Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Bryne
With ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ less than a month a way, I turned my attention to exploring the original trilogy to prepare myself for the upcoming reboot. In truth, ‘Mad Max’ is a series which I knew very little about, and one which only came to prominence for me because of the hype surrounding ‘Fury Road’. But I will forget about the new instalment, and focus on each movie from the original trilogy in their own right. You won’t even hear Tom Hardy’s name mentioned once.
The first of the three films by director George Miller, simply titled ‘Mad Max’, introduces us to Max Rockatansky – cool name right? Max (Mel Gibson) is a badass, leather clad, thrill-seeking cop, respected by his peers and revered by criminals. His ruthless precision and expert control behind the wheel of his turbo-charged cars make him a hero, but when he causes the death of a notorious biker gang member, Max becomes their number one target. To protect himself and his family, Max quits the force and retreats to a peaceful life, but no matter where he runs, he can’t escape Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his deadly tribe. What they don’t know however, is that Max is about to become just as mad as they are.
There are very few actors and roles worth mentioning from this film; it really is all about Max to be honest, so it’s hard to justify discussing anyone else. Although Mel Gibson doesn’t come across as being too “mad” or dangerous for much of the film, there are glimpses, and he certainly transforms as the film reaches its conclusion. Gibson is guilty of pretty poor, cheesy acting, which adds to the entertainment factor, if nothing else. The leader of the gang of psychopathic bikers, Toecutter, is a vile character, portrayed very convincingly by Hugh Keays-Byrne. As far as movie villains go, he is right up there as one of the more disturbed and horrifying characters.
I was captivated by the strong, exhilarating opening scenes of ‘Mad Max’, involving a lengthy, high-speed car chase. Once that’s over, we are subjected to a slow, steady build up, with lots of tension, before the film explodes into a climactic, final 20 minutes full of action, energy and a lust for violence. ‘Mad Max’ is a rather hard-hitting, brutal film at times but all the while oddly entertaining. George Miller must have been given a fairly sizeable budget for all the explosions and car chases, which in 1979 would have been relatively impressive, I’m sure. The atmosphere of the film feels very theatrical and dramatic, with ominous sound accompaniment right out of the cliché book, and a self-consciously cheesy, campness to the whole spectacle – an interesting juxtaposition to the testosterone-heavy action genre.
Admittedly, the film is extremely dated, looking back now and comparing to the kind of action movie we expect these days, but I can see why ‘Mad Max’ gathered such a cult following at the time. I think it all just lacked a darker, more dangerous edge, and suffered from a lack of character development. That said, this is an adequate introduction to the ‘Mad Max’ franchise and one which filled me with high hopes for the ‘Road Warrior’ sequel.