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In the ravaged near-future, a savage motorcycle gang rules the road. Terrorizing innocent civilians while tearing up the streets, the ruthless gang laughs in the face of a police force hell-bent on stopping them. But they underestimate one officer: Max Rockatansky. And when the bikers brutalize Max's best friend and family, they send him into a mad frenzy that leaves him with only one thing left in the world to live for - revenge!
For more about Mad Max and the Mad Max Blu-ray release, see Mad Max Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 12, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns (I), Roger Ward (I)
Director: George Miller
» See full cast & crew
Mad Max Blu-ray Review
Forget steampunk, oilpunk’s where it’s at.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 12, 2010
Before Mad Mel—that is, the middle-aged Mr. Gibson prone to uncomfortably homophobic, misogynistic, and racially charged outbursts—there was, is, and always shall be Mad Max. This is the film that set Gibson speeding off toward international action-hero superstardom, and it's not hard to see why. He's baby-faced here—then again, he's always looked boyish—but, like a young Steve McQueen, he fills the screen with badass charisma. I specifically mention McQueen because Mad Max's automotive fury seems like a direct successor to the vehicular fetishism of McQueen's Bullitt, which set a new standard in the late 1960s for the art of the cinematic car chase. Just over a decade later, in 1979, Mad Max would up the ante further, as Australian director George Miller—working on a miniscule budget, no less—staged several peddle-to-the-metal sequences that still have the power to whiten knuckles today. I've always said this: when the world's supply of gasoline is depleted and adoration of the Oil Age replaces steam-powered Victorianism as the retro sci-fi genre de jour, two bits of 20th century cultural detritus will be held in high esteem by geeky petrolpunks—Bullitt and Mad Max.
When most people think Mad Max, they probably imagine the increasingly sand-covered, post-apocalyptic, biker-punk fantasy-scape of the film's more popular sequels, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. In this first outing, though, the world is still teetering on the brink of catastrophe—energy shortage, relevantly—and society has not yet tumbled into complete disarray. The Aussie landscape looks fairly normal, but the backcountry has been given to lawlessness, with roving bands of biker gangs descending on small towns to terrorize, rape, and pillage.
As the film opens, one of these thugs, Nightrider (Vince Gil), has just made off with a police interceptor, and he's speeding down the highway, screaming about how he's a "fuel-injected suicide machine!" He's being trailed by some bumbling members of the Main Force Patrol—the leather- suited cops in this gone-to-shit world—but the maniac doesn't get the fear of God in his eyes until hotshot officer Max Rockatansky ( Mel Gibson) edges up behind him in a souped-up Ford Falcon. Nightrider loses his cool—what little he has left—and crashes into a jackknifed semi-truck, triggering a massive explosion. This is all in a day's work for Max, who goes home to cuddle with his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel). The next morning, as Max gets ready to head back in for another day of crime fighting, we see his toddler son in the background, playing on the floor with a pistol. There's visual symbolism here—the film is fully loaded and it's about to go off.
And boy does it ever. While most of the film's violence is merely suggested, rather than explicitly shown, director George Miller's choppy, rule breaking editing style makes Mad Max an undeniably intense experience. There are scenes where eye lines are broken and continuity goes right out the window, but it doesn't really matter. Miller has us hooked on a taut line of suspense. There's a strong sense that anything could happen, and it often does, as Miller isn't afraid to break traditional filmmaking taboos—like putting small, defenseless children directly in the line of danger—if it gets his audiences to grip their armrests with sweaty palms.
Revenge is ultimately the name of the game here, as the oddly-named Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the hirsute leader of the late Nightrider's gang, wants to put the hurt on "The Bronze," as he calls the police, for causing his buddy's death-by-fireball. And so Toecutter, lieutenant Bubba Zenetti (Geoff Parry), and young effeminate protégé Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns) lead a cadre of Kawasaki-straddling misfits on the asphalt warpath. When the gang, in retribution, torch Max's overconfident partner, The Goose (Steve Bisley)—leaving the poor guy barely recognizable—Max decides to take some time off, lest he resort to the same barbaric, tit-for-tat tactics. It's only after Toecutter threatens Max's family, in a sequence of bravura tension, that our hero decides—screw it—to go whole-hog after these ruthless bandits. He steals his iconic V8 Pursuit Special from the police fleet and goes rogue, barreling down the highway with vengeance on his mind. In the end, the viewer is left to decide whether or not Max has gone too far.
Well, I say that, but of course he goes too far—deliciously too far. This is, after all, the premiere Ozploitation movie of the late 1970s. (I can't help but wonder if the creators of Saw stole their I'm giving you the option to either cut through your ankle with a hacksaw or die premise from Mad Max.) Like most exploitation films, Mad Max was made for next to nothing, but this is in no way a shoddy production. It's clear from every frame that Miller used what little he had to work with—a handful of police cruisers and 18 bikes donated by Kawasaki—to maximum effect. There is a certain improvisatory quality to the camerawork—and the acting—but this only adds to the film's manic energy. And Mad Max is all energy. There's no loafing around here, nothing extraneous, no dillydallying. The film bolts off the starting line at 180mph and the pace relents only for the few character-building scenes necessary to establish our empathy. What's more, looking back from an age of tame, CGI-assisted stuntwork, Mad Max's insane car crashes and road rash-inducing motorcycle falls seem legitimately dangerous. For one scene, the stunt coordinators even rigged up a rocket from the Australian Navy to a car, sending it boosting and fishtailing into oblivion. Now that's bang for your buck.
Mad Max Blu-ray, Video Quality
Considering the film's age and the fact that it wasn't exactly well funded—before The Blair Witch Project, it held the record for highest box office- to-budget ratio—Mad Max looks quite strong in high definition, arriving on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, framed closely to its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The latter is important, as Mad Max was actually the first Australian film to ever be shot with widescreen anamorphic lenses, which no doubt contributes to the film's clarity here. Fine detail is much more pronounced than in earlier standard definition releases, particularly when it comes to the texture of the actors' stubbly, sweaty, weather-beaten faces. The transfer also nicely reproduces the film's color palette, which contrasts the vivid primaries of the police interceptors with the comparatively bleak landscape of the Australian outback. Skin tones are natural, explosions ripple outward in bright orange plumes, and the scene in the forest is lush and green. Black levels are perhaps not as deep as they could be—some darker scenes have a slightly grayish quality—but contrast never really suffers. The only real distraction is the occasional print damage. In certain sequences, color fluctuates mildly and yellowish stains come and go (along with the expected white flecks). The damage isn't too prevalent though, and the film's grain structure is wholly intact.
Mad Max Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Mad Max's U.S. theatrical release was mangled with a quite comical dub, wherein all Aussie actors' voices—even Mel Gibson's—were replaced with American accents. You can still hear that version here—via a mono Dolby Digital mix—but thankfully, it's not the default. The main offering is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that's been remastered to give the film some extra immersive kick. And, for the most part, it works. With all of the souped-up cars and bikes peeling out, zipping off, and roaring past, it's no surprise that the rear speakers are mostly used for loud, cross-channel pans anytime a vehicle rumbles by and other related sounds, like sirens. It's all satisfying, but it's clear from the stockiness of the movements that surround sound wasn't originally part of the film's audio design. (Although, I do particularly like the whip-like kraaaackow of the Mad Max logo hitting the screen during the title sequence.) Brian May's score complements the on-screen action and sounds clean and dynamically rich. My sole complaint is that, when forced to compete with engine noises, the dialogue can sometimes sound soft and slightly muffled.
Mad Max Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While I'd love to hear Mel Gibson have an inebriated go at an audio commentary for Mad Max, alas, it's not to be. What we have here is the same track that graced the film's special edition DVD release, featuring DP David Eggby, art director Jon Dowding, special effects supervisor Chris Murray, and film historian Tim Ridge. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile listen for fans, as the participants share a wealth of knowledge about the film's production.
Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon (SD, 25:35)
A swell retrospective that features David Eggby, Jon Dowding, Chris Murray and others discussing director George Miller's post-apocalyptic vision, the film's breakneck action sequences, and the effect that Mad Max made when it was released in 1979.
Theatrical Trailer #1 (1080p, 1:53)
Theatrical Trailer #2 (1080p, 2:09)
Also includes trailers for Rollerball, The Terminator, Species, and Windtalkers.
Note: The included DVD also includes a documentary about Mel Gibson, a trivia track, a photo gallery, and TV spots.
Mad Max Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What's the Australian equivalent of a Sergio Leone-esque spaghetti western? A vegemite western, maybe? Well, whatever it is, cross that with an anarchic bit of the old ultra-violence—courtesy of A Clockwork Orange—add some pre-post-apocalyptic flavor, underscore it all with a throaty V8 rumble, and you've got Mad Max, the rubber-burning exploitation film that launched a franchise and up-shifted Mel Gibson's career from obscurity to superstardom. Armchair road warriors will have no real qualms with this solid Blu-ray release from MGM, which packs a solid A/V presentation, an informative commentary track, and decent making-of retrospective. Recommended!
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Mad Max Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Mad Max Blu-ray Announced - September 1, 2010
MGM Home Entertainment has officially announced Mad Max for October 5 in a Blu-ray/DVD pack. Assuaging enthusiasts' fears, the studio has informed that this dystopian movie, directed by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson, will feature two 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio ...
• Mad Max Blu-ray Coming Up - August 12, 2010
An early announcement to retailers indicates that, on October 5, MGM Home Entertainment will release George Miller's violent and dystopic movie Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson, in a Blu-ray/DVD combo edition. Other edition details are still unconfirmed, but the bonus ...
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