The maximum force of the future!
Long before Mel Gibson became an international superstar he was featured in the low-budget Australian action flick Mad Max. Young and full of zip, Gibson and writer/director George Miller (The Witches Of Eastwick, Babe: Pig In The City) fashioned a tale of futuristic violence and revenge that because a hit with audiences and spawned two successful sequels (The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). After the Image Entertainment release back in 1998, fans were clamoring for a better version that included the original Australian audio track, not the dubbed version available on most video/DVD releases. MGM has decreed that this cult favorite deserved a special edition, and as such fans should be drooling over the release of Mad Max: Special Edition.
Facts of the Case
It is the near future. The earth is a wasteland filled with lunatic bikers and a police force that's desperately trying (and failing) to keep the peace. Max Rockatansky (Gibson) is part of this force that's waging its losing battle. Max's home life is somewhat simpler; he lives with his beautiful wife Jesse (Joanne Samuel) and his toddler son. In the opening scenes of the film, Max is able to stop a frantic gang killer named Nightrider (Vincent Gil) and his drugged-up girlfriend. After Nightrider's death, another local biker gang leader named Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) hears about the news and vows to extract revenge for his buddy's early demise. Soon Max's serene and endearing home life is shattered after the biker gang strikes at the heart of what Max loves most.
Now Max is out for blood, and he won't rest until he everyone pays for their crimes!
Mad Max is a hyperkinetic thrill ride that was produced on a very tight budget (well under a million pesos). I'm not going to beat around the bush and pretend that I thought this was a great movie, 'cause it ain't. I know there are those of you out there who swear by this film—I feel the same way about Tales From The Crypt Presents: Bordello Of Blood, so I know your pain. Mad Max isn't by any means a bad movie either. There is something intrinsic about the impressive crash sequences and adrenaline-pumped chases. Unfortunately, the movie is bogged down by its minimal budget. I've said it before and I'll say it again: unless you have the dough to make a full-blown apocalyptic tale, stick to something less grand. I just don't buy that land left by a nuclear holocaust is going to look like one big lush field. That complaint aside, I had a good amount of fun watching Mad Max.
The big brouhaha about Mad Max is the fact that a 20-year-old Mel Gibson (is he really 20 in this?) got his start playing the disgruntled law enforcer. Gibson looks lightyears away from his character in Lethal Weapon or Payback. Young and spunky, Gibson sports his native Aussie accent and certainly shows why he had (and fulfilled) such star promise back in 1980. In the years to come Gibson would revisit the role of Max in its two sequels (both directed by George Miller), and from what I've heard they're actually better than this first outing. The rest of the cast fits the mold of how this movie should look: Joanne Samuel is cute and perky as Max's doting wife, and I especially liked Hugh Keays-Bryne as the menacingly weird Toecutter (with just a tad bit of Liberace flamboyancy thrown in for good measure).
However, the real star of the show is the frantic chase and collision scenes. Predating The Fast And The Furious and the remake of Gone In 60 Seconds, Mad Max's philosophy is to throw as many automobiles as possible at the screen and see what goes "boom." Trucks fly, speedsters explode, and tires spin as Max and his crew take to the desolate highway. I will say that for such a low budget, director Miller did a lot of amazing things with the toys he was given. There were moments where I was actually shocked that someone didn't get killed in certain crashes (one motorcycle mishap looked like it should have taken off the head of one stunt driver). For you gore hounds there's even a scene where a man's hand gets ripped off by a chain latched to the back of a car!
In retrospect, Mad Max is a fine action film, though it doesn't hold a candle to many "go-for-the-jugular" flicks that today's audiences are used to. Even so, Mad Max is still a nice little nugget of entertainment that will have you scratching your head wondering how they pulled off some of those amazing stunts.
Mad Max: Special Edition is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. From what I've read, MGM's version of Mad Max is easily leaps and bounds above Image Entertainment's original 1998 version. The colors and black levels on this transfer look strikingly good, and imperfections are kept to a minimum. There is a slight amount of edge enhancement in a few scenes, but the grain and dirt is kept to a bare minimum. Overall I think that fans of the film will be very happy to see what MGM has done with this transfer (and it's anamorphic! Woo-hoo!). Also included is an optional pan and scan version, but that's about as worthwhile as drinking a cup of distilled urine.
One of the problems many people had with the original version was the fact that an English dubbed soundtrack had been included instead of the original Australian English track. Apparently the studios thought that us "stoopid" Americans would have trouble understanding our brothers down under and their funny little accents. The original Australian track is presented here in a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 remix that sounds good, though not overly impressive. The surround feature is used mainly when cars or vehicles zoom by the viewer. Brian May's original score is also a bit more expansive. Thankfully, all aspects of the dialogue, effects and music are clear of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are Dolby 1.0 Mono track in both the Australian English track and the American dubbed track, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. For those of you who've never seen Mad Max, here's a little hint: watch the Australian language version. The English dubbed version is terrible in comparison.
Throw out that old bare-bones edition of Mad Max and crack open a Foster's (For the clueless, it's Australian for beer)! MGM has put together a nicely done special edition of Mad Max that should make any fan salivate. To start out the extra features there is a commentary track with art director John Dowding, director of photography David Eggby, special effects supervisor Chris Murray, and film historian Tom Ridge. This is not as much a fun track as it is an informative one. Each participant knows the part he played in the making of the film and tosses off a lot of information about certain aspects of the production. A second track titled "'Road Rants' Trivia and Fun Track" is an enjoyable written track that displays messages about the making of the film on-screen. All kinds of tidbits are offered for the discerning viewer who wants to know everything about the making of Mad Max.
Two featurettes are included that run about 45 minutes in length. The first, titled Mel Gibson: The High Octane Birth of a Superstar, is a look at…duh…Mel and his prominent role in the film/rise to stardom. Everyone seems to dote on Gibson's astonishing good looks and charisma, and it seems as if every moment is filled with people saying "he practically makes love to the camera." Overall this feels like a fluffy biography, though with all the stills and archival footage I'm sure that female fans will be enthralled. The second featurette, Mad Max: The: The Phenomenon, is a rather interesting piece that delves into Mad Max's place in cinematic history, and focuses on how the movie came to be and what people think of it today. This second feature feels a bit more substantial than the first.
Four TV spots presented in full frame (and a bit shoddy looking) and a widescreen theatrical trailer (also in mediocre shape) are included, plus a trailer for The Terminator: Special Edition DVD. Finally there is an international photo gallery that includes poster art and lobby cards from the film.
It's nothing spectacular, but it is somewhat entertaining. I'd never seen Mad Max, and I'll admit that I expected a bit more than what was seen. However, taken on its own merits Mad Max is an entertaining ride that includes a scene where a guy gets smacked head on by a track. When you've got a scene like that in a film, I can hardly give it a thumbs down. MGM has done a nice job on this special edition.
Now, can someone tell me what the heck those Aussies were saying?
Mad Max is free to go, as is MGM for this above average edition of the film.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Art Director John Dowding, Director of Photography David Eggby, Special Effects Supervisor Chris Murray, and Film Historian Tom Ridge
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