Blu-ray Review: Mad Max (1979)

Now Available to Own

With the combined sounds of a car engine timed with Brian May's remarkably intense musical score that initially seemed like it was in the same vein as The French Connection, we're immediately placed on edge during the perfunctory opening credit sequence of Mad Max.

And given the odd but arresting marriage of a driving soundtrack and ambient driving noise of an automotive roar, although we're unaware of exactly what's to occur next, we're well aware that we've never seen anything remotely like it, once our eyes are presented with the opportunity to focus long enough to take in two deranged, nihilistic joy-riders flying down an open Australian road.

Undaunted by the sight of police officers zeroing in on them and eerily unstopped by the fact that they're heading into a well populated area filled with wandering toddlers, there's plenty of madness to witness in the lengthy car chase that introduced the world to Mad's Mel Gibson.

In effect, filmmaker George Miller's groundbreaking, independently financed and executed futuristic dystopian action thriller kicks off with a bravura sequence that doubles as a litmus test for the viewer to see how much we're going to be able to handle in a film that was originally banned in two countries upon release and boasts a conclusion that inspired the Saw franchise.

Briskly paced and constantly self-inventing, Max builds suspense continuously as it pays off on earlier events often at unexpected times. To this end, you're never exactly sure who (if anyone) will be safe and just what in fact characters will be walking into as Gibson's jaded police officer, Max Rockatansky finds himself caught between an adrenaline junkie nature and a desire to quit the force for his wife and child.

Yet when an out-of-control outlaw motorcycle gang of psychopaths go after those closest to Max, he has no choice but to seek revenge. Although the screenplay is incredibly weak overall, the most distressingly disappointing aspect of Mad is that the character of Max is extremely under-developed and somewhat illogically unsympathetic for not following the title cue to get “mad” earlier on following the murder of his partner!

If he had realistically been proactive, as opposed to uncharacteristically (especially for his profession) retreating during an anticlimactic act of time-suckage until the worst happens, Max could've prevented further murderous mayhem by morphing into the badass Aussie version of Charles Bronson's antihero in Death Wish or Clint Eastwood's in Dirty Harry.

Nonetheless, putting aside our issues with the script and character conundrums, what we're left with in Mad Max is one ambitiously original, aggressively bold action powerhouse that builds outrageous chases upon chases with recklessly cinematic abandon. And along the way, Max's crew puts creativity ahead of practical concerns like budgetary expenses as if the indie film from a debut director had James Bond franchise style money-men behind it.

Throughout, it walks (or rather races) along the fine line between sadistic ultra-violence and unforgettable images to jolt us to attention as if instead of gas, the cars and Kawasaki bikes were running on pure adrenaline fueled testosterone.

A controversial powerhouse, George Miller's Mad Max is a stunner of a movie that's impact still resonates today as I recognized countless moments that have influenced major motion pictures repeatedly during this – my very first – experience watching Max in action on high-definition Blu-ray.

Technically speaking, although Max was the country's first film to be shot using an anamorphic widescreen camera lens, the sun-drenched landscapes don't exactly lend themselves to eye-popping clarity since the visual emphasis of Max is on the gritty, unforgiving bleakness of their dystopian surroundings.

Nonetheless, the soundtrack – including the original Australian voice-work instead of the American dubbed theatrical version released in the United States – is so overwhelmingly augmented that it damn near blew out my Sony speakers and subwoofer as if they were a set of tires being beaten down to the rims by Officer Rockatansky in a high speed pursuit.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.