Judge Erich Asperschlager has plenty of gas.
Our reviews of Mad Max (published July 7th, 1999), Mad Max: Special Edition (published January 23rd, 2002), Mad Max (Blu-Ray) (published October 18th, 2010), The Road Warrior (Blu-Ray) (published May 15th, 2007), and The Road Warrior (HD DVD) (published May 31st, 2007) are also available.
"All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior."
Before there was Riggs, Wallace, or embarrassing arrest videos, there was Max. Mel Gibson first made a splash on Australian screens in 1979 in the near-future Ozploitation car flick Mad Max, directed and co-written by George Miller. The film was a hit in its home country, so Miller and Gibson followed it up a few years later with Mad Max 2—retitled The Road Warrior for American audiences who hadn't seen the original—and again in 1985 with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, co-starring Tina Turner. Now, after years in development, Miller is working on another entry, a prequel called Mad Max: Fury Road starring Tom Hardy. The new movie won't be out for a couple of years, but the announcement makes this as good a time as any for Warner Bros. to release the full Mad Max Trilogy on Blu-ray—with Beyond Thunderdome making its hi-def debut.
Mad Max isn't exactly an origin story, but it does lay the groundwork for the series. The film is set in an indeterminate future, after a societal collapse, Gibson plays Max Rockatansky, a member of the Main Force Patrol tasked with keeping the road safe from roving motorcycle gangs. When a gang leader named "Nightrider" is killed during a high-speed chase, his fellow members swear revenge against Max and the MFP. After they kill one of Max's friends, he decides to leave the force to start a new life with his wife and son. Danger follows, however, and soon Max is pulled back into a deadly confrontation with the gang.
Compared to its sequels, Mad Max is less of a post-apocalyptic action movie than a '70s exploitation flick. It begins and ends with killer action sequences, but there are plenty of quiet scenes, too. After Max leaves the MFP, the movie takes an abrupt turn away from sci-fi action into a melodrama, complete with a sweeping score that feels transplanted from a romantic drama. The threat to Max's family is clear, but Miller still gives them a few moments of happiness before it all falls apart. The changing tones and segregated action are hallmarks of low-budget genre movies, of which Mad Max is a darn fine example. Gibson is more dramatic construct than living character, but his charisma and leather outfit are compelling enough to justify the franchise.
The promise of Mad Max is fulfilled in The Road Warrior, which moves the series fully into a world of chaos. Max is back, riding the highways in his souped-up Interceptor and battling a new breed of gang in war paint and leathers, led by masked menace The Humungus. After escaping a high-speed encounter, Max happens upon a pilot who points him toward an oil refinery in the wasteland. The oil oasis is held by a band of survivors under constant attack by Humungus and his gang. Max offers to help the tribe for a quick gas payday, but in the end decides to help them escape.
The Road Warrior is a bonafide classic. It transcends genres as equal parts action, post-apocalypse, western, auto, and sci-fi. The structure of the movie is simple. Max rides in to save a group of innocents from impending doom. He might just as well be wearing a cowboy hat and a poncho as tight-fitting leathers. Miller ups the stakes by trading six guns for crossbows, and horses for muscle cars. The action set-pieces are spectacular, culminating in a 13-minute tanker truck chase sequence that stands among the best captured on film. Max is no less of a blank slate in his second outing, but the archetype fits the western feel. Minus the opening narration, he is in fact a man with no name.
The trilogy concludes with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a shift in style and tone that has as much to do with the PG-13 rating as the stunt casting. Any sense that this world is connected to civilization as we know it is long gone. Instead, Max traverses a landscape of deserts, jungles, and a compound of commerce called Bartertown. When his vehicle and camels are stolen he tracks them to the town, where he offers to buy them back by helping outpost leader Aunty (Tina Turner) wrest control away from Blaster Master, the two-man team who controls the methane output that powers Bartertown. His mission: to kill the beefy Blaster in the Thunderdome, a giant cage arena where the only rule is "two men enter, one man leave." When Max in unable to fulfill his end of the bargain, he is sent into exile where he is found by a tribe of youngsters who think he is the legendary Captain Walker returned to take them to a world of skyscrapers and jumbo jets that they call Tomorrow-Morrow Land.
