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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Combo Review: Mad Max

October 3rd, 2010

Mad Max - Blu-ray / DVD Combo - Buy from Amazon

As a franchise, Mad Max is quite unusual, as it is better known for its second installment than its first. There's also quite a tonal shift between the first two movies. The original Mad Max was a smaller film, both in terms of budget and scope, but it is also critically acclaimed. However, this is partially because it helped start a genre (or at the very least, was an early example of the genre). Looking back now, how well does it hold up?

The Movie

We are told at the beginning that the movie takes place, "A few years from now..." It is a time when oil is running out and society is breaking down. Gangs, including one particularly nasty one run by Toecutter, have overrun the isolated Australian highways and it is up to the Main Force Patrol to protect the public.

The movie starts with the MFP in a bit of trouble as a member of Toecutter's gang, Nightrider, has broken out of jail and stolen a police interceptor. He's able to evade two cop cars, and a motorcycle cop, code named Goose, before the top interceptor driver, "Mad" Max Rockatansky catches up with him. After a relatively brief chase, Nightrider loses control of the car and he and his passenger are killed.

Max is married with a very young boy, so understandably he's thinking of quitting, as the MPF is a very dangerous job. Not only are police pursuits dangerous, but by going after gangs, he's making a lot of very nasty enemies. After another run in with Toecutter's gang, Max and Goose are able to make an arrest, but lack of witnesses mean the charges have to be dropped. However, the animosity between the police and Toecutter's gang isn't over with, and Goose takes the worst of it. Worried that his desire for revenge will turn him into a monster, Max decides to quit the force. But Toecutter isn't about to go off and let him live in peace with his family.

Mad Max is considered groundbreaking by some, but it is really one part Death Wish and one part Death Race 2000, both of which preceded it by a few years. It is a better movie than either of those, even though I like Death Race 2000 more. The acting in inconsistent with Mel Gibson doing well as the reluctant but charismatic hero and Hugh Keays-Byrne also adding to the film as the suitably over-the-top psychotic gang leader. But not all of the supporting cast fair quite as well.

As for the action, there are a number of good scenes here, most notably the early chase scene. However, that early chase scene is a blessing and a curse. It is impressive; however, instead of setting the tone for the rest of the film, it could be argued that the film peaked too early and the rest of the action scenes have trouble living up it.

Mad Max is to The Road Warrior as First Blood is to Rambo. The first installments of both franchises are the most subdued and restrained of the lot. However, while First Blood is the obviously superior movie when compared to Rambo, I prefer the unrestrained madness of The Road Warrior to Mad Max. That is not to say Mad Max is a bad movie, it just has been eclipsed by its successor, and by others in the genre.

The Extras

Extras on the Blu-ray include an audio commentary track with the art director, Jon Dowding; the cinematographer, David Eggby; special effects coordinator, Chris Murray; and film historian and Mad Max expert, Tim Ridge. As one of them mentions, it had been a while since some of them had seen the movie, so occasionally there are gaps in knowledge. However, there is still a lot of information given, especially about shooting on a tight budget and without the strict safety codes we have today. The only other extra on the Blu-ray was Mad Max: Film Phenomenon, an over-the-top featurette on the making of the film and its lasting impact. There's good information presented in the numerous interviews, but the narration is a bit too much to take.

On the DVD, there are these extras, plus a documentary on Mel Gibson and a trivia track. Having to put in the DVD to watch the documentary is annoying, but not a deal-breaker. Having to watch the movie in standard definition for the trivia track is just plain stupid. Why the hell are there more extras on the DVD than on the Blu-ray?

As far as the technical presentation of the film, given its age and its budget, it looks and sounds great. But it is quite an old movie, and it had a very small budget, so keep that in mind. Also, at $19, this is a little expensive for shovelware. It's acceptable, but not really a selling point.

The Verdict

At one time, Mad Max was considered the most profitable movie of all time, as a percentage of its production budget. The film that beat it was The Blair Witch Project, which I also reviewed this week. What a strange coincidence.

Mad Max is a very early example of its genre, one that has spawned not only countless movies, but also games like Car Wars and video games like Carmageddon. While it might have been surpassed in most aspects over the years, it is still an excellent movie and rightfully launched the careers of its star and its director. The Blu-ray / DVD Combo suffers from the same problem a lot of similar MGM releases have, there are more extras on the DVD than there are on the Blu-ray, so my enthusiasm for the set is tempered, but it is still worth a tentative purchase. I have a funny feeling when MGM finally, and rightfully, goes bankrupt, this is one of the movies that will get a much better release on High Definition.

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