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Mad Max (1979)

March 31st, 2007 · 1 Comment

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“A few years from now …” the highways of Australia are a white line nightmare, patrolled by what’s left of a police department. Main Force Patrol – known colloquially as the “bronze” – race to apprehend a “scoot jockey” calling himself the Nightrider, as he careens down rural roads, singing AC/DC lyrics and showing little regard for life or limb.

A police motorcycle ridden by the flashy Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) ends up scrap metal in the spectacular chase, along with two police interceptors. But the Nightrider and his punker girlfriend find themselves pursued by the heroic Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) and end up a fireball.

Max goes home to his saxophone-playing wife (Joanne Samuel) and their infant son. He has his doubts about continuing on the police force, but his sergeant entices him with a monster car, “the last of the V8 interceptors” (actually a Ford XB Falcon Coupe), to change his mood.

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A gang of scoot jockeys – led by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) – ride into a town to pick up what’s left of the Nightrider. The gang goes on a rampage, but escape prosecution when no one is willing to testify against them. Open war erupts between the bronze and the scoot jockeys.

Max turns in his resignation. “That rat circus out there, I’m beginning to enjoy it. Any longer out there on that road and I’m one of them.”His sergeant gives Max a month off to think about it. He changes his mind when, out on a holiday of the Outback, his wife has a run-in with the Toecutter.

Directed by George Miller and written by Miller, producer Byron Kennedy & James McCausland, Mad Max was filmed outside Melbourne on a paltry budget of $350,000 USD. The filmmakers could only afford three used police interceptors, and Miller sacrificed his own VW van to be demolished in the opening chase.

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The film became a huge international hit, one of the most profitable movies in history, grossing $100 million worldwide and launching two sequels, Mad Max 2 (known internationally as The Road Warrior) and the highly inventive Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Mad Max is my least favorite in the trilogy.

The movie starts off with a bang. The musical score by Brian May is gives the little film a big, bombastic feel. This was the first Australian picture to be shot in anamorphic widescreen, and the filmmakers use the frame well. The high-speed pursuit to open the movie is savage, and Mel Gibson has a great intro, revealed in close-ups a bit at a time before we see him fully. Joanne Samuel is terrific playing one of those tough Australian women who have no truck for their men talking about their feelings.

Before he produced Babe and Happy Feet, George Miller was a medic, and having worked in emergency rooms, showed an undertaker’s dark humor and a fascination with road kill in his early pictures. This flick has nice visual wit throughout, and despite its low budget, a panache that most American drive-in flicks of the time lacked.

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After the Nightrider chase, it becomes apparent that Miller and company was either running low on money, or creativity, or both. The scenes in the Outback descend into horror movie cliche, with characters wandering off alone when they know a maniac is on the prowl.

Any scene that takes place at under 70 km/hour falls flat. The sequels would feature better character development and imagination as they progressed, a phenomenon almost unheard of in action movie franchises. As it is, Mad Max at least works during the vehicle scenes, and is one of the cooler car movies ever done.

When released in the U.S. via American International Pictures, all the accents – including unknown star Mel Gibson’s – were dubbed, and the Australian slang was rewritten out of concern audiences wouldn’t understand it. Fortunately, the version available for rental today is in the picture’s original Aussie dialect.

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Tags: Alternate universe · Cult favorite · Psycho killer · Road trip · Woman in jeopardy

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 bubs // Oct 31, 2009 at 11:56 am

    hi
    the first time i watch’d this film mm1 back in 1980 england uk that was it! the best bike/cop film ever made i was ridin bikes like the one’s in the film and still ridin now got the nickname bubba zanetti cos i look like him back then
    and still watch the film few time.s a week mad i know but its kept me sane lol they have tried to remake the film but failed b4n bubba zanetti

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