With next year's Fury Road just around the corner, it's a good time to revisit George Miller's original Mad Max trilogy. The first two installments have been available on Blu-ray for several years, while the third adventure makes its debut as part of this (almost) 35th Anniversary collection. It's not a definitive effort by any stretch, but this isn't a cheap repackaging job either. Available in a limited edition tin, the hastily named Mad Max Trilogy is a slim, no-nonsense boxed set that post-apocalyptic genre fans should enjoy. A brief summary of each film is below, followed by a rundown of the technical specs and bonus features. Clicking the title of the first two films will also take you to DVD Talk's reviews of the original Blu-rays.
Mad Max (1979) got the ball rolling...everywhere except America, at first. After this low-budget thriller shattered box office records on native soil, domestic audiences were "treated" to a dubbed version that gave Mad Max's dystopian rogues American accents. The film itself follows "Mad" Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) as society crumbles around him due to massive oil shortages. Tension bleeds into his stressful life as a police officer, husband and father, but the death of a car thief at Max's hands sets off a chain of events that makes the phrase "energy crisis" seem like small potatoes. Boasting tons of suspense, terrific characters and thrilling stunts, it's not surprising that Mad Max was the first of several installments.
The Road Warrior (AKA Mad Max 2, 1981) begins with a quick game of catch-up, especially helpful for those less familiar with the first installment. This stripped-down sequel finds Max as he discovers a ragtag ground of survivors who have managed to drill for their own oil, so Max attempts to trade some for the life of a man he saves. Unfortunately, these survivors are threatened by a motorcycle gang led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and a red-mohawked rogue named Wez (Vernon Wells)...but with Max's help, they just might survive. More streamlined and accessible than its predecessor, this critically and commercially popular sequel was enough to keep the engine running. Returning director George Miller was reportedly influenced by Akira Kurosawa, as evidenced by the horizontal wipes and Max's role as a skilled protector-for-hire (see also Yojimbo / Seven Samurai). In my opinion, MM2 is the best of the bunch.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), similar to most trilogy conclusions, feels like a black sheep. Like The Road Warrior, this third installment once again follows Max as he accidentally discovers another "civilized society" in the midst of endless wasteland. Dubbed "Bartertown", the locals depend on a crude fuel refined from animal waste; they're led by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) and a small engineer named Master (Angelo Rossitto) who's protected by a hulking behemoth named Blaster. Personal conflicts are settled in the Thunderdome, a massive arena where combatants battle to the death...and as luck would have it, Max finds himself in a planned conflict that might lead to the freedom of Bartertown's children. Did the Mad Max franchise need more rugrats? Not really, but people still like Temple of Doom too.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 2.39:1 aspect ratios, all three Mad Max films look quite good indeed. The first film's Blu-ray is identical to the previous release, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: its low-budget roots have never allowed Mad Max to look pristine, even so far in high definition. The Road Warrior offers a marginal improvement over the first disc, as it's now encoded in the more efficient MPEG-4 AVC codec. Beyond Thunderdome is new to Blu-ray and looks about as good as expected, boasting a fine amount of detail, strong textures and no glaring digital imperfections. All three are relatively clean and crisp, while the only real complaint I can dream up is that the color timing on the first two could be a little tighter. Overall, though, all three films enjoy better-than-average visual quality for catalog titles on Blu-ray.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
Though it's not at all surprising, the audio quality for all three films is even more impressive. The Road Warrior gets a nice bump to DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, replacing the older Blu-ray's lossy Dolby Digital track. Both Mad Max (which defaults to the original Australian track, although the American dub is also included) and Beyond Thunderdome went right to DTS-HD 5.1, so the consistent strength of all three audio experiences makes this trilogy even better. The frequent car chases roar to life with dynamic channel separation, a good amount of low end and an occasionally wide soundstage, while other more subtle atmospheric touches can be heard during many other sequences. Dialogue and music cues are also strong without fighting for attention, rounding out the presentation nicely. Both Mad Max and The Road Warrior also include optional French and Spanish 2.0 dubs and subtitles in all three languages, while Thunderdome serves up a dozen or more dubs and subs. It's probably got half the planet covered.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, this three-disc collection is housed in a hinged eco-friendly keepcase that sits loosely inside a limited edition metal tin. No insert book has been included, though a partial content listing is printed on the removable back cover sleeve. The tin looks cool, but I'd have preferred a Steelbook or at least a title printed on the side. Like most Warner Bros. releases, the menus are plain but perfectly functional.
All extras are recycled from past discs. Click on each title to read DVD Talk's original DVD/Blu-ray review (if available), but a basic list of these bonus features is below for those who want a quick synopsis.
Mad Max serves up the same Audio Commentary featuring cinematographer David Eggby, art director Jon Dowding, visual effects supervisor Chris Murray and film historian Tim Ridge, as well as a nice 25-minute Retrospective Featurette featuring several of the same participants, plus two Trailers. This is a short but sweet mix of supplements, though the continued absence of George Miller and Mel Gibson is too bad.
The Road Warrior returns with the same Leonard Maltin Introduction and a terrific Audio Commentary with director George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler; the track is even better when you consider how early The Road Warrior was in both of their respective careers. We also get the original Trailer.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, like the 2001 DVD release, only includes the film's Trailer.
No matter which installment you prefer, the Mad Max series began with a terrific trilogy that fans of the post-apocalyptic genre have enjoyed for decades. With a fourth installment up for release next year, it's no surprise that Warner Bros. has decided to cash in early...and though it's not a total upgrade, getting two nice A/V tweaks for The Road Warrior and, of course, the new-to-Blu Beyond Thunderdome make the decision a little easier. Unless you already own the first two and don't care for the third installment, this limited tin collection of The Mad Max Trilogy is firmly Recommended for old and new fans alike.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.