STUDIO: MGM Video & DVD (BUY IT FROM CHUD.COM)
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
It’s Mad Max’s humble introduction, before the apocalyptic wasteland, before Thunderdome, and before Sugar Tits.
Mel Gibson, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward
Mad Max, the 1979 film about a police officer who loses his family to an anarchic band of motorcycle nomads, was the successful introduction of a famous character, the actor who played him, and the director who created him.
The main villain’s right hand in Mad Max, whose name would go down in my household as a nickname and the title of a silly song my brother and I wrote. That name was one of the few things that stuck with my brother and me after seeing Mad Max on video back around 1984. I was 16 years old, my brother 13, and my mom brought this VHS home after the weekly video store trip. We MST3K’d the shit out of it (before that technique had a name), and even though there were cool car chases, there was an aura of wackiness to the film that would not let us take it seriously. A few years later I would be enthralled watching arguably one of the best action films of all time, but even after watching The Road Warrior many times, I still to this day considered Mad Max a cheap, dumb movie.
I could not have been more wrong.
Sure, there are some directions that George Miller took that send it over the top. There are the homoerotic/animalistic actions and interactions between the bad guys, the batshit weird Johnny the Boy, and an outrageously bombastic score by Brian May. But Mad Max was a full throttle action film, with great stunts, spectacular car racing, and terrific villains. Mad Max has a good basic story that I disregarded and could not appreciate back then. Why would I then have such a different reaction watching again today for the first full time since 1984? Thanks to this new Blu-Ray/DVD combo release from MGM, I have been enlightened why I was tricked into believing all this: a supremely shitty dubbing job for its US release that was on all original VHS copies back in the day.
The old story goes: American International Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff felt that American audiences wouldn’t be able to understand the Aussie accent, so they dubbed everything. And unlike your common Japanese dub job of the time, which has become a fundamental joke among comedians, this had actors speaking English and being dubbed over with English that was juuuust a little bit off. And you can see it for yourself on this disk as it has that old dubbed track, along with the original Australian English Mono soundtrack, and the new Australian English 5.1 DTS-HD Master . I challenge you to watch this with that old dubbed track and try not to let it take you out of the film with its horribleness.
As for the film, I completely enjoyed it. It’s entirely possible this is because I have a nostalgic view of seeing Max Rockatansky in his early beginnings, but I found the practicality of the entire film to be very appealing. The ingenuity of the chase scenes, the stunt crashes, and most specifically the sense of speed involved in racing these beautiful cars and motorcycles across these Australian roads was breathtaking. Watching the origin of action shots that would get grander over the course of two more films provides a great experience.
Coming right at the end of the 70’s, Mad Max was just the start of what would usher in a decade of outrageous action films, some realistic, some not so much. One of the surprising things about Mad Max is that is takes place before any apocalypse, in a society where it seems that the laws are simply breaking down, Max is presented as a special kind of cop, one that the force is about to lose as the world slowly falls into chaos. Mel Gibson, at 22 years old, was subtle and subdued in this one, not quite the “Mad” he would become in later films.
The squeaky clean, baby-faced Max plays contrary to the madness of the villains. Much like the later films, each villain has his own quirk or obscure characteristic, which gives the viewer an easy way to differentiate between them, and more so give a good reason to want Max to inflict much pain on each one. If you’ve never seen Mad Max, you will no doubt have seen the method by which he delivers the final bad dudes’ punishment. It’s memorable, and a fine finish to this film.
I’d highly recommend Mad Max as required viewing for those who have never seen it and for those who haven’t in a long time. At 93 minutes, it runs fast and easy, and you’ll see vintage George Miller and the vehicular action at its earliest and most sublime. Again, the sense of speed in this is something we don’t get much of these days. Long shots of Max’s Interceptor and motorcycles barreling down the road, with coherent cuts and direction is a thrill to watch. The picture quality of the Blu-Ray is excellent, and the sound and music pack a wallop. Mad Max was the first Australian film to be shot on anamorphic widescreen lenses, and the wide panoramas and long stretches of speeding roads is exhilarating.
Besides the hilariously bad English dub track, there is a commentary track with Jon Dowding (Art Director), David Eggby (Director of Photography), Chris Murray (Special Effects Supervisor), and Tim Ridge (film historian & Mad Max historian). It is an entertaining track with filmmakers who haven’t seen the film in over 20 years, and Ridge adds a lot of nice background to the making of it. The commentary is a little dry at some times, but in the end they provide a lot of information and some laughs.
The disc is rounded out with a couple of documentaries, trailers, a trivia and fun fact track, a photo gallery, and some TV spots. Overall it’s a nice package, and should make a great addition to anyone’s action library.