There are many who consider George Miller’s “Mad Max” to be one of the defining classics of the action genre. Sporting a desolate, apocalyptic setting and introducing an antihero that has since become something of an icon of cinematic badassery, the film is fondly remembered for certain aspects, but when we take a closer look at it, do we really find a film that is worthy of being called a classic, or would we perhaps more accurately describe it as a film that cuts to the chase without every truly “cutting to the chase?”
Taking place “a few years from now” in Australia, a band of policeman try to keep law and order in an arid landscape that has become plagued by a biker gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The situation escalates when they try to murder one of the cops, Goose (Steve Bisley), by burning him alive, which causes fellow cop Max (Mel Gibson) to rethink his career choice and quit before anything happens to him. Content with leaving it all behind, he tries to spend time with his wife and son, but even as he attempts to enjoy a peaceful retirement, he finds that the problem is not going to just go away, not until he gets his hands dirty and takes care of it himself.
Right off the bat, the film tries to grab our attention by opening with a car chase in which the police attempt to catch a cop-killer. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, and indeed, it’s rather tense, exciting, and well-shot, but afterward even the most avid of action junkies would expect the film to settle down and begin to tell the story proper. However, this is where the major flaw of “Mad Max” first rears its ugly head, for this is actually when the film begins its long hiatus. In the interim, we meet the rest of the biker gang, and quickly learn that they are a menace, but in terms of getting the narrative on its feet, you’ll find yourself waiting until about the last 30 minutes, patiently counting the minutes until events begin to move forward again.
It’s clear that George Miller took a lot of influence from exploitation films in crafting “Mad Max,” forgoing plot in favor of more action scenes, but even in that respect, the film doesn’t have very much to offer. The opening chase lasts somewhere around 15 minutes and is followed by some very minor action scenes (which, in truth, probably wouldn’t even qualify as “action” scenes) before we finally arrive at the long-desired revenge climax at the end of the film. Rather strange for a film that’s primarily known for being an action classic. This is not to say that the film needed more action, for that’s rarely an effective means of repairing a problem that runs deeper than a mere deficit of entertaining stunts, but rather that bigger problems that needed attention ended up being ignored in favor of chases, crashes, and explosions.
So is the reputation of “Mad Max” one that is truly deserved? In terms of the stuntwork, the chase sequences hold up well, still giving a visceral experience off of what little budget the film had, but in terms of everything else (story, characters, etc.), it’s a very forgettable experience that primarily remains a footnote in cinema as the film that introduced the world to megastar Mel Gibson. Perhaps Miller was simply too restricted by the micro budget of the film ($650,000), most of which went towards crashing and blowing up cars, or perhaps it was because he was a relative newcomer to filmmaking that caused him to skim over the more important elements of the film. Whatever the case, when we look past its glowing reputation and actually take a close look at it, we find a very flawed film that simply doesn’t match most of the amazing things that have been said about it.
Shout! Factory brings “Mad Max” to Blu-ray in a beautifully restored 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that breathes new life into this low-budget, 36-year-old actioner. As usual, they’ve spared no expense in making every frame look perfectly sharp, making it the best it’s looked since its release in 1979. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little quiet, and there are times when the score and dialogue are competing for dominance, but for the most part it’s an excellent track with all sound elements coming through loud and clear. Overall, Shout! Factory has once again done a great job in resurrecting an older release to the point where it almost seems new again.
Audio Commentary with Art Director Jon Dowding, Director of Photography David Eggby,
Special Effects Artist Chris Murray, and Tim Ridge: A very low-key commentary in which some of the crew behind the film reveal little tidbits about its making. There are some who may find the info interesting, but for the most part, it’s a bland track that only big fans of the film will find engaging.
New Interviews with Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, and Director of Photography David Eggby: A fascinating set of interviews that has the participants revealing how they came to be involved with the film, in addition to sharing memories of the production. This is the kind of excellent inclusion that Shout! Factory is known for, and once again it’s very much worth exploring.
Mel Gibson: The Birth of a Superstar: A semi-interesting look at how Mel Gibson rose to fame.
Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon: An intriguing featurette that explores the impact that the film has had in the 36 years since its release.
Photo Galleries, Theatrical Trailers, and TV Spots
While George Miller’s “Mad Max” has been hailed as a classic by some, it becomes plain to see that that reputation is not entirely deserved thanks to a bare-bones plot that doesn’t even fill 90 minutes and a subsequently sluggish pace that will leave viewers struggling to stay awake. There’s no denying that the stuntwork for the beginning and ending action sequences is top-notch, but unfortunately the film is missing several important components to make it the compelling revenge flick it wants to be. Without them, it becomes nothing more than a bland apocalyptic trip that’s as barren as its landscape.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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