The name George Miller has become synonymous with Mad Max, much the same way the name George A. Romero has become synonymous with zombie films. The guy’s a freaking legend, and when word came out that he was a directing a new Mad Max film in 30 years, people got excited. What better time to go back and review the original trilogy.
Watching Mad Max for the first time, I was immediately struck by how small the film is. Set a few years in the future, the film hardly feels futuristic, instead more like a ghetto. In this dystopian setting, a biker gang runs rampant, terrorizing town folks and raping their women. On the other side is the police force, a bunch of cops who drive cool cars down desolate highways, keeping the peace in the ravaged land.
On Wikipedia the summary of the film states that there was an energy crisis that led to the desolation of the land. I don’t recall any mention of fuel shortage but I can see how this is implied. None of this really matters though, because the film hardly explores these issues. Instead, it focuses in on the action between the police and gang members, with some exhilarating stunts I might add. There’s bikes running into semis, cars getting flipped off the road, explosions galore. For such a small film, none of the budget was spared for the stunts department.
We’re pretty spoiled nowadays, and I imagine younger audiences will find the film tame. The story is bare knuckled: bad guys kill the good guy’s family; good guy gets revenge. In fact, this whole arc takes up only the last twenty minutes of the film. And of course there will be those who will find the action boring. They’re the ones spoiled by CGI, wanting bigger and more in your face stunts. But they’ll be missing the point that what we’re seeing is real. These are real stuntmen getting thrown off bikes and endangering their lives.
The film is also notable for launching Mel Gibson’s career. He had appeared in one prior movie, and was partially cast because he was an unknown. He mostly looks cool in his leather outfit, but really isn’t given much to do acting wise. What he does do is bring such a stoic presence to the film that he might as well be in a western. His eyes furrow as they express anger and desire for revenge. One look at his face and you know he means business.
Mad Max is essentially one brutal ass film.. For example, a man gets burned alive, a scene so shocking that it got banned in Sweden and New Zealand. Boy how the times have changed. All of this makes the film quite aggressive, even by today’s standards. You’ll want to pump your fist every time you see a bad guy get taken out, and cringe when they terrorize citizens.
The film would go on to be upstaged by the far superior sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. And because of its shoestring budget it feels rough around the edges. But there’s a reason at one point it was called the most profitable film according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It plays to the crowd and delivers on the action, and while it may be short on characterization, still draws the audience in enough to care about the titular hero’s plight. It’s cult status has long since been firmly established, and even 30 years later, proves rewarding.