First, the good news: there’s a new show showing off the bladesmith’s art.
Now, the bad news: it’s a lame-o History Channel low-budget reality show, modeled on chef-competition shows, complete with bogus competition, phony tension, and ten minutes of action tortured into 44 minutes of glacially-paced prolefeed.
Yeah, we’ve watched a couple of History Channel things. So we were not expecting much from Forged in Fire, which we learned about from a breathless promo disguised as a story on Popular Mechanics, which actually was lifted verbatim from its original placement in Esquire. (Unless Esquire, too, nicked it from somewhere. Note that we’re nicking at least their idea of writing about this show, although we do have the decency to write our own words).
It’s not even a great deal for the smiths: the winner get $10k but he may see his masterpiece tested to destruction. The losers? Destruction, and no $10k (we said it was low-budget).
Still, it wouldn’t do to be too critical. Real bladesmiths compete on Forged in Fire to forge a weapon in each episode. And we do mean forge.
Each episode shows the high points of four smiths’ quest to make the best blade. Some of the challenges: a broadsword; a Viking war-axe; a chakram throwing ring; a katana. But before the smiths get to the Big Deal in each episode, they must pass the first test: a blade that that they must forge in three hours. In fact, the initial knife is the standard, initial qualifier round in every show. It’s judged on form, function and finish. Botch that, and you’re gone.
Next, the three survivors make hilts for their blades. One more gets sent to the showers (presumably not through a gate labeled Work Sets You Free). Then the final two have a week to make the replica of, or perhaps tribute to is a better phrase, some historical edged weapon. There are a variety of tests, some realistic and some fanciful.
To keep it from getting boring — death in today’s 1000-channel entertainment world — there’s often a twist in the tale. For example, the chakram had to be made out of recycled material — yes, scrap.
The hosts and judges include an everyman type who’s supposed to be a former PJ, a martial artist type, and a historian-and-bladesmith guy. The competitors are all real, working bladesmiths, some full-time pros and some part-timers, most of whom are unknown to us.
Here’s a second video clip with the “five things everyone should know about weapons making.”
If you like it, you can see episodes when they come up on the History Channel, or see at least some of them on the show’s website, along with some web exclusives like the two clips here (there’s a great one on the sorts of injuries a bladesmith can expect in the line of duty, and a whole “Bladesmithing 101” on how things work).
Bottom line: we liked it a lot better than we expected. We’ll probably never watch The Iron Chef, but we’re very interested in what these guys can cook up out of raw iron. And if you’re going to spend time looking at a glowing rectangle, you might as well be learning something. We learned a few somethings from the episodes we’ve watched, including: can a katana split a .45 bullet?
(Administrative note: no, this is not Saturday’s overdue Saturday Matinee. That’s actually going to be an old 1950s movie, the very title of which will make you laugh, but events conspire to keep us away from the keyboard. Posting and comment-handling may be slow today -Ed.).