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Dustin Putman

Mad Max  (1980)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: May 5, 2015) – It is very likely that when casual moviegoers think of the "Mad Max" brand, visions of dystopian, post-apocalyptic wastelands and desperate, death-defying bids for precious resources (like gasoline) come to mind. These people likely are more familiar with the bigger-budgeted, more widely seen sequels, 1981's "Mad Max 2" (aka "The Road Warrior") and 1985's "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." A tiny, $650,000-budgeted Australian indie made in the late-'70s, however, started it all. The original "Mad Max" introduces a setting and society "a few years from now..." that has seen better days, but is still functioning. An anarchic, motorcycle-riding cult led by the wild-eyed, crazy-haired Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is terrorizing the countryside, sexually assaulting and, in many cases, murdering innocent travelers and bystanders. When this deadly clan bark up the wrong tree, first killing police officer Max Rockatansky's (Mel Gibson) friend and partner, Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), before targeting Max's wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and infant son, he quits the force and takes matters into his own hands.

The plucky, gritty directorial debut of George Miller, "Mad Max" is a technically impressive exercise full of auto crashes, explosions and perilous stuntwork, all achieved on location and with modest financial means. The action kicks off immediately with a high-speed pursuit of cop killer Nightrider (Vince Gil), but the pacing and meat of the plot are a little slow to get going. Positioned as a revenge story but taking over an hour of the 93-minute running time to reach this point, the third-act scenes of Max unleashing just desserts on the cult members who have wronged him comes off as anticlimactic. What works very well is the involving mood of the piece, unhurriedly drawing viewers into the unusual world Miller has built, and a rousing, edgy music score by Brian May that reminds of a "Friday the 13th"-esque horror orchestration before "Friday the 13th" had even been made. In his first major big-screen acting foray, a strikingly youthful and handsome Mel Gibson stars as the no-nonsense title character, a man who will do whatever necessary to avenge his loved ones when they are cruelly taken from him.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

There has been a slight bit of controversy brewing over whether the 1080p transfer afforded on Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-ray of "Mad Max" is better, worse or the same as the previously released MGM edition. While I have not personally watched the MGM disc and cannot compare, word on the web is that there is either a subtle but sure difference between the transfers, with Scream Factory's boasting a slight cleanup of previous print damage and a change in grain structure (see's review), or that they are more or less identical (see High-Def Digest's review). Judging the Scream Factory print on its own merits, it is a solid high-definition presentation that looks younger than its 35-plus-year age. Colors are healthy, facial and object detail are strong, and black levels are appropriately inky most of the time. Age-related marks and specks pop up here and there, as does one notable blink-and-you'll-miss-it hair. Grain is generally accurate and level, but a few hints of mosquito noise appear, most noticeably during a few exterior establishing shots.

When "Mad Max" was originally released in the U.S., it came to theaters with an altered audio track, the voices dubbed with American accents. For posterity's sake, this version has been generously included here in a DTS-HD Mono track, but there is no reason anyone would want to watch this over the original Australian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio or the Australian 2.0 DTS-HD Mast Audio tracks. The track I listened to was the Australian 5.1 mix. It is a largely front-heavy affair, but becomes more active in the surrounds during the car-chase sequences. The music score is vibrant, full and satisfying, though a few times threatens to muffle or drown out the albeit minimal dialogue. This is a minor observance, but worth mentioning. Overall, "Max Max" looks and sounds just fine, and is easily a leap forward from previous standard-def DVD editions.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with art director John Dowding, director of photography David Eggby, SFX artist Chris Murray, and film historian Tim Ridge
  • 2015 Interviews with actors Mel Gibson and Joanne Samuel , and DP David Eggby (26:27, HD)
  • "Mel Gibson: The Birth of a Superstar" Featurette (16:43, HD)
  • "Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon" Featurette (25:35, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailers (4:02, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:26, HD)
  • Photo Gallery (8:47, HD)
Bottom Line
Just in time for the theatrical release of the eagerly anticipated "Mad Max: Fury Road," the original "Mad Max" has come to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory in an excellent new Collector's Edition. While picture quality and audio differences between this edition and the previous MGM one are minor at best, this fresh package holds the allure of additional top-notch special features (including informative new interviews with actors Mel Gibson and Joanne Samuel) and beautifully illustrated new retro-style artwork with reversible original theatrical key art. If you are a fan of the franchise or do not have the previous MGM version, a purchase should be a no-brainer. Recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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