Mad Max (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by George Miller
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 93minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Australian English; Dolby Digital 2.0 Australian English, American English, Spanish, French Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Review Date: October 31, 2010
George Miller’s Mad Max has had such an odd history building into one of the most popular cult films ever made. Though it was a big hit around the world, it was basically thrown away here in its initial release and went to cable quickly, but the huge theatrical success of its sequel known in America as The Road Warrior spurred genuine interest in the original, an interest that has continued unabated to this day. Still, it took decades for us to hear the film with its native Australian soundtrack. It was originally dubbed with American-accented actors for its cinema engagements, and those dubbed prints are the ones which got circulated continually over the years. Mel Gibson may be a mightily controversial figure today, but seeing him so young and fresh-faced in this, his second movie, allows us to see a star being born before our very eyes. The film, too, copied and stolen from for decades as it has been, remains a super-charged action spectacular which, even in this world of zillion dollar budgets and CGI-fueled stunt scenes, still manages to impress with its obviously limited budget and raw, seat-of-their-pants filmmaking.
In an unspecified apocalyptic future, gangs of nomad bikers run roughshod over the terrain terrorizing citizens and raping and killing whomever they like. Even the MFP (Main Force Patrol) has a difficult time keeping them in line. When the leader of the biker gang Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) decides to wreak as much havoc as he can with the law, ace MFP rider Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) gets burned to a crisp. His best friend Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is frightened by what the cops are turning into in order to keep the savage gangs in line, and he takes a leave of absence and goes on vacation with his wife (Joanne Samuel) and young son. The gang runs down the mother and child which instills in Max an anger so deep that all he can think about is retribution.
With George Miller’s breathless pacing and the incredible stunt work with the motorcycles, trucks, and souped-up police cars (differentiated as Pursuit cars and Interceptors), there’s hardly a dull moment in this tight 93-minute movie (the first quarter hour is an extended chase scene which was likely unparalleled in moviemaking to that time). Yes, the biker gang will instantly remind you of Brando’s brood in The Wild One when they line up their cycles and take over a town, but there is nothing else in that movie that can begin to compare to the dazzling stunt work on display with these spectacular crashes with the camera seemingly inches away from the mayhem and with victims so close you can almost reach out and touch them. The story by George Miller and James McCausland may be simplicity itself (violence begets more violence that becomes personal which leads to further attacks and inevitably reprisals), but even in its unfussy approach to storytelling, one gets drawn to certain characters and ultimately sucked into the maelstrom of the film’s activity. Miller is also very smart with intimating violence without actually showing much. A burned hand, a child’s shoe rolling down the highway, an explosion from a distance: all the viewer needs to know what’s happened without having mounds of gore and guts flipped into our faces.
Mel Gibson and Joanne Samuel have a nice rapport together which makes their scenes ring remarkably true. She also conveys her growing fear quite nicely while Gibson’s growing vengeance is palpable in the film’s last quarter hour. Steve Bisley is an appealing best friend as Goose, and Roger Ward has a couple of effective moments as Fifi, the frustrated commander doing everything he can to stay one step ahead of the bikers. Hugh Keays-Byrne makes a convincing psychotic villain without overplaying his hand while David Bracks makes his brooding punk Mudguts equally effective by underplaying his menacing persona.
The film’s 2.35 :1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is improved from the various DVD releases the film has had over the years, but it’s still not razor-edged clarity all the time. Color can sometimes seem rather wan, especially in long shots early in the movie though later on, it seems better delineated and more solid. Flesh tones are quite natural in appearance. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is very inconsistent in quality. The mono nature of the original recording has been expanded somewhat haphazardly here as occasionally there are some panning sounds from rear to front as motorcycles, trucks, and cars whiz by, but they’re not always present when these vehicles zoom by. Likewise, the music by Brian May sometimes occupies the entire soundfield, but more often than not either resides in the center channel or across the front soundstage only. Explosions have no real kick to them, so the subwoofer won’t really get a great workout with this mix. Voices in the center channel are sometimes drowned out by the music and sound effects also residing there. Purists will be delighted that the original mono soundtrack is also provided, but it’s not a lossless encode (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with a low bitrate). Still, that may be the soundtrack of choice for many.
The audio commentary is by art director Jon Dowding, cinematographer David Eggby, stunt coordinator Chris Murray, and Mad Max film expert Tim Ridge. It’s not a very lively track, and the men are seeing the film for the first time in decades. Still, there is some decent information presented, but Ridge doesn’t contribute nearly as much question and commentary as an expert on the film should given the men connected to the film that he’s sitting with.
“Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon” is a 25 ½-minute documentary with the same four men listed for the commentary discussing the film’s production and impact upon release. They’re joined by critics David Stratton, Andrew Johnston, and Kirk Honeycutt to discuss the film’s place in the ranks of great action movies. It’s presented in 480i.
There are two theatrical trailers, both in rough shape, which run 2 minutes and 2 ¼ minutes respectively and are presented in 1080p.
1080p trailers for Rollerball (the remake), The Terminator, Species, and Windtalker are also available for viewing.
The DVD copy of the film is also contained in the package. It contains the above commentary, documentary, and theatrical trailers, and in addition contains these items not ported over to the Blu-ray release:
- a trivia and fun facts track
- “Mel Gibson: The Birth of a Star” which is a 16 ¾-minute featurette on Mel’s early years in dramatic school and his first three films. Director of Tim Michael Pate and co-star Piper Laurie discuss Mel’s early film experiences.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Mad Max comes to Blu-ray in an improved but still somewhat problematic high definition transfer with a good picture but less than sterling sound choices. Irritatingly, all of the bonus features from the DVD have not been ported to the Blu-ray resulting in fans having to take out one disc and insert another for the full bonus feature experience on disc.