In the early days of cable television and before video stores became a staple of everyone’s lives, the easiest way to catch movies you might have missed at the cinema was HBO. Granted, not everyone had cable and if they did, HBO was a luxury. While my parents were late to the VCR “fad”, we were one of the first to have cable and HBO was always part of our package. I have many fond memories of watching horror movies late at night on my black and white TV. Granted, I wasn’t supposed to have it in my room but scrambling in those days was pretty ease to overcome. A little adjustment of the fine tuner and characters like Jason and Michael Myers came to life. Two movies I remember watching over and over again starred a young and still unknown actor named Mel Gibson. Decades before he would jump the shark, I was enjoying the first two of an eventual trilogy, Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (1981).
Mad Max (1979) is an Australian movie that never quite had cinematic success here in America. It was through countless airings on movie networks like HBO that it found its audience. Sadly, the only version seen here for decades was the dubbed one from American International Pictures. All of those Australian references that apparently most Americans were clueless on, like “Oi” and “windscreen” were replaced by such generic words as “Hey” and “windshield”. But, since nobody knew who Mel Gibson was at the time or what he really sounded like, most people didn’t even notice. It wasn’t until a few years later that it really sounded odd. Thankfully, the real version is now available on Blu-ray and, despite Hollywood trying to dumb down their audience, everyone seems to understand every word just fine.
Mad Max sets up the first chapter in the saga of Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), an officer in the Main Force Patrol (MFP). It is the near future and society has started to break down. Energy shortages have resulted in gangs running the highways. Punk hairstyles and “cutting edge” crazies fill the screen with cheesy goodness with character names like Nightrider and Toecutter. Max wants to quit and spend time with his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and son. He’s afraid of becoming like the others on the road. When his partner Goose (Steve Bisley) is nearly killed and left for dead, he finally quits but trouble finds him when his wife stumbles across Toecutter. After they run down and kill his wife and son, Max finally crosses the line and Mad Max is born.
The first film offered a very bleak look at the future but there were still signs of civilization. The MFP still tried to maintain order and people still lived fairly normal lives with every day jobs. Max himself is still quite human for most of the film. He is simply a guy living life and trying to provide for his family. The movie was not plot heavy nor was the cast well-known. The main focus was action and the car chases, excessive violence and mayhem. But the cars, oh the cars were a highlight.
Max initially drove a yellow 1974 Ford Falcon called the Interceptor. But it was his second car, the black 1973 Ford XB Falcon that everyone still talks about today. It would return in the 1981 sequel before being retired to a junkyard for years. It was eventually purchased and restored, traveling from museum to museum, currently residing in Miami. Since this was long before the days of CGI, all of the car crashes in the film are real. All of the bumps taken by real stuntmen. It may not be as pretty as blockbusters are today but the grittiness is what has kept this movie alive for years. And if you’ve ever watched flicks like Doomsday (2008), you can clearly see just how much the Mad Max trilogy continues to inspire filmmakers today.
The recent Blu-ray release is about as good as we can expect from a low-budget movie more than 30 years old. It had been quite a while since I sat down to enjoy Mad Max and I was not disappointed at all. It is highly recommended for those who haven’t seen it. Check out the American trailer and full movie on YouTube if you must but the Blu-ray trilogy is a solid purchase.
Next up, I’ll take a look at the two sequels, Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).