|Mad Max (Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 January 2002|
Although not quite as famous as its 1982 sequel, "Road Warrior," the 1980 Australian futuristic actioner "Mad Max" was influential when first released and remains pretty impressive 22 years later. While both the post-apocalypse and auto demolition subgenres were established before "Mad Max" arrived, the movie combines the two in ways that are still exciting and disturbing.
Until now, U.S. viewers have only been able to see "Mad Max" with a U.S.-dubbed audio track, replacing the Australian actors’ native accents. The new special edition is worth obtaining for the simple reason that it finally includes the original Australian track in both 5.1 and mono – with the U.S. dub as a third audio option.
"A few years from now," as an opening title informs us, a small number of beleaguered police officers strive to maintain order in an underpopulated wilderness marked by small towns and isolated homesteads. One of the best cops around is young Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), hell on wheels but a devoted family man, in love with his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and doting on their baby son. Then Max runs afoul of the thuggish Toe Cutter and his gang. The villains go too far and Max takes off after them like a hellhound.
The story is just about that simple, but director George Miller, working from a screenplay he wrote with James McCausland, gives it bracing tension and emotion. Gibson is compellingly good, giving depth and warmth to a role that could have been just another rote hero – the writing is there to back him up, but it’s easy to imagine a different actor going for more straightforward, less engrossing choices with the same material.
Miller also stages some stunts that leave our jaws hanging open. There’s some scary-looking stuff here, like a bit in Chapter 27 where a stuntman plunges off his motorcycle – which then skids behind him and crashes into his helmet. (On the commentary, we’re informed the impact is real, although the stuntman was fortunately uninjured.) In one of the supplemental featurettes, someone describes "Mad Max" as "like porn for people who like fast cars," which is an astute summation.
The disc has an unusual layout, with both the widescreen 2.35:1 and the full-screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio versions of the movie on one side and most of the supplemental material on the flip side. The video format selection is offered both in the "Languages" menu, once the audio format is chosen, and after simply pressing "Play Movie." The 2.35:1 print, newly struck for this release, is beautifully clean, though color vibrancy varies. In Chapter 4, there are vivid yellows and oranges in an explosion and some very bright reds against a night sky in Chapter 6, but Chapter 12 has a faded hue, as though the print was struck from a ‘60s master.
Both the 5.1 and the mono Australian soundtracks are very quiet. The 5.1 mix is one of those that simply spreads sound into the rears without going for many (if any) directional effects. Dialogue resides primarily in the center channel, with audio effects distributed more or less evenly through the mains and rears. In Chapter 14, there seems to be a directional effect, following a motorcycle from left to right through the mains, and there’s an evocative mix in Chapter 17 of wind, surf and seagulls in a beach sequence. Mostly, though, the soundtrack seems a little tamped-down. In Chapter 9, a sequence with a smashed window and screams sounds slightly tinny, though there’s a decent explosion in Chapter 31.
Extras include a thoroughly agreeable commentary track with the cinematographer, production designer and visual effects team, setting a mood that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a bar with these gents, listening to them tell their story over drinks. The documentary featurette on Gibson has some old photos and early footage that will be of interest to fans, while the featurette on the "Mad Max" films has some intriguing information (along with an overly-worshipful tone).
It’s a great pleasure to see the characters of "Mad Max" finally speak in synch, with the accents and slang they were always meant to use. It’s perhaps a little bemusing to see such awesome car stunts accompanied by such relatively tame sound effects, but "Mad Max" isn’t a movie you put view to test your system – you watch it because it’s worth watching.