Warner Bros. // 1981 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 31st, 2007
"They've got you wrong. You're not a coward. Stupid, maybe, but not a coward."
Mad Max suits up for his sexiest excursion yet, driving headlong into the world of high-definition.
Following the quiet release of Mad Max in America, George Miller brought his sequel, called The Road Warrior (instead of Mad Max 2 for fear that U.S. audience would be too confused to follow the intricate plot of "man in leather drives big-ass truck real fast"), stateside and introduced a young Mel Gibson (Braveheart) to the masses.
Gibson reprises his role as the solitary traveler Max, who tools around a post-apocalyptic wasteland in his tricked out V-8 Interceptor, his trust mutt Dog by his side. One day he runs into a gangly pilot of a gyrocopter and discovers from him that a colony of survivors have taken refuge in a desert refinery. As fuel is the most valuable commodity on the planet now, Max scopes out the compound and see that he's not the only leather-clad miscreant searching for the petrol bounty.
The Humungus, a masked, roid-raging commander of scumbags has found the gasoline oasis and looks to hoard the gasoline for himself. Max will eventually have to make a decision: forgo his swinging independent nature and help defend the fuel or go on his merry way.
This is my first HD-DVD review and as such The Road Warrior is the first full-length film I've seen on the new hardware. I wasn't sure what to expect, really. Yeah the hi-def looked sharp on those massive display models in your local big box store, but how would it translate on my more modest gear (a 1080i 32 inch Toshiba LCD monitor, connected through HDMI, with sound transferred over an optical cable)? I am relieved to report my decision to wade into the HD-DVD waters -- at the outset -- seems like a wise one. Even on my smaller set (relatively speaking of course) this film looks fantastic. The details are amazingly clear and the color levels are bursting. Granted, the primary colors are black (Max's outfit), auburn (the sandy surroundings) and bright yellow (the Gyro Captain's pants). Nowhere does the hi-def treatment shine brighter than in the massive actions scenes and the panoramic establishing shots. The killer tanker chase scene that closes the film is marvel to watch and with so much happening onscreen and all the vivid detailing associated with the mayhem, the high definition enhancements greatly augment the experience. The only times it appeared the picture struggles is during the handful of dark scenes, particularly when Max makes his clandestine escape out of the compound. Still, the 2.4:1 anamorphic widescreen (up to 1080p) is a stunner and added a surprising amount to the film experience. Sound is pumped by a 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus mix, and while it's fine, I would have appreciated a more aggressive use of the surrounds. The audio was too front-loaded for what should be a frantic, active mix.
As for the film itself: The Road Warrior is something I've seen bits and pieces of but never sat through the entire thing. Soaking it in its HD glory, however, is as good a way to reacquaint myself with this action classic. As a dedicated action movie fan, I've found myself drifting more toward the "realistic" staging of stunts (i.e. The Bourne Identity, Casino Royale) versus the CGI-happy spectacles of incoherence (xXx). The Road Warrior is as raw and real as it gets and features some of the most eye-popping stunt-work I've ever seen. An apocalyptic Western, the film sets up a simple plot, tosses in an iconic protagonists featuring more than a few hero archetypes, and opens up the nitrous with its action scenes. The result? As lean and mean an action experience as I've ever had. The (lug) nuts and bolts of the film are the driving sequences, and George Miller wisely builds the car-on-car mayhem up throughout, capping his picture with a killer chase.
Man, that tanker chase. The car scenes prior to that are great and all, but when shiznit goes down for fifteen straight minutes at the end, nothing that came before it measures up, and an argument can be made that nothing since has either. With Max behind the wheel of a gigantic tanker and a legion of goons on his tail and the expansive highway before him, Miller is given a huge canvas to paint his vehicle carnage on and he squeezes every drop of Valvoline out of it. More car wreck than you can shake a stick shift at: bikers flying off their motorcycles and doing somersaults in midair + arrows guns + Molotov cocktails dropped from a gyrocopter + fools getting run down under huge truck tires + shotgun blasts to the face + incoherent animal growls from a boomerang-wielding kindergartner = cinematic excellence!
The hi-def extras, truthfully didn't bowl me over with their greatness. Leonard Maltin offers a four-minute introduction and Goerge Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler deliver a good commentary track; I especially liked their discussion about what a current day Road Warrior would look like with all the assumed CGI that would be woven in. Not nearly as cool is the answer to that.
One of the most thrilling action films ever conceived is made even more intense with an HD-DVD release that looks phenomenal.
Not guilty, mate.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director/Cinematographer Commentary
* Leonard Maltin Introduction