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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mad Max Blu-ray Review

One of my favorite actors is Mel Gibson, who despite his personal demons is one of the best actors to come along in the last thirty years.  Able to convey both masculinity and sensitivity, he’s a rare actor that can work in any genre as shown by his long and illustrious career.  That career was started by Mad Max a $400,000 Australian independent film that ended up becoming a huge hit and the start of a new franchise.

Gibson only went to the auditions to support his friend and roommate Steve Bisley (who would later on land the role of Goose in the film).  Gibson had been in a fight the night before and his bruised and injured face intrigued the casting agent who told him to come back in a couple of weeks because “we need freaks.”  Upon returning to audition, no one recognized his healed face and he ended up getting the main role.

With twelve weeks to film the movie and a limited budget, director George Miller and company did everything they could to maximize their resources.  Gibson was the only cast member to receive an actual leather police outfit while the other all had to wear vinyl.  The cars in the film were constantly being repainted to look like different cars to make it look as if there were more cars that there actually were.  In some takes, the paint was still wet while they were filmed!   Miller even donated his own van to be destroyed when funds ran out and a car was needed.

One of the most influential movies of the post-apocalyptic  genre, Mad Max eventually made over $100 million world-wide and currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rank of 95% from professional critics.  It also had the distinction to hold a twenty year record in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest profit-to-cost ratio of a motion picture, until 1999 when the Blair Witch Project beat their record. This is the movie that catapulted the career of an unknown Mel Gibson into a box-office draw and a long and honored career both as an actor and as a director.

Film  (3 out of 5 stars)

In this movie, Gibson stars as Max Rockatansky who is basically Dirty Harry of Australia.  Set in a dystopian future, where the civilized world as we know it has ended and societal norms have degraded to the point that gangs openly terrorize what’s left of the populace. The only source of law and order is the Main Force Patrol (MFP), the Federal highway police unit, of whom Max belongs who are tasked with unenviable job of maintaining a semblance of order.

That’s hard to do when psychopaths like the Nightrider (Vince Gil) and the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) are terrorizing the townspeople with their equally sociopathic gang.  The movie opens with the self titled Nightrider escaping the MFP in a stolen police cruiser.  This opening scene is emblematic of the rest of the movie and indeed even the series with its over the top mentally challenged villains and spectacular car chases.  Not long after that chase, Max and Goose capture another gang member Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns) who is the Toecutter’s protege who remained at the scene after he and his colleagues raped a young couple.

The arrest of Johnny the Boy sets off a chain reaction when he is released from custody due the couple’s refusal to testify against him.  Goose is outraged and attacks Johnny the Boy who threatens to get even which he does and in a scene that caused an uproar with censors and also caused the movie not to be shown in certain markets.   After Goose is ambushed, Max decides to take things into his own hands and that’s when the stakes are raised as he finds out when his family is targeted by the gang.

It’s easy to see why Mad Max and its sequels have appealed to so many people.  It has fantastic in camera stunts that don’t rely on trickery or CGI and it’s obvious that many stuntmen and production crew put themselves on the line to get these shots.  Not to mention, the absolutely bizarre gang members which were too over the top for my tastes and the way that Miller showed no mercy to any character in the movie.  There is no happy ending for anyone in this movie, just different degrees of comeuppance all around.

Video  (4 out of  stars)

For an older independent movie, this 1080p transfer is looking pretty good with its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There are some trouble spots that look soft and light grain and some specks as well but this is the best I’ve ever seen the movie.  The yellow off of the police cruisers pops out and flesh tones are consistent and natural.  Black levels also look mostly good although there are some rough spots.  I’m giving it a rating of four because compared to the last release I saw, this is leaps and bounds better and that deserves some praise.

Audio (4 out of  stars)

The audio is a lot better than I thought it would be and the surprising twist is that the DTS 5.1 track is only for the original Australian track! All of the other versions aren’t in 5.1 but you do have the option of the original Australian mono track, as well as a dubbed American track (which is just as bad as Japanese dubs).  I prefer to hear the original actor’s voices, so I was rewarded with the fine 5.1 track.  It is mostly front speaker heavy but the sub-woofer does get into the action especially during the car chases and the explosions.  I especially loved hearing the roar of Max’s car.

Special Features  (3 out of 5 stars)

My biggest complaint about the special features is that George Miller and Mel Gibson are nowhere to be found in any of the extras.  I don’t know why but when you lack the star and the director of the movie, there really isn’t much there to focus on.  I really don’t understand the decision but the rest of the crew does their best to cover the loss and their commentary was interesting as well as the featurettes but mostly this is all EPK fluff.

Blu-ray
  • Audio Commentary with Jon Dowding, David Eggby, Christ Murray & Tim Ridge
  • Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon Featurette
DVD
  • “Mel Gibson: the Birth of a Superstar” Featurette
  • “Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon” Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Audio Commentary with Jon Dowding, David Eggby, Christ Murray & Tim Ridge
  • “Road Rants” Trivia & Fun Fact Track
  • Photo Gallery
  • TV Spots

Final Thoughts  (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Considering that this movie was director George Miller’s second movie and first feature film, it has had an amazing longevity. a  This movie holds a special place in movie history for it’s approach to post-apocalyptic settings, but also for it’s realistic car chases that ramped up the speed.  To give you an idea of the speed and the lengths they went to capture it, the cinematographer rode on the back of a motorcycle to get some first person viewpoint footage while it was going 112mph! Although there were mishaps on the film due to the stunts, it all looks great on film even the shot where the Nightrider’s car (that had a military grade rocket) missed the target and went out of control, making the crew run for their lives.


Despite problems like that, it all came together on a very small budget and spawned a franchise two sequels (The Road Warrior in 1981 and Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome in 1985).  Even as I write this, the fourth film in the series (sans Gibson) is currently in production and is tentatively titled Mad Max 4: Fury Road which will film in 2011 with Tom Hardy as Mad Max.  If you are a fan of the series then pick this up as it is worth paying the money to replace your DVD although be warned that the Blu-ray comes in both a Blu-ray case and a DVD case for some reason.  On Amazon, the one in the Blu-ray case even costs less so go figure.
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