Just in time for the release of Fury Road comes Scream Factory’s stellar Mad Max Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of the 1979 original revenge actioner that introduced most of the world to both Australian cinema and a young, rising star, Mel Gibson. Its influences are still being felt over 35 years later and it’s undoubtedly one of the best introductory films from a then-untested George Miller, who proved that even back then, he had an amazing eye for creating fluid action sequences.
Mad Max was Miller and co-writer James McCausland’s response to the growing global concern for a lack of oil after an embargo out of the Middle East in the early 1970’s sent much of the general public into a panic once fuel supplies began running low and prices sky-rocketed everywhere. Realizing the potential for violence under these circumstances, both Miller and McCausland dreamed up a dystopic future where barbarism rules once society breaks down after a severe oil crisis, allowing hordes of maniacs left to their own twisted devices to whatever the hell they please and very few heroes left standing to defend against the horrific violence that this new world has brought upon itself.
Their story in particular follows Max Rockatansky (Gibson), a Main Force Patrol (MFP) officer who fights alongside his fellow law enforcement patrolmen against gangs of savage and anarchic motorcycle thugs who travel throughout the remote parts of Australia, looking for victims to torture, rape, kill and steal from. The government has been left in shambles in the wake of a severe oil shortage so the MFP are grossly unprepared to deal with these vicious criminals as they fight to keep what small amount of civility is left in the world intact. Max sees the imbalance of justice in the world and is finally prompted to leave the MFP after his partner and best friend Goose (Steve Bisley) is mercilessly attacked and burned alive.
Determined to focus on his home life, including his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and his son Sprog (Brendan Heath), Max leaves his old career behind in search for a much quieter existence but unfortunately, his family gets mixed up in a confrontation with a lunatic gang leader known only as Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who will stop at nothing to get anything (and everyone) he wants in the end. So when Max is pushed to the brink by a tragic accident caused by Toecutter and his band of deranged followers, he transforms into a vengeance machine, unwilling to stop until those responsible for what he’s lost all pay the ultimate price.
While it may not necessarily be as heralded (or as confident) as its successor, The Road Warrior, there’s so much still to admire and appreciate when it comes to Mad Max. The opening chase sequence still remains one of the greatest action film openings of all time, breathlessly taking you onto the barren Australian highways at a seemingly breakneck pace that completely immerses you as a viewer instantaneously. The way Miller first reveals Max is also brilliant, drawing everything out in pure classic Western form, never revealing his face and following his various actions as he prepares to deal with a cop killer early on.
Certainly Gibson grew as a performer after Mad Max, but I think it’s this iteration of his iconic character that still might be my favorite to date. The world is just beginning to wear Max down in this chapter of Miller’s original trilogy and it gives us a chance to see him as a character that still has something left to lose instead of the hardened, shell of a man left only to survive on instincts alone that we follow later on. Undoubtedly, Miller’s ability to manipulate tensions in Mad Max is the key to why the film works so well but some of the actioner’s most shining moments happen to be some of the quiet exchanges between Gibson and Samuel, their character’s love for each other feels palpable and genuine. And because the movie’s most pivotal moment of violence is played offscreen in Mad Max, Miller forces audiences to focus on the emotion of the moment rather than any kind of gratuitous gore, making Max’s pain relatable and his need for revenge that much more understandable.
While it may not be as slick as Miller’s other films featuring Gibson’s iconic anti-hero, Mad Max still remains a timeless classic and one of the more remarkable films of its (or any) time. It changed the way modern cinema approached action-fueled storytelling, launched the careers of both its star and director and put Australian filmmaking on the proverbial map. Part B-Movie, part social critique and 100 percent punk rock movie-making, Mad Max raised the bar back in 1979 and there’s no denying that Miller’s keen ability to tell a story visually all while keeping the action moving forward has influenced generations of filmmakers over the last three decades and will continue to do so for years to come.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition presentation of Mad Max on Blu-ray is, as expected, pretty great stuff overall. There’s a really informative and engaging commentary track featuring several key crew members (Art Director Jon Dowding, cinematographer David Eggby and special effects artists Tim Ridge and Chris Murray) that I would recommend any longtime fan (or aspiring director) check out. We also get a few new talking head interviews included on this new release, featuring Gibson, Samuel and Mad Max DP Eggby, which were also enjoyable. There's also a few older featurettes created back in the early 2000’s for the film, which were a bit “fluffy,” but still worth watching for anyone who grew up on a steady diet of Gibson’s films throughout the 80’s and beyond.
All in all, Mad Max is definitely a title worth adding to your home entertainment collection if you’re a fan of Miller’s influential franchise and the original film that started it all 36 years ago.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5