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Mad Max Trilogy (1979/1981/1985)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/4/2013

All Ratings out of

Mad Max
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

The Road Warrior

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/14/2013

I don't think that it's a great assumption to think that from the moment that filmmakers realized that they could photograph automobiles movie, that they could have them following one another and thus, the car chase was born. Examples of this cinematic tool can be found throughout the 20th century, especially in gangster movies, but the 1960s and 70s saw the idea turn into an art from in movies like Bullitt and The French Connection, where dramatic races through city streets were born. Director Hal Needham then made movies which were essentially long car chases through the back roads of America. Then, in 1979, a physician turned filmmaker from Australia decided to up the ante and stage long, drawn-out car chases on seemingly endless straight roads While this sounds boring, it was ground-breaking, and Mad Max was born, to be followed by two sequels. Warner Home Video has now brought all three films to Blu-ray Disc is a special set.

As Mad Max opens, an ex-con named Nightrider (Vince Gil) has escaped from police custody and is driving recklessly down Australia's highways. Several members of the Main Force Patrol attempt to stop him, but fail. It's takes their best driver, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) to stop him. Max is applauded for his efforts, but the victory is short-lived, as a gang lead by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) begins terrorizing towns. Unfortunately, Max and his family run into this bunch while on holiday. Tragedy strikes and soon, Max is forced to take justice...nay...vengeance into his own hands.

From the outset, it's clear that Director George Miller was making a different kind of movie with Mad Max. While the initial chase scene is going on, we keep getting glimpses of Max, but it takes several minutes until we finally see him in full and he joins the chase. This is clearly a movie which is focused on the action, giving us just enough story and character to keep things moving along. Watching Mad Max today, the thing which really stands out is how the film is a mixture of two generations of filmmaking. The musical cues and many of the transitions feel like an old Hollywood movie. At the same time, Mad Max was one of the first "punk" films, as displayed in the looks of the villains. Toecutter set a precedent for a villain who was menacing, but also somewhat effeminate. While the opening scene is still a classic, the ending wasn't as exciting as I'd remembered. Still, Max's V8 is undeniably cool and the movie is still wild enough to make us wonder is anyone was injured while making it.

Mad Max has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 37 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only light grain and mild defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is a bit soft at times, but overall, the detail is adequate. The landscape shots show nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provide clear dialogue and sound effects, although I had to increase the volume more than usual. The musical score is the highlight of the stereo effects, as we get detailed music from the right and left channels. The surround sound effects are intermittent and not as consistent as I would have liked.

The Mad Max Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Jon Dowding, David Eggby, Chris Murray, and Tim Ridge. "Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon" (26 minutes) is a retrospective look at the film which includes comments from crew members and critics (but not George Miller). The piece examines the themes of the movie and the work which went into producing the familiar set-pieces. There's also a look at the costumes and the wild cars. We also see how the film was received. The extras are rounded out by two TRAILERS for the film.

Mad Max was a hit in its native Australia and in some other parts of the world. While it didn't break the box-office in America, it did become an immediate cult favorite. Thus, it's not surprising that George Miller and co. were back two years later with another movie, which was simply called Mad Max 2 in Australia, but as U.S. distributors assumed that most hadn't heard of Mad Max, it was renamed The Road Warrior for it's American release.

The Road Warrior (which is actually carries the on-screen title Mad Max 2 on this transfer) begins a few years after the events of Mad Max. Nuclear war has devastated the planet and gasoline is the most valuable commodity. Gangs prowl the vast wastelands looking for fuel. In this annihilation is Max (Mel Gibson), still driving the car he had at the end of Mad Max, accompanied only by a dog. After meeting a "Gyro Captain" (Bruce Spence), who flies a very small helicopter, Max learns of an outpost which is supposedly drilling for oil. He finds the place and sees that it's surrounded by marauders who are lead by Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max gets into the facility and offers to help the group in exchange for gas. Reluctant at first, the drillers, lead by Pappagallo (Mike Preston), strike a deal with Max which will be dangerous for everyone involved.

First question: had a football team perished in the vicinity? Is that why everyone is wearing shoulder pads? Miller and his producing partner Byron Kennedy could have easily made a sequel to Mad Max or they could have made a post-apocalyptic movie, so they decided to combine the two. Many mistakenly identify Mad Max as being post-apocalyptic, but there's no evidence of that. The Road Warrior definitely fits this description and, along with Escape from New York, set a precedent for the look of this kind of movie. Here, Miller takes the old "protect the fort" concept from Westerns and places it in the wasteland desert, and we get Max as the "man with no name" hero who rides in to save the locals. Again, the story and characterization is pretty thin here, but the action is the saving grace. Having mastered the car chase in Mad Max, Miller decides to bring some bigger vehicles into the game here, and the finale is very well-done.

The Road Warrior has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 26 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The bulk of the film takes place in a the bright sunlight, and the lack of intrusive grain is impressive. The colors look fine and the image is stable. We get good detail here and the depth is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects during the action scenes are handled very well, and we feel immersed in the action. There is a nice amount of subwoofer action here, most notably with the car wrecks.

The Road Warrior Blu-ray Disc offers only a few extras. The film can be viewed with a 4-minute "Introduction from Leonard Maltin" in which he gives a brief history of the movie. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY from George Miller and Dean Semler. The final extra is a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Following The Road Warrior, but before his true breakout success in 1987's Lethal Weapon, Gibson focused on more dramatic roles in films such as The Year of Living Dangerously. So, it was a bit of a surprise when it was decided that he would reprise the role of Max in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It seemed even odder that Tina Turner, who was enjoying a renaissance of her own, would appear in the film as well.

Following the events of The Road Warrior, Max has apparently given up on cars altogether, as we see him leading a team of camels across the desert when we first meet him. When he's separated from the animals (fearing them stolen), he visits a city called "Bartertown" to look for them. As the name implies, Bartertown is a way-station in the desert in which individuals can get what they need by exchanging goods and services. It's overseen by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who spots Max and sees potential in him. She asks him to help her eliminate MasterBlaster, a two-man team who rule Bartertown's underground. Max agrees to help her in exchange for supplies and he soon finds himself inside of Thunderdome, a great fighting cage. However, this is just the beginning of Max's problems, as he will soon be cast in the role of savior.

Um...OK. Miller and Gibson return to the Mad Max trough and decide to shake things up a bit. Instead of a car chase, the finale offers another kind of vehicle, which is all right. It's everything that happens up until that point which is questionable, as get news things like cage fights, lost children, and pigs. Miller and screenwriter Terry Hayes actually try too hard to give us a story this time and things get bogged down very quickly here. Aside from the Thunderdome scene and the finale, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is just a lot of talking. The scenes in Bartertown aren't very interesting and by the time this film came out, they look somewhat familiar. The second half of the film, in which Max meets a group of children, is somewhat poetic, but it's also weird and dull. There's nothing wrong with change, but don't close out a great action trilogy with an art film.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 29 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright, despite the fact that there are some dark scenes here. The depth is very good and the level of detail is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The power of the surround sound effects becomes evident during the Thunderdome scene. The stereo effects are nicedly detailed and show good separation. The subwoofer is palpable, but never overwhelming.

The lone extra on the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Blu-ray Disc is a TRAILER for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.