I’ve been on some serious nostalgia trips this past year. Nightbreed last week, various films from my youth along with a near complete run through of the Godzilla films. On top of that I’ve been digging up loads of random cult films such as Slugs and Kung Fu Cannibals. It looks like this nostalgia train isn’t stopping just yet though. And I don’t even mean with today’s review. My Christmas film is all lined up for next week too and that’s another piece of fried childhood gold. Another piece of such precious metal of my youth is the subject of today’s review. Spurred on by that, quite frankly, ridiculously good trailer for next year’s instalment, I am going back to where it all started with the original Mad Max. Click the link below for my review.
I grew up with Mad Max. It wasn’t one of them video nasties I often go on about here. But it was always regarded as an adults film that us stupid kids shouldn’t be watching. Despite my parents being cool with me watching RoboCop, Lethal Weapon and any number of Arnie based violence fests from a young age. Mad Max was notorious. Why? I really can’t say. Sure, it’s violent, but its not crazy violent. What it is is intense. The right kind of intense. Car chases shot with kinetic fury that barely anyone can come close to matching, Although Tarantino made a fine stab of it with Death Proof. When Max does finally go mad, which is a long way into the film, his anger is a boiling one that’s right under the surface. It would sear his face into a grimace of pure anguish but he’s been so hurt that he feels nothing now. His anger is channelled into being quite the productive psychotic.
The plot of Mad Max is very thin. Purposely so really. The film’s budget was a mere $400,000 Australian dollars, which is probably about £20 in real money. I think. Because of this restrictive budget and George Miller’s insistence on destroying every single vehicle he sees, including his own blue van, the background story elements are kept far away. There’s tiny little hints at how terrible the world is becoming but it’s not quite there yet. Max (Mel Gibson) is part of the Main Force Patrol. A group of police tasked with bringing justice to the highways of Australia that link the small towns together. These towns are regularly terrorised by biker gangs hellbent of causing as much chaos as they can. Imagine leather clad versions of the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange but with less interest in classical music. The film opens with a member of one of these gangs being killed in a police chase. Word gets out that the leader of the gang he belonged to wants revenge on the cops responsible. Something Max isn’t too phased by as it’s pretty standard these days. The gang leader, Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) makes his presence known and gradually shit gets worse and worse.
What Mad Max does is depict the final days of law and order in a world plagued with crime. Max represents a man devoted to the law, as is his friend Goose (Steve Bisley), and most of the MFP. They operate out of what looks a lot like an abandoned and run down factory. This helps to sell just how lost the law is when they’re resources aren’t even considered to be worth basic upkeep and repair. The rot of the world has already set in in their station and it’s only the, quite nearly literal, driving force of the police keeping the entire thing from collapsing. When Goose is critically injured Max starts to waver, but he considers keeping devoted to the force. He goes on a holiday with his wife and child and events begin to conspire that will push him way over the edge.
A lot of the film’s promise is predicated on the desire to see Max mete out some vigilante style violence on the criminals. This, in effect, means that we want to see the collapse of society. We’re promised a Mad Max and we want that delivered. George Miller really takes his time reaching that point. You wouldn’t expect a film called Mad Max to be a slow burner but it really is. I really like that element of the film but I wouldn’t be surprised if modern, and often less patient, viewers would struggle with this. The same sort of people that moaned that the new Godzilla film didn’t show the monster enough despite it being a perfect example of gradually building to a crescendo of monster action. Mad Max is the same. It’s small events punctuated with the odd big event until an explosion of anger is set loose and we get one of the most memorable finale’s in film history.
Whilst the film is showing it’s age, as I’d expect any B-Movie of the 70s to, there is still some undeniable classic style to the way Mad Max looks. This was one of the first Australian films shot on Anamorphic Widescreen lenses (beaten by only The Cars That Ate Paris I believe) which helps the film retain a high quality image that you wouldn’t normally expect from a film that comes right out of the Ozploitation era. Just go look at films like Stone, Razorback or BMX Bandits and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Mad Max just looks good. Sparse though the locations may be, they contain much of the texture of the Australian outback. The following films pushed this way past it’s extreme by moving the setting to a full on post-apocalypse. This means that the first entry in the Mad Max series has a look and feel all of it’s own. Whilst the Road Warrior is a better film in terms of pure production value, this is the film I have the fondest memories of.
Mad Max is a legitimate classic and whilst is could be said to fall short of cinematic landmark status it does stand up as a hugely influential film. Shots, scenarios and plot devices have been ripped from this many times over. Fist of the North Star is pretty much a Mad Max anime, for example. Hell, the final scene was the entire basis for the Saw movies. 1 scene had an idea so good that it launched a 7 (yeah… 7, right) film franchise. Now I’m all in a big Mad Max mood I can safely say I’m ready for Fury Road next year. Maybe I should watch The Road Warrior before then. But not Beyond Thunderdome. I remember that film being stupid. Like, really stupid.
Here’s that Mad Max Fury Road trailer you should have watched about 8 times by now.