Mad Max (1979)

Jun 27, 2001 (Updated Nov 15, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:direction, stunts, chase scenes, characters

Cons:dubbed, script is average, story is not original

The Bottom Line: This film is highly recommended to those who enjoy action films, biker films, and/or Mel Gibson.

I once went to an Australian restaurant, where the waiter greeted me by saying "Raowwwugh Arrghurrrah Gurrarraugh!" Thereafter, I communicated with him by pointing at menu items and my water glass.

Probably, not all Australians sound like a gargling pirate, or like Popeye with a hopelessly swollen tongue.

But my restaurant experience helped me to understand why the DVD for Mad Max contains a dubbed version of the film. True, the dubbing is very distracting, with the voices and bodies out of sync in both time and manner. Now that Mel Gibson is an enormous film star, we know what he sounds like. He sure doesn't sound like whoever did his dubbing.

But it is annoying that the DVD doesn't allow you to select the original, undubbed soundtrack. Since the disk is in widescreen format, it would be easy to provide subtitles in the dark space below the image.

Fortunately, the dialogue isn't the best part of Mad Max. Neither is the originality of the plot, another outing of good guys versus psychotic bad guys. A biker gang terrorizes the countryside, until a grimacing loner shows up to make them pay. For a Few Dollars More (1967) meets The Wild One (1954).

It can also be argued that everything good about Max Max was done better in its sequel. But that is like comparing For a Few Dollars More to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The sequel may be even better, but that takes little away from the impact of the earlier film.

I've seen Mad Max three times now, and each time I am surprised at how good the film is. The stunts are great, especially for a budget of only $400,000. It helped that Gibson was paid just $15,000 for what was only his second film, and his breakthrough role.

The story may be familiar, but that doesn't prevent it from being compelling. No matter how sinister they are, we know that it is only a matter of time before the garrulous Nightrider (Vince Gil), the menacing Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his sniveling coward flunkie Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns) get what is coming to them. Their number is up as soon as Mad Max means business.

But the story is more complex than it appears at first glance. There are nods to science fiction (a future with society isolated and in decline) and horror (Max's wife is chased through a forest by unseen bad guys). Miller draws considerable tension from scenes having our heroes (and their toddler child) in peril.

There are also some surprises along the way, along with a few loose ends. Whatever happened to the gun-toting Grandma? Did Johnny the Boy saw off his ankle in time? (I don't think so!) Did Mad Max rejoin the police force? Did he ever pick up his spare tire? Admittedly, the sequel made these questions even less relevant.

While Toecutter is a memorable villain, most of the credit for the success of Mad Max must go to director George Miller. The story goes that Miller edited the film himself in his living room, to save costs. But it was Cliff Hayes and Tony Peterson who got the screen credit, and who picked up the Best Achievement in Editing award from the Australian Film Institute.

Mad Max also won for its sound and its score, the latter provided by Brian May, an Australian who is not to be confused with the lead guitarist for the British rock group Queen. The AFI gave the movie four other nominations, including Best Director and Best Film.

In the States, the film was little-known until the arrival of its superior sequel, The Road Warrior. For this reason, the sequel was renamed for American distribution from its Australian title, Mad Max 2. The huge cult success of The Road Warrior led many Americans to discover the earlier film. Miller also directed a big-budgeted second sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), which was not as successful. (73/100)

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