There’s simply no denying that 1981’s Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) is one of the most influential action films of all time, which means that its predecessor — that’d be 1979’s Mad Max — is the father of one of the most influential action films of all time. And while one could certainly argue that Mad Max 2 is the “better” film, at least if you’re talking about action sequences, it’s great to note that George Miller’s first film still holds up so damn well. (The fact that 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome doesn’t hold up nearly as well is probably proof that one should leave George Miller alone when he’s making his action flicks.)
So with the long, long, long-awaited Mad Max: Fury Road only a few weeks away, it only makes sense that someone would re-release the original chapter in swanky Blu-ray fashion, and fortunately that someone was Scream / Shout! Factory, a company well-known for treating old-school genre films with a lot of love. And Mad Max is a movie that actually needs some. For years the only way you could see this film in the U.S. was through a grungy, full-frame VHS rendition that came complete with a rather atrocious “Americanized” dub track, and while MGM did a solid job with their DVD and Blu-ray upgrades, this new SF release is pretty damn great.
First-time viewers should be aware that, while Mad Max definitely does showcase some amazing automotive effects, it’s not quite the non-stop action-fest that the sequel is, and while Mad Max is most assuredly an action film, it’s also sort of a character study, a revenge thriller, and (of course) a modernized western in semi-futuristic clothing. It was the visual madness of Mad Max 2 that inspired countless knock-offs with titles like After the Fall of New York and Warriors of the Wasteland, but it was Mad Max that laid the foundation.
The Mad Max plot is pretty simple stuff, especially if you’ve already seen the sequel and its handy little flashback sequences: Max Rockatansky is the toughest of all the cops who patrol the wild outback wastelands, but he’s in for big trouble after catching the attention of a vile biker warlord known as “The Toecutter” and bloodthirsty gang. George Miller’s deceptively clever screenplay is clearly interested in more than just action. One particularly ironic aspect of Mad Max lies in how the “futuristic” cops are still compelled to adhere to the law, even as their nemeses grow increasingly more maniacal. Max himself seems to represent the last lingering traces of a law-abiding world — and once his family is targeted for attack, that’s pretty much the end of civilization for all involved.
It’s the combination of some wildly disparate parts (action, western, sci-fi, you name it) that makes Mad Max worthy of note, but it’s the cool confidence of the film that allows it to earn new fans even if it does (kinda) live in the shadow of its little brother. Longtime fans of Max’s inaugural adventure will be pleased to note that Shout! Factory has not only included several of the old MGM supplements (including a pair of featurettes, a few trailers & TV spots, and an audio commentary with the film’s art director, cinematographer, and special effects designers), but they also scored some new interviews with leading lady Joanne Samuel, cinematographer David Eggby, and Mel Gibson himself, who seems more than pleased to reminisce over the film that kick-started his rise to stardom.
Hell, they even included that goofy old American dub track, which was a nice inclusion, although I certainly would never recommend listening to it for longer than five minutes. (The original audio track, albeit now 5.1, is the default; don’t worry.) Everything you need to get reacquainted with Mad Max is included on this great Blu-ray release… and then be sure to revisit Part 2, because that’s where things get really insane.