas Adams in Palmerston North. He has assorted nonsense here: kiwispacepatrol.wordpress.com.
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