While making the low-budget action film 'Mad Max' in late '70s Australia, could first-time writer/director George Miller, his crew, and actor Mel Gibson (in his first lead role) have imagined in their wildest dreams they were starting a franchise that 30 years later would still be generating talk of sequels, both live action and animated? Very unlikely, especially if they were honest with themselves about the film's flaws.
Opening titles reveal that the story is set "A Few Years from Now…" though it's not entirely clear what changes have occurred to make the future much different than present day. A great action sequence opens the film as a cop killer known as Nightrider (Vincent Gil) tries to evade police by driving like a bat out of hell on the highway. When Main Force Patrol officer Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) joins the chase, it comes to an end in a quick and spectacular fashion.
The film then gets bogged down for almost an hour by the meandering story and limited acting ability of the cast. Nightrider belonged to a motorcycle gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a forgettable film villain, aside from his two-tone hairdo that brings to mind Rankin/Bass' Heatmiser. He's supposed to be menacing, but doesn't do much to distinguish himself from the rest of the gang.
Max and his partner Goose (Steve Bisley) arrest gang member Johnny (Tim Burns), who is left behind at a crime scene but he escapes charges when no one shows up to testify, reinforcing how severly the gang has terrorized the locals. It now becomes personal between Toecutter's gang and the MFP. Goose roughs up Johnny and the gang retaliates against him.
Max is concerned about what he will have to do to fight the gang and quits the MFP rather than become Dirty Harry. His boss Fifi (Roger Ward) tries to convince Max that he only needs some time off. Max goes away with his family and seems satisfied with his decision. That is until he stumbles across the gang. They force Max into 'Death Wish' mode and 'Mad Max' revs back up as he battles the gang, concluding with the film's signature scene, which screenwriters James Wan and Leigh Whannel acknowledge was the inspiration for 'Saw.'
The stunt drivers and camera operators are the real stars of 'Mad Max,' and they deserve kudos for the risks they took. There's a palpable element of danger evident since it's obvious what the audience is seeing on screen is real for the most part. Although there are undercranked shots where the riders aren't going as fast as they appear, it seems like a fair trade off for the crew since it's shocking no one was killed when a rocket of some sort was attached to a car that obviously went out of control and could very easily have resulted in a fatal accident.
If you pay attention, there is a prosthesis gag occurring twice through quick edits that reveal a character's eyes bugging out of his head right before an accident takes place.
Sitting through the entire film is a bit of a chore when you have the ability to skip chapters. Max's reappearance two years later in 'Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior' is one of the few films that demonstrate how a sequel can eclipse the original.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM presents 'Mad Max' on a Region A 50GB Blu-ray disc and pairs it with a flipper DVD that offers the movie in widescreen and fullscreen. They're housed in a blue ecocase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
'Mad Max' comes barreling at you with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode transfer with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. A natural layer of grain is present. The source exhibits a minor bit of wear, and softness pops up on occasion. Depth is apparent, detectable as Max's wife Jesse walks through the woods and amongst the moving vehicles.
The colors are very bright, as demonstrated by the multicolored MFP cars and the orange Rockatansky family vehicles. Blacks are adequate, though not very inky. Other than darkness, hints of gray manifest in Max's leather outfit and his supercharged vehicle. Fleshtones remain consistent. Details are evident throughout, from the damage on cars and motorcycles, to fine hairs on the actors, and the nails in the bottom of a cop's boot.
The original Australian audio track is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Mono. As in the film, the vehicles are the main focus of the surround sound design. There's very good directionality as the machines zoom through the system, matching their movement about the frame. The score by Brian May, not the Queen guitarist, fills the surrounds and makes the most use of the subwoofer.
Unfortunately, the crashes and explosions are slightly underwhelming. They don't deliver the expected power the visuals convey. Dialogue is a mixed bag, sounding flat on occasion due to it being too quiet at times as well as the ADR not always blending well. This causes an imbalance in the mix and results in a limited dynamic range. Though it's not as bad as the American dub. Not sure what they were thinking since the Australian track is perfectly understandable.
While I find only a few stunt sequences of 'Mad Max' are worth catching while channel surfing, those who want it in their library will find the Blu-ray offers good visuals and adequate sound. It's slightly frustrating that the extras are spread across both discs of the combo and don't include two of the main men responsible for the film. This is a rental.