Where the second Mad Max movie feels like a refinement of the first, Beyond Thunderdome is a push for mass market appeal that ignores what worked about the other films. The story is too complicated and Max's motivations muddled to have the same impact as Road Warrior. There's a reason all I remember about this movie from childhood is the first section in Bartertown. After Max is sent out into the desert, the movie loses momentum. It spends too long in the lost tribe encampment, and tries too hard to tie into the pre-apocalyptic world with "ancient" artifacts and too-clever slang. Max and the gang take on Bartertown, but it's mostly to give the film a third act and to set up a massive car chase finale that reminds you what has been missing the whole time. There are memorable characters and well-shot action, but Thunderdome lacks the thrills of its sleek predecessor.
Mad Max and The Road Warrior aren't new to Blu-ray, with releases in 2010 and 2007 respectively. Mad Max appears to be the same disc that came in the previous combo set. The 2.40:1 transfer of this first movie is solid, limited by the source material more than any digital tinkering. Occasional softness is overshadowed by strong detail and vivid color, especially in close-ups. Given the film's age and low-budget roots, it's an impressive effort. Mad Max comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in "Australian English," so named to distinguish it from the unfortunate attempt to dub the film in "American English." If you want to hear the difference, the American version is included in 1.0 mono (all it deserves). The lossless surround track is, of course, the way to go and it hits with power during the action scenes, and crystal-clear schmaltz during the film's melodramatic middle.
When The Road Warrior first hit Blu-ray reviewers praised its detail, although some pointed out a troubling change. The color timing had been altered from previous home video releases, trading warm reds for a cooler, bluer palette. Also irksome to purists was the lack of lossless audio. The good news is that the 2013 disc has been upgraded to a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that adds oomph to the diesel growls, frantic battles, and composer Brian May's score. The video has a new AVC encode that reportedly up the sharpness, although the film has the same cool palette as the 2007 Blu-ray. On its own, it has a beautifully detailed filmic appearance, minus some flickering and a couple washed out shots (holdovers from previous releases). It may not be perfect, but thanks to the new lossless mix and tweaked visuals it's a lot closer.
This set marks the Blu-ray debut of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (also available, along with the new Road Warrior, as a standalone disc). The AVC-encoded transfer is as strong as Mad Max 2's, even if it misses highest marks for the same occasional flicker and inconsistent color. This last movie has a ton of tight shots at odd angles, and densely detailed costumes, perfect for showing off the increased resolution. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is just as impressive. Surround effects have impact, dialogue is clear, and the lossless mix provides an open space for Maurice Jarre's dynamic score and Bartertown's clanking machinery. It's a solid presentation that will please fans.
Fans will not be pleased, however, at the lack of Thunderdome bonus features. The disc is barren apart from the awkward U.S. theatrical trailer. When "for the first time in high-definition" counts as an extra, you know you're in trouble. The other two movies come with bonus features, although the offerings are slim. Mad Max retains the material from the Blu-ray half of its two-disc combo (adding none of the extras from the DVD). There's an audio commentary recorded by art director Jon Dowding, director of photography David Eggby, FX supervisor Chris Murray, and historian Tim Ridge; the 25-minute featurette "Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon"; and two trailers. The Road Warrior comes with an introduction by Leonard Maltin, an audio commentary with George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semier, and a trailer. All three discs of the The Mad Max Trilogy come in a single Blu-ray case housed inside a steel box with series art on the front, inside, and back.
The Mad Max movies might not be among the most beloved film trilogies, but the announcement of a fourth film in the series is a good excuse to revisit them. Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome all have their strengths (and two out of the three have significant weaknesses). Mel Gibson's star power is on full display, and George Miller's vision of a gas obsessed post-apocalyptic Australian future has never looked better than it does here. Some fans might consider the tweaks to The Road Warrior a half step and the lack of bonus features is disappointing, but if you've waited 'til now to upgrade to Blu-ray this Mad Max Trilogy set is a sweet deal.
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Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.