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Directed by George Miller in 1979, Mad Max stars Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, a cop in the Australia of the dystopian future who works as a highway patrolman with the MFP, or if you're formal, the Main Force Patrol. Max is the best at what he does and what he does is chase down bad guys, when the movie begins, said bad guy being Crawford Montazano (Vincent Gill), better known as The Nightrider. He brings him in, but it isn't long before The Nightrider has killed a fellow MFP officer and made his daring escape after stealing a car and getting out of there. The MFP officers give chase, but it goes south fast. Motorcycle cop Goose (Steve Bisley) calls Max for help, who shows up just in time to chase down The Nightrider and see that he and his girlfriend meet the kind of justice they deserve as they die in a wreck.
The Nightriders gang, which is led by led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), are none too happy to find out what's happened to one of their own, and when they do, they set into motion a not so elaborate plan of chaos and revenge in order to pay back Max and the MFP for what was done to their friend. Before long, Max's family has been targeted and he finds himself having to go more savage than the criminals he's been tasked with apprehending in order to take them out and try to save the day…
Made reasonably fast and reasonably cheap, Mad Max is a legitimate B-movie masterpiece. The stunts, all done long before CGI took the place of twisted metal, are as intense as they are believable and realistic and the action hits hard and hits fast. Miller, who co-wrote the screenplay with James McCausland, had made a few short films before this, his feature-length debut, paces the action perfectly and does a great job of accentuating both the action and the drama of the story in equal measure. The film is a little rough around the edges in spots, but that's not a bad thing, it just adds to the character and palpable authenticity that makes the film as enjoyable as it is.
In the middle of all of this is Mel Gibson in the first of the three times that he'd bring the character of Max Rockatansky to life. Gibson had had some small roles and TV work to his credit before this picture but this is the one that really showed the world that, troubled or not, he was a force to be reckoned with. He has that leading man charm, those good looks, those believable tough guy traits… it's all here and it isn't hard at all to see how the guy became a Hollywood A-lister for quite a while when you see him in this early picture. The supporting cast is solid as well. Vincent Gill makes quiet an impression as The Nightrider and you can't help but love Hugh Keays-Byrne as the ultra-sadistic Toecutter in the picture, chewing the scenery in the best way possible but never really seeming to overdo it (this is one of those movies where chewing the scenery is absolutely the approach that the heavies in the movie should be taking).
It all works. It's tense, it's exciting, it's scary and it's humorous. The futuristic setting lets Miller maximize his budget by worrying less about locations and sets than about action and insanity, using the wilds of Australia to bring this all to life wonderfully. The performances are rock solid, the score from Brian May (not the guy from Queen) suits everything just exactly the way you'd want it to and, well, it's tough to really call a movie flawless but Mad Max really does get damn close to that status. Great stuff.
Mad Max arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studios in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, just as it should be. The feature takes up 31.6GBs of space on the 50GB disc and it looks pretty good. Detail is quite strong and colors are reproduced nicely, looking very lifelike and sometimes really popping, without appearing to have been artificially oversaturated. Black levels are nice and deep and the image is free of any noticeable compression artifacts, nor are there any issues with any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. Grain appears throughout the presentation, as it should, but it never gets clumpy or blocky, it just adds to the texture of the picture.
Kino covers all the right bases with their audio options here, with the Australian 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Lossless Mono options offered in 24-bit DTS-HD and the U.S. English Dubbed 2.0 Lossless Mono also offered in 24-bit DTS-HD. Optional English subtitles are provided. Regardless of which option you go for (the Australian 2.0 Mono option is my choice) you'll be happy with the way that things sound here. The tracks are nicely balanced and free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. Dialogue stays clean and clear and both the score and the foley/effects work sounds solid. The 5.1 mix, not surprisingly, spreads that effects work and the score around a bit more into the rear channels and it does so quite well, but purists will appreciate the 2.0 Mono options.
Extras start off with an audio Commentary with Art Director Jon Dowding, Cinematographer David Eggby, Special Effects Artist Chris Murray, Moderated by Filmmaker Tim Ridge. This has been carried over quite a few times, originally appearing on the special edition DVD release, but if it's a track that you haven't heard before it is worthwhile, covering a lot of ground and getting into the nitty-gritty of the behind the scenes action. It would have been nice to get a new track with Gibson or Miller, but that didn't happen. Still, this track is worth your time and Kino did the right thing by carrying it over to this release.
New to this release is Road Rage, an interview with Director George Miller that clocks in at a half an hour in length. As this was shot during the Covid-19 outbreak, it was done remotely and isn't as polished looking or sounding as you might hope, but the content is really good. Miller talks here about his work as an emergency room doctor and how it expsoed him to the dark side of car culture, where he got the ideas for the movie from, writing the film as a modern day story and then shifting it to the future in hopes of making it more realistic (and how this worked in favor of the low budget shoot). Miller also talks about growing up in a rural town, being exposed to car culture in his younger days, falling in love with cinema at a young age, how he got into the industry and some of the early projects that he worked on, the importance of the car the Giboson drives in the movie and its status in the picture, how Gibson came to join the cast and what he was like to work with, working with a biker gang on the film, what you can and can't control when doing stunt work and quite a bit more. This is really interesting stuff and it's great to get Miller's input here.
There are also quite a few archival featurettes included here, starting with a selection of Interviews With Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel And DP David Eggby that lasts twenty-six-minutes in length. These are interesting to see if you haven't yet as they do cover some of the specifics of making the feature in question. The sixteen-minute Mel Gibson: The Birth Of A Superstar looks back at Gibson's career and the importance in this film of launching it. Betty Williams, Phil Avalon, John Jarratt, Faith Martin, Mitch Mathews, David Eggby, Michael Pate and Piper Laurie all show up here to talk about how great Gibson is as an actor and to work with. Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon is a twenty-five-minute collection of interviews David Eggby, Jon Dowding, Chris Murray and a few others that looks back on the importance and the influence of the picture when first hit screens in 1979.
Rounding out the extras are two theatrical trailers, a bonus trailer for Stryker, a few TV spots, a Trailers From Hell entry with Josh Olson, a handful of radio spots, menus and chapter selection options.
As to how the release is packaged, the first pressing comes with a limited edition slipcover that features the original poster art on the front, in addition to a reversible inner cover sleeve that has that same poster art on the front and an alternate poster image on the reverse.
Mad Max was, is and always shall be a legitimate B-movie classic with a great performance from Gibson and some amazing direction from Miller. It holds up incredibly well and is one of those movies you can go back to time and time again. Kino's Blu-ray release has only one new extras, but it is a good one and it carries over everything of importance from past editions, which is a nice touch. The audio is solid, giving us three choices, and the transfer is a quite good. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.