Mad Max Trilogy – Blu Ray (1979, 1981 & 1985)
Despite having reviews queueing up like elderly buses there is one final article I’ve been meaning to craft for the past few weeks, a shotgun blast capsule review of the trio movies that formulate the roaring Mad Max trilogy. Recently acquired on little rays of Blu I’ve been meaning to give these beloved dystopian drives another trip round the block, even if it’s difficult returning to any of Mel Gibson’s work in the wake of his unforgivable behaviour, both racist any misogynist. Truth be told I’ve never particularly cared for him on-screen (nope, not even in the Lethal Weapon movies which never connected to me, and his efforts behind the camera I think have massive issues in terms of tone and the approach to violence, but his presence as the super-cool road warrior on my generations primitive adolescent minds is unquestionable. The first two in the cycle are ozploitation cult classics with some potent social satire purring under the chassis, the third a transplant onto Hollywood sound stages which I honestly haven’t seen for at least 15 years. Before we get into the trilogy which I ramraided through in one accelerated Saturday night I thought you should know that the early word on the production plagued re-fit is surprisingly positive, with Tom Hardy providing the requisite hulking fury – until we see a trailer I guess we’ll just have to take the rumor sites word for it. So start your engines and wait for that checkered flag to drop as we begin back in 1979, with the world on the brink of resource and environmental catastrophe;
The first thing that strikes me with the first of the series is the continuity that it sets up for the series, it’s like the cataclysm is in its birthing pangs as the majority of polite, civil society is still in operation, with an opening crawl telling us that its set ‘a few years in the future’. Fuel may be scarce and resources wilting with the forces of law and order being stretched by a growing chaos, forcing the uncompromising officers like Max into compromising acts of violence, but at least he has a comfortable life with a wife and baby kid at the start of the series – but not for long. There is some slightly Loony Tunes / Merrie Melodies framing which I’m sure was intentional on the part of writer / director George Miller (whom helmed all three pictures), but I’m not sure the structure works as its well over an hour into the run-time before the inciting incident occurs which gives Max his titular fury, leaving only a small fragment of time to get all Straw Dogs on the punky biker interlopers. But this was a very small budget with an untested crew, that they managed to accelerate any tension is a testament to their dedication, and some of the action beats and car chases cut across that earthy, leering, slightly scatological Australian sense of humour. Great ending as well as you can see above, ‘Mad’ Max? He’s bloody furious at the end of this one….
1981, that was a good year for cult movies wasn’t it? This was the year of Escape From New York, Time Bandits, The Burning, Diva, Southern Comfort, Cutters Way, The Evil Dead, Polyester, Scanners, Looker, An American Werewolf In London and a certain fedora hatted thieving archeologists first crime wave. It was also the year of one of the all time great action pictures which doubles up as one of the best dystopian films ever made, the primitives roaming gangs meets DIY punk tawdry vision which still casts a long shadow on an entire industry of B movies and computer game franchises. This is post-apocalypse cinema par-excellence in full Cormac McCarthy The Road hell-on-earth total disintegration of society mode, where you’ll be killed for the tattered shirt on your back and most probably roasted and eaten. The action scenes are just terrific in their extended imagination, brilliantly paced, ingeniously plotted and executed, with the genuine thrill of in-camera stunt work which is so lacking these days. Framing the film around Max’s mythic persona gives the film an extra furious bite, an invocation of the perennial screen classic Samurai or ruthless American west anti-hero, and an environmental warning three decades ahead of its time. I just love how jagged and twisted the film is, the cruel sense of humour, with frankly one of the most bizarre hulking screen villains of its era – Max? Oh he’s fucking incandescent at the end of this one.
I haven’t seen this in years and if memory serves it wasn’t up to much, a cheap Hollywood imitation of the The Road Warrior (the US title of Mad Max 2) softened for the American market. While you can perhaps enjoy some of the production design it is a rather tedious and tepid affair, the first half of the film centring on one cluttered location when Max should really be roaring through the orange flamed, dust choked Australian veldt in search of precious booty. He’s also much more Mel Gibson than Max by this point, the anti-hero façade faded in favour of quips and the mustering of a Lord Of The Flies-lite children’s army – I’d completely forgotten about that little plot twist – to take on the bad guys and restore faith for humanities future – bleerugh. Final score – Max may be relaxed and chilled as he mysteriously wanders into the sunrise, but I’m the furious one…..
I’d just like to finally close with a strong recommendation for George Millers quiet film Lorenzo’s Oil for a total change of pace, he was actually a doctor by trade until he entered the movie business so he provides an illuminating insight into this deeply moving drama of a couple (Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) taking on the medical industrial complex after their child is diagnosed with an incurable disease. As for Max fans as well as next years reboot we have David Michôd’s The Rover to Wake In Fright to, also set after ‘the collapse’ and uncompromisingly brutal it’s being sniffed at by the mainstream broadsheet critics but the genre press are giving a castrated thumbs up – good stuff.