New-Release Tuesday: Mad Max

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

When you don’t know what you can’t do, sometimes you can accomplish an awful lot.

In 1979, George Miller literally burst upon the world with a brazen, vaguely post-apocalyptic thriller starring the as-yet unknown Med Gibson at the titular Max Rockatanksy, a vaguely legendary law-enforcement officer who gets pushed over the edge when his wife and son are brutally murdered by The Toecutter and his gang of biker thugs on Australia’s Gold Coast.

In the intervening years since Beyond Thunderdome, you may recall, Miller has brought us The Witches of EastwickLorenzo’s Oil, and, yes, Babe and Happy Feet. And the Mad Max reboot!

Never tell George Miller what he can or can’t do.

So what did he accomplish with the original Mad Max?  To be honest, it’s hard for an American audience to fairly assess that.  When the film originally played in the U.S., it was badly dubbed in “American English” and largely went unnoticed by actual filmgoers.  But the rest of the world was paying attention, thanks to less parochial tastes in accents—and by the time The Road Warrior was released here (sans the otherwise ubiquitous Mad Max 2 main title) in 1981, we were in the midst of a full-blown global reinvention of the action genre.

It’s easy to sit back and nod along with outdated YouTube commentaries that tout the revolutionary influence of both Miller’s panache and Gibson’s charisma, but really: Does anybody truly understand what happens with trends in cinema?  Short of a six-hundred page academic tome on the broader subject, can we hope to understand the real place of Mad Max in cinema history?

If you’re interested in the answer to those questions, I can only recommend that you take advantage of the availability of Mad Max online and take a look at the widescreen presentation of the original film complete with Aussie accents.  Ask yourself whether The Toecutter, Johnny the Boy, Bubba Zanetti, and Goose don’t strike you as oddly familiar and iconic… even if you’ve never seen the film before.  Stop and consider, after you’ve seen the film, when the last time was that an action film gave you its grandest set-piece as its opener—and you didn’t mind at all.  Ask yourself, knowing that this was a film in which $50.00 was pretty much the budget limit for each practical effect, whether you’ve ever seen car chases—and crashes—like this anywhere else, even in the sequels.

The moral vision is, of course, Old Testament eye-for-an-eye.  It’s pretty easy to see, after considering Mad Max as a character, what the appeal was of ancient Hebrew heroes like Samson and Deborah.  Gouged eyes and impaled skulls fit right in with Miller’s futureworld.  The slaughter at Gibeah presages The Road Warrior.  Think about it.  This is what the world looks like when no one’s in charge, and heroes must rise from the dust itself and return a whole lot of bad guys to it.

Now, there’s a lot about Mad Max that’s patently absurd.  There’s more that’s painfully awkward.  But history—not hype and reputation—proves that there’s something radically special about what Miller and Gibson achieved here.

What followed was warranted.

Mad Max is now included with your Amazon Prime subscription. It is also available to stream at YouTube.