Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: With 1979’s Ozploitation epic Mad Max being made on the cheap and going on to become the highest grossing film in Australia, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a sequel would find its way to cinemas Down Under…but what about the United States?  The original had a release that was famously bungled by its indie studio so when Mad Max 2 made its way stateside Warner Brothers was ready to snap it up.  They had a problem though…how do you give a profitable wide-release to Mad Max 2 when most audiences hadn’t heard of Mad Max?  The answer, rename the film The Road Warrior.

When I was young and started browsing the video store shelves, I never could remember which came first, Mad Max or The Road Warrior but the differences between the two films is totally clear.  Where Mad Max was a revenge tale (a genre popular with the Death Wish-heavy 1970s) The Road Warrior cantered on the fine line between car chase action and apocalyptic sci-fi.  Also, with the central character of Max (Mel Gibson, The Expendables 3) getting his revenge at the end of the first film (sorry, was that spoiler?) screenwriter and director George Miller chooses to bring Max forward as less of a man and more of a myth-based savior for a band of rebels fighting to protect their stash of the now-rare gasoline from a band of outlandish psychopathic thieves.

It’s 94 minutes of near non-stop action, with Miller using his added budget and resources to focus on creating death machines that race through a dystopian Australian Outback where no one is safe.  There’s precious little in the way of dialogue (Gibson has about 20 lines) or special effects, a formula Miller would use on all of his Mad Max tales.  While the central bad-guys may lack a little of the terrifying nearness of Mad Max’s Toecutter, it’s a muscle-bound lot of crazies that bring purposeful color to Miller’s barren wasteland.  Ending with a whopper of a chase, The Road Warrior is what Aliens was to Alien…a film that takes a valuable character and enriches them.

Check out my review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

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Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh-Keays-Byrne

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Ozploitation: a type of low budget horror, comedy and action films made in Australia after the introduction of the R rating in 1971.

Released in 1979, Mad Max is one of those rags to riches indie film success stories that film historians love to cite as a high water mark of its era, with good cause.  The highest grossing film in Australia for that year, it became a cult classic in the U.S. in spite of the fact that its distributor screwed up its release and relegated it to mostly drive-in theaters.  Though the film would really take off with the release of its 1981 sequel (Max Mad 2 AKA The Road Warrior) there were the dedicated audiences that got the word out on this little engine that could of an Ozzie mini masterpiece.

It’s hard to view the film today without comparing it to its admittedly superior sequels but if you’re truly able to separate it from what came after, there’s a heck of a fun ride that awaits you.  Having recently seen all of the Mad Max movies in quick succession, what I appreciated most about the one that started it all were the quieter, more humane moments that are largely absent from subsequent installments.  I say humane because it’s only in this film that we see the family of policeman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, The Expendables III) and come to understand why and how he becomes the force of vengeance that will stop at nothing in his quest for retribution.

Though the next films in the series increasingly paint Max as more myth than man, director George Miller and Gibson give the character some necessary nuance that allows the audience to be on his side, even when he’s committing acts of violence.  Of course it helps that Miller has created such disgustingly evil villains (the main baddie is called Toecutter for pete’s sake!) for Max to feast upon.

With chase scenes that were revolutionary in 1979 and still look dangerous now, Mad Max may be pushing 40 but it works like a charm.  It’s not my favorite overall of the bunch, but it scores highest on the drama quotient which helps movie-goers appreciate what’s up next.

Check out my review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior &  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!