Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward
Written by: George Miller, James McCausland, Byron Kennedy
Directed by: George Miller
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 93
Date: 04/11/1979

Mad Max (1979)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Men and Machines

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet), Mad Max is a groundbreaking low-budget exploitation hit that established a certain set of guidelines for action movies and inspired many sequels and knock-offs, but today it's perhaps more interesting historically than it is aesthetically.

A lunatic called "Nightrider" breaks loose in a stolen cop car and leads several futuristic law enforcement agents on a high-speed wild goose chase. His eventual death brings a much larger gang of sadistic followers to town, where they pose a threat to Max (Mel Gibson) and his colleague Goose (Steve Bisley). After the bad guys burn Goose alive, Max decides to take his wife (Joanne Samuel) and young son away, but the family soon finds itself face-to-face with the villainous gang. One hideous act later, and Max hits the road in a souped-up car, seeking his violent revenge.

Certain sequences still dazzle, and Miller's close-to-the-street cinematography captures the thrill of speed in highly effective way, but the film doesn't really set up the rules of its post-apocalyptic future, and it's too uneven in tone; the scenes of cartoonish violence are a lot more interesting than the idyllic home life images of Max and his family. It's the least of the trilogy; the sequel The Road Warrior is darker and more streamlined, with a more sustained atmosphere, and the third film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is more imaginative and fantasy-based. But Mad Max still packs in Miller's particular brand of black-comedy thrills.

Up to now, Mad Max has suffered an embarrassing fate. The original distributor was afraid that Americans wouldn't be able to understand Mel Gibson's Australian accent (!) and so they dubbed the film into flat American English. It's only been available dubbed ever since. The 2002 DVD restores the original Australian soundtrack, complete with Mel's voice, for the first time. It also comes with the stupid dubbed version for comparison. In 2010, MGM/Fox released a Blu-Ray and DVD combo pack with a glorious new transfer and tons of extras, including a commentary track by David Eggby (Director of Photography), Jon Dowding (Art Director), Chris Murray (Special Effects Supervisor) and Tim Ridge (historian/fan).

In 2020, Kino Lorber released a 4K edition, with a bonus Blu-ray, with a brighter, more glorious picture than anyone could imagine, especially for anyone that first saw the film on the crappy, English-dubbed VHS version. It includes the aforementioned commentary track, a new interview with director Miller (conducted via Zoom, during COVID-19), an older interview with Gibson and cinematographer Eggby, a vintage featurette on Gibson, a vintage featurette on the phenomenon of Mad Max, a "Trailers from Hell" episode, and lots of trailers, TV spots, and radio spots. It includes optional English subtitles, and comes in a 5.1 Surround Australian audio track, a 2.0 mono Australian soundtrack, and a 2.0 mono track of the U.S. dubbed version, for comparison.

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