Mark Wahlberg’s latest movie Infinite is still a month or so away in Australia, but it’s been out overseas for a while and it’s safe to say the reviews haven’t been kind. Much of the merciless mocking has focused on an early scene where Wahlberg’s character – who lives in New York City, and works in restaurant crowd control – is in need of some quick cash to buy anti-psychotic medication. So he ducks into an abandoned warehouse, lights up a fire, and proceeds to forge a genius-level Japanese katana sword to swap for the pills.
Is the scene a ruthless indictment of the US medical system? A way to give Wahlberg’s character a fancy sword he can cut people up with? Something to do on camera where he doesn’t have to speak? We won’t know until later in the year, but one thing’s for sure: it won’t be anywhere near as cool as an episode of Forged In Fire.
Imagine a cooking show only instead of making meals, the contestants are making blades. And then give your imagination a break, because that’s exactly what Forged In Fire is – only better. Even if you were (correctly) thinking this show has to be packed with loads of slo-mo shots of red-hot steel being pounded with hammers by sweaty bearded dudes, you’ve still only scratched the surface of the awesomeness on offer here.
For starters, they’re not just making amazing-looking swords and knives out of handy chunks of steel dropped off from the local mill; the contestants have to go out and reclaim the metal they need, harvesting it from busted lawnmowers and elevator cables to the shattered remains of last week’s failed blades. And there are a lot of failed blades on this show.
Much like that other classic piece of pop culture obsessed with swords Highlander, in each episode of Forged In Fire there can be only one – winner that is, who gets to take home $10,000. Four contestants come in: they might be young or old, professional blacksmiths or enthusiastic amateurs. Host and former special forces rescue squad member Wil Willis sets out the parameters required (such as size and time allowed) to create their first blade (usually some form of knife) and away they go.
There’s a panel of three judges, who all look exactly like three dudes who spend a lot of time checking out weapons (that is to say, a mix of nerdy and badass) and who spend almost as much time making bad puns as they do explaining what it is we’re seeing. The worst blade out of round one disqualifies one contestant; the remaining three then have to address the problems noted with their blades, attach a handle and make a finished item.
The forgers of the best two blades are assigned a classic blade from history and head back to their “home forge” (because who doesn’t have a forge handy around the house) with just five days to get it made. The finished weapons are then tested on various items, in part to see if they do the job and in part so judge Doug Marcaida can say his catchphrase, “it will kill”. If you don’t want to see pig carcasses and other big hunks of meat carved up, look away now.
If something can be given a sharp edge, there’s an episode where somebody has to make it. Straight swords, curved swords, cutlasses, battle axes; that barely scratches the surface. These guys are making Yatagans, Spadroons, war Goloks from the Malay archipelago and Sicas from ancient Thrace. In one episode they have to make a crossbow; in a slasher-movie themed episode the challenge was to make a grim reaper’s scythe.
There’s also a lot to be learnt about how blades are made. That whole “sticking them in water to cool them off” thing is a lot riskier than you might think – oil is a much safer way to cool off a blade without it breaking (and sometimes the oil catches on fire, which looks awesome). Blades often ripple or warp, and fixing them is a lot more involved than just pounding on them with a hammer – though there’s plenty of that too.
On Forged In Fire you will see a lot of sweat, flames, glowing metal and swords snapping under the strain. What you won’t see is a lot of dudes being macho and talking trash. These brothers of the blade are united by their love of making big sharp objects; the real competition isn’t with each other, but with the steel they’re trying to shape.
For a show that looks like (and let’s be honest, is) the most metal thing on television, it’s really a good-hearted show about community. The contestants are constantly helping each other, swapping stories and commiserating when things go wrong. Forged In Fire is a show so manly it’s not afraid to have the occasional female contestant; Mark Wahlberg’s got nothing on these guys.
See Forged In Fire weeknights from 6pm on SBS VICELAND. The secen seasons are also now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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