Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MAD MAX (1980)

MAD MAX (1980) 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0, DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Geoff Parry, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward

Synopsis: In the ravaged near-future, a savage motorcycle gang rules the road. Terrorizing innocent civilians while tearing up the streets, the ruthless gang laughs in the face of a police force hell-bent on stopping them. But they underestimate one officer: Max (Gibson). And when the bikers brutalize Max's best friend and family, they send him into a mad frenzy that leaves him with only one thing left in the world to live for – revenge! Also starring Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Steve Bisley (The Great Gatsby, Red Hill), this rugged racecar of a film runs on "comic book volatility… exhilarating rowdiness and visual intensity" (The New York Times)!

I can distinctly remember my parents bringing Mad Max home on Laserdisc in the '80s and what a white-knuckle viewing it was from the very start, it begins with a high speed pursuit of the cop-murdering outlaw biker named Nightrider (Vincent Gill). The Nightrider has made off with one of the Main Force Patrol (MFP) high-octane pursuit cars and managed to evade several rookie units before veteran officer 
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) catches up to him and engages him in a nerve-shredding game of chicken, the Nightrider flinches first and  goes up in a fantastic fireball. We're only just a few minutes into the movie and already my nerves were shattered with an overload of amped up Ozploitation speed and vehicular destruction

Mad Max takes place prior to the more apocalyptic sequel The Road Warrior, things seem bad already but they aren't quite as bad as what's to come in. The world is ravaged by an energy crisis and the open roads of Australia are being menaced by rogue bikers bent on rape, murder and scrounging gasoline. It's not idyllic but society has not completely crumbled just yet. The MFP are leather clad brigade of toughened officers in souped-up muscle cars patrolling the open roads who seemingly offer a thin line of protection, sort of, you never see them stop a crime, just clean-up afterward. I guess it's comforting to know your rapist or murderer might at least be caught. The leather clad officers have a fetishistic quality about them, a dystopian version of the Tom of Finland illustrations, especially the beefy Captain Fred "Fifi" Macaffee (Roger Ward). 

The Nightrider belonged to a biker gang called The Acolytes, a nasty bunch led by the charismatic Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry). Toecutter has the twisted charm of a warlord and makes for quite a leader, he never chews up the scenery, but is very menacing. Soon after the death of the Nightrider's the Acolytes attack and rape a young couple, in the aftermath the MFP find one of the Acolytes strung out on drugs still on the scene and arrest him. However, when the case goes to court no witnesses or victims dare show up to trial and the biker walks free. A short time later Max's partner Jim "Goose" Rains (Steve Bisley) is ambushed by the gang who burn him beyond recognition, there's a scene of Max visiting Goose in the hospital, what he sees sends a wave of horror across his face. 

Disillusioned by the violent series of events Max threatens to leave the   he loses his mind, but is convinced by Capt. Fifi to take a short leave of absence to think it over first. Max and his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), along with their infant son, head for the coast and along the way encounter the Acolytes which ends in tragedy for Max. Afterward a grieving and revenge driven Max once again dons his leather MFP uniform and pursues the gang in a souped-up black Ford Falcon XB GT.  

I don't think that any movie prior to Mad Mad even came close to the amount of amped-up crash and burn that first-time George Miller put onscreen in 1980, this was some wild stuff and the death-defying stunt work and fiery awesomeness of Mad Max still holds up some thirty-five years later, these chase sequences still get the blood pumping, the cinematography roughly captures all the excitement from low angles and heighten the action, it looks and feels dangerous, because it is.  

Mel Gibson is bad ass as the revenge driven Max Rockatasnky, looking impossibly young and menacing in his steely, cold way. Sure, it takes about an hour for Max to actually get mad, but once he loses his cool he is one of the big screen's most iconic vengeance characters, a vigilante cop decked out in leathers and carrying a sawed-off shotgun. It makes for a pretty great back story for the Max we come to know in The Road Warrior, the wasteland warrior. 

Audio/Video: Mad Max has previously been issued on a pretty damn decent Blu-ray courtesy of MGM back in 2010 with some solid extras. Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-ray ports over the extras from that disc and adds new interviews with stars Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel And Director Of Photography David Eggby. 

The MGM and Scream Factory transfers seem almost identical, sporting minor print damage and discoloration from the source material, there's a nicely managed layer of film grain offering as much fine detail as the soft-focus cinematography will allow. Color saturation is strong, black levels and contrast are pleasing. Astute HD viewers will notice some compression artifacting creeping in from time to time, I myself struggled to notice this during as I was enjoying the film, but they are there for scrutinizing, which gives the MGM disc the upper hand in respect to PQ.

Onto the audio options we are given the choice of the original Australian audio in both DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1, plus the English-dub offered in DTS-HD MA 2.0 with optional English subtitles. The surround mix is potent and aggressive where it should be with great fidelity but I do prefer the 2.0, feels more natural with plenty of low-end roar and rumble. 

Onto the special features we have all the featurettes from the 2010 MGM release plus a brand new set of interviews with stars Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel and Director Of Photography David Eggby.

Additionally there's a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original poster artwork and a newly commissioned piece done by illustrator Paul Shipper, who designed a similarly layed out cover for Scream's Escape from New York Blu-ray. Most of the time I would say that the upgrade to the Collector's Edition from Scream is a no-brainer but in the case of Mad Max which already had a decent Blu-ray that largely depends on how much you value the new interviews and artwork option. I have some minor quibbles with the compression issues that appear throughout, but honestly you have to be scoping this out hardcore to notice it, this is a solid presentation from Scream, but it's not the definitive release. 

Bonus Features
- Contains Both the Original Australian English Audio and the US English Dubbed Audio
- NEW Interviews With Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel And Director Of Photography David Eggby (26 Mins) HD
- Audio Commentary By Art Director Jon Dowding, Director Of Photography David Eggby, - Special Effects Artist Chris Murray And Tim Ridge
- Mel Gibson: The Birth Of A Superstar (17 Mins)
- Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon (25 Mins)
- Theatrical Trailers (4 Mins)
- TV Spots (1 Mins)
- Photo Galleries (9 Mins)

Mad Max is a white-knuckled thrill ride loaded with amped-up car chases and fiery death scenes set in the near apocalyptic outback of Australia, Max Rockatansky is a fantastic leather-clad revenger and the black Ford Falcon XB GT is truly one of cinema's most bad-ass vehicles. Watching this has primed me for seeing Mad Max: Fury Road this weekend at the cinema, which looks mind-blowing. 
***1/2 3.5/5