Mad Max (1979)

Sex :
Violence :
Director George Miller Reviewer :
Writers James McCausland, George Miller
Starring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward
Genre Post Apocalyptic
Tagline When the gangs take over the highways... Remember he’s on your side.
15 second cap Max Rockatansky goes toe to toe with the, uhmm, Toecutter, maximum carnage ensues.


“They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes!” – FiFi

Set in the near future, the Australian outback has descended into total anarchy and chaos. Society and law is breaking down as the gangs, marauders, and nutters take to the country roads. On the bright side, society does have the remnants of a police force in the form of Max Rockatansky and his fellow Main Force Patrol (MFP) officers. Considering their commander is named FiFi and they cause as much if not more damage than the future hoons, that’s probably not of comfort to locals.

Max and team pursue a nut job who calls himself “The Nightrider”, who has made off with an MFP car. Naturally considering Max is involved, this involves max-e-mum, geddit, damage and a fiery death for the perpetrator. Unfortunately for Max, the Goose (no, he wasn’t a U.S. naval aviator in another life) and assorted civilians, a biker gang led by the manic Toecutter are out to avenge “The Nightrider”.

Following the death of Goose, a victim of Toecutter, Max fears he might be turning psycho and offers his resignation to FiFi, who counter offers a few weeks’ vacation time for his top gun to think things over. In an idyllic interlude, Max, along with loving wife Jessie and toddler Sprog, head “up north” to stay on Jessie’s mum’s farm. Unfortunately for the Rockatansky family, Jessie has an incident with Toecutter’s gang – small world really – which leads to her and Sprog’s death. That could have been one of the worst mistakes Toecutter has ever made as Max suits up again in his MFP leathers, grabs the last of the V8 interceptors, and heads out onto the back roads with revenge firmly fixed in his mind.

Being that it’s the Australia Day long weekend, ’09 the year of ozploitation, and a copy of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday has landed on my desk, it would appear that the planets are in alignment and the gods have spoken from Olympus. Time for some Ozploitation in the form of Mad Max and Mad Max 2, to cover bases with a look at “post apocalyptic” cinema in the form of the previous mentioned Max adventures and Doomsday. A heavy load of “death of civilisation” coming down the highway, so let’s break down cult Aussie flick Mad Max.

Containing one of the iconic scenes in Aussie cinema, Miller shows what the Country could have been producing if the Movie makers were let loose

Mad Max marks the introduction of legendary Australian director George Miller, who has pretty much just this franchise on his résumé, with some other resounding crap as he succumbed to the lure of Hollywood. Notably Mad Max shows what the then young Director is capable of, while his latest Happy Feet (2006) shows a talent squandered to the studio system demands. Mad Max is a fiercely independent movie prepared to take risks and let it all hang out; about everything else is background structure to the action, with non-action scenes simply setting up the next car chase.

Miller opens his movie with one of the best car chases you are ever likely to see depicted on cinema screens, and remember this was made without CGI and a balls to the wall approach. The Nightrider is headed for a populated area with his girlfriend in tow and a stolen MFP vehicle under his command. Miller films tightly, at rapid pace, and with stunning sudden cuts as things simply go ballistic. Maximum damage going down, with the stolen car crashing through a caravan an iconic moment in Australian cinema. Naturally this is all building up to the introduction of our squared jaw hero for the evening, Max Rockatansky. During the course of his opening gambit, Miller keeps cutting to Max who is a sort of calm eye in the middle of a cinematic cyclone of destruction. When Max does decide to join the chase, and wouldn’t you know it he’s our last hope, you are left wondering if this dude is really going to be the hero of the movie. Back then I guess people would have had second thoughts on Max, though now of course we note the name Mel Gibson and assume he’s the hero.

Having established the basics, Miller then inexplicably throttles back right through the middle part of the movie to introduce some character development and to put some motivation behind differing characters’ actions. It’s here that Miller is at his weakest, with the emotional scenes seeming forced, and Gibson and Samuel showing no real chemistry. We do learn that there is a petrol crisis with rationing brought in, a court system of some sort exists, and as long as the paperwork is in order FiFi doesn’t care what his officers do on the highways. To save what could have been a quick descent into the mire of inanity, Miller interjects some action scenes to keep us glued to the screen. I deducted a couple of points from the rating for Miller’s inability at this stage of his career to nail the emotional side of things.

By the way, during the car chase scenes – and there’s a few of them – the cameras are mounted a few inches above ground level in following vehicles to achieve that excellent low level effect indicating the sheer speed things are moving at. It shouldn’t need mentioning that the speed is really going down, there’s no sleight of hand involved here.

Miller does achieve a certain flair with his final act. As Max gradually comes to the realisation that no one else is going to help him and revenge isn’t a dish best served cold, the storm clouds are gathering overhead mirroring his internal development. All very Shakespearian I’m sure, and a masterful effect for those wanting to note it. Of course, this being ozploitation an actual storm might have brewed up during shooting and Miller didn’t have the money to postpone till better conditions. Regardless, it remains an apt metaphor as Max gets his resolve on and goes from hero to anti-hero.

Final note of the infamous hacksaw scene: nasty work there Mr Miller, and one of the aspects of Mad Max that ushers in the “horror” word. This scene influenced to a huge degree James Wan’s similar use of the setup in the original Saw (2004) movie. In both instances a character is offered an unpalatable means of getting out of their situation via the judicious use of a hacksaw to an ankle. I leave it to the viewer to determine which character is more insane here, Max or Jigsaw.

Mel Gibson (Max) was seemingly born to play the role. He is spot on with the “cool” requirements of the character but is slightly wooden with the emotional side of things. Both Miller and Gibson were in their respective career infancy so a certain amount of latitude can be given. Joanne Samuel (Jessie) isn’t hitting it out of the ball park and ranges from ok to slightly stale depending on the requirements. Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter) is excellently cast and has this sort of reserved manic evilness going down, really enjoyed the Actor’s performance here. And finally Steve Bisley (Goose) makes you wonder why there’s all that TV on his résumé and not more movies.

Surprisingly considering this is Ozploitation, there’s nothing much going down in the T&A stakes. Maybe Miller’s budget didn’t run enough to get various extras undressed in front of the camera?

Brian May, no not that one, handled the score which ranges from excellent to exceedingly melodramatic. May hasn’t caught all the nuances of individual pivot moments and the score mistimes on a few occasions. May of course would go on and do scores for quite a number of movies we’ll be covering in ’09 Ozploitation, and is probably best known to foreign viewers as the guy who did the music for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.

Mad Max is pretty disjointed pace wise through the course of the film, but does offer up the best ever car chases you are likely to witness this side of the dog on the tucker box. Director Miller is going balls to the wall in capturing the high octane stuff and he will have you going “wow”. I pretty much enjoyed the whole film with the exception of a couple of scenes that seemed to drag way too much because at this stage of his career Miller didn’t have a handle on the emotional requirements. I’m probably going to watch this movie again and again as it lives up to its status as a classic of Aussie cinema.

As of writing there have been two sequels to Mad Max, Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (1981) which proved to one of the biggest ever commercial and critical success of the Australian film industry, and the less than impressive Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome that effective deflated the franchise. Currently there is a fourth movie being shot in South Africa, unbelievable, but to be honest it looks from this distance to be bollocks.

Do I need to say it? Full recommendation on George Miller’s Mad Max, a classic of Aussie cinema and worldwide cult movie. You are going to get some of the best car chases you will ever see, a lot of high octane action, and real “gonzo” movie making. In fact you would be mad not to seek this movie out, play with a few brews at hand for max-e-mum enjoyment.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Miller drops the ball on the emotional side but hits top gear with the adrenline fueled action sequences.