Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome OST Review
This is Thunderdome. Death is listening. And will take the first man that screams.
SRP: £19.99The most ancient sounding, primitive, driven and determinedly percussive scores that I have ever heard are Alex North’s foreboding and dissonant Dragonslayer, Basil Poledouris’ magnificent Conan The Barbarian, and this … Maurice Jarre’s epic, versatile, exciting, exotic and anvil-grinding slammin’-jammin’ super symphonic apocalypse for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. That sure is a mouthful of accolades, but it deserves every single one.
After Australian composer Brian May created fabulous and quite distinctive scores for the first two Mad Max movies, it came as something of a surprise to find that he wouldn’t be along for this third and most grandiose ride. The biggest surprise, however, was the job of providing musical voice to Max Rockatansky’s third odyssey in the post-nuclear wasteland of an Oz gone to hell would fall upon Oscar-winning classical-cum-experimentalist composer Maurice Jarre. This was the man who scored for David Lean