Thursday, May 7, 2015
MAD MAX (1979) Blu-ray Review
Mad Max (1979) d. George Miller (Australia)
Eager to avenge the death of their fallen comrade, the Nightrider (Vincent Gil), a vicious and bloodthirsty motorcycle gang targets select officers within the battered and bruised police force of the not-too-distant future; soon, war is being waged, with smoking rubber and growling engines the weapons of choice, and civilians and family members the spoils. Leading “the bronze” is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a young man concerned that he is becoming the very thing he beholds – a murderous, lawless thug. But when the gang’s savage leader The Toecutter (a breathtaking high-wire turn by Hugh Keays-Byrne) sets his sights on Max’s wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and their child, the blood-soaked asphalt stage is set for a duel to the death.
The film that launched Gibson and Miller’s careers – the two would team up again for the 1981 and 1985 sequels Mad Max 2 (retitled The Road Warrior for U.S. audiences) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome – is a finely tuned piece of Ozploitation that delivers more than its share of “wow” moments and instantly memorable characters. It’s quirky, over-the-top, and melodramatic in the best possible ways, but the sparks of true creative genius are what sets it apart from the scores of pretenders that followed.
From the low-angle/high-velocity tracking camera shots to the larger-than-life heroes and villains that populate the wild roads, everything feels exploded and supercharged, a world that is instantly familiar yet more-than-slightly askew.
35 years later, the blistering high-speed chase that starts the movie remains one of the unrivaled high points of cinematic automotive mayhem; its sheer balls-out momentum carries us through the quieter moments of Max at home with his family and the police’s quibbling with conniving lawyers. These scenes, rather than mere filler between dazzling stunts, are compelling in a different way, allowing Miller to impose his dystopian vision of a world gone slightly, well, mad.
The police station, for example, is a dilapidated crumbling structure, mirroring the integrity of the officers that populate it. Sergeant Fifi (Roger Ward, bald and broad) struts about speaking of “today’s heroes,” but it’s clear that he knows the score.
Max’s partner Goose (Steve Bisley) is a hothead who still believes in justice, even if it must be meted out behind the wheel as opposed to the jury bench.
The Toecutter’s gang is comprised of brilliantly batty blokes for whom anarchy is an understatement. They defy all rules of sexual conduct and social niceties, screeching and bellowing from their dark hearts to satisfy a never-ending thirst for destruction. Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns) holds a special place in Toecutter’s favor, even as the others openly despise the lad’s erratic behavior and lack of moral code.
Johnny's arrest – and subsequent release – following a brutal rape and assault on a young couple is the catalyst for all manner of vehicular mayhem, and it is Johnny who will share the film’s final nihilistic moments with the unhinged Max.
Special notice must also be given to prolific Ozzie composer Brian May, whose blaring horns and somber, foreboding tones perfectly complement first-time cinematographer David Eggby’s daring and over-and-undercranked compositions.
Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray carries over the original Australian English audio, as well as the much-maligned U.S. English dubbed audio which distributor AIP instituted fearing that American audiences either wouldn’t take to or, more insultingly, couldn’t understand the actors’ twangy tones. (In hindsight, the dub job isn’t bad, just unnecessary.)
They’ve also ported over the enthusiastic and informed audio commentary featuring Eggby, art director Jon Dowding, and special effects artist Chris Murray, which could also serve as a dandy drinking game any time someone says “graphic.”
Likewise present from MGM’s 2001 DVD release are the featurettes “Mel Gibson: The Birth of a Superstar” and “Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon,” both hilariously narrated in gravelly gravitas by ubiquitous voiceover artist George del Hoyo. (Trust me, you’ll know him when you hear him.) We learn of Gibson’s humble beginnings at drama school where everyone “knew he was going places,” and of the movie’s importance in launching the dust-blown, high-octane vision of the apocalypse. Theatrical trailers, TV spots, and photo galleries from the previous edition are included as well.
Probably the biggest selling point of this new high-def release is Reed Kaplan’s featurette, sporting interviews with Samuel, Eggby, and the mad man himself, Mr. Gibson, who conjures the charming superstar of his 80s/90s glory (as opposed to the racist and slightly bonkers tabloid sensation post-Passion of the Christ). He’s extremely likeable here, and I, for one, give him a lot of credit for answering the invite.
For her part, Samuel relates the story of how she won the part after original actress Rosie Bailey was badly injured on the first day of shooting, while Eggby explains how many of the mind-blowing stunts were accomplished (including the cringe-inducing motorcycle-meets-helmeted-skull in slow-mo). It’s only a 20-minute piece, but between it and the convivial craftsmen commentary, fans will likely come away with all questions answered and curiosities satisfied.
Mad Max is available now from Shout! Factory on Blu-ray and can be ordered HERE: