It was over thirty years ago that Mad Max was first released in Australia and since then it has become a cult classic. It one of the early films that launched Mel Gibson’s career and to this day it stands out as a gritty, disturbing revenge film. The sequels, Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, are just as popular. Road Warrior had been the only part of the franchise available on Blu-ray, but MGM recently released the original.
Taking place in an Australian dystopian future, Mad Max is the kind of post-apocalyptic piece that shows how society lives under the boot of gangs and law enforcement isn’t nearly as plentiful. The film focuses on the adventures of Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), an officer in the Main Force Patrol (MFP). At the beginning Max, along with his buddy Goose (Steve Bisley), are involved in taking down a gang member named the Nightrider. Naturally this leaves the gang wanting vengeance and their barbaric leader, Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) leads the charge in settling the fiery score against Goose.
Max is angered and disturbed by this, and chooses to retire to the countryside with his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and son. There he hopes to find some solace, but shadows of the past creep up on him. Tension builds slowly as events are drawn to an inevitable conclusion, and before we know it Max is drawn back in with the same gang responsible for killing Goose. At this point, Max turns into a loose cannon and sets out for revenge against the gang; and he won’t be satisfied until they are all dead.
To be perfectly honest, even though it’s roughly thirty years after the fact, Mad Max is still disturbing in parts. Granted, we have all become desensitized to violence to some extent, but let’s just say that some of what this film does is still pretty graphic. Most of it isn’t seen directly, but rather we catch glimpses of reactions to these events. It’s through Max that we feel the pain of his loss, and that’s testament to Gibson’s acting, even this early in his career. Heck, watching the guy come unhinged as he feverishly tracks down Toecutter and his gang is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Mad Max is a great movie packed with action and drama, though there are some weak elements to it. The second act with Max trying to tone down the insanity of his life with Jessie, just doesn’t feel right somehow. Although it’s a useful tool to foreshadow the character’s downfall, it wrecks the pacing of the film and leaves viewers wanting to get past that point.
The other problem concerns the world itself. Things aren’t explained well, or at all, and we’re never really given a reason for state of things. Then again, maybe that’s an element that works to the film’s atmosphere.
This Blu-ray edition of Mad Max is actually a combo release with a DVD packed in. The Blu-ray transfer, presented with a full 1080p and MPEG-4 encoding, is quite stunning with a noticeable cleanup job having been done on the film to make it sharper and more refined. Close-ups reveal nice detail and some of the faster-paced chase sequences benefit from the improved resolution. With that being said the film’s grit remains intact and the dated production of the film reveals minor flaws like scratches and softness. Overall the Blu-ray transfer trumps the DVD, however, it’s not a leaps and bounds kind of improvement.
The main audio presentation for Mad Max comes in the form of Australian English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. If you’re wondering about the “Australian English” track, you’ll want to give a listen to the laughably bad “American English” dub in mono. For years that was the only way to experience this film here in the States. The Master Audio track takes the roar of the engine, the blast of a shotgun, and the scream of someone being burned alive and presents them intelligently here. The track offers some nice balance on the soundstage and kicks up the rear channel use when necessary. It’s not the most active track on the market, but the quality is still pretty good.
For bonus features the Blu-ray disc includes an audio commentary with John Dowding, David Eggby, Chris Murray, and Tim Ridge. This is the commentary track previously available on the Special Edition DVD, so anyone looking for an upgrade should bear that in mind. The other features on the Blu-ray are a pair of trailers and “Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon”, which is another feature ported over from the DVD. This one is an after-the-fact look at the movie with commentary from crew members regarding its production and success.
These features are all available on the DVD that’s included with this release, and if you want additional material you have to pop in the standard definition disc anyway. Some TV spots, a photo gallery, a fact track, and a trivia game are included for lighter fair. The only other inclusion here is “Mel Gibson: Birth of a Superstar” which looks at the start of Gibson’s career and goes through some of the actor’s history.
Mad Max is a powerful film with great performances. The dystopian atmosphere combined with the hardcore tale of revenge come together to create something that hasn’t really been duplicated in the thirty years since. This Blu-ray release presents the film at its best with crisp visuals and sound that doesn’t hold back in some instances. It’s a little disappointing to have the bonus features merely ported over from the DVD, but for anyone who doesn’t own the Special Edition, this Blu-ray is a no-brainer. Newcomers and those looking for an upgrade should consider it recommended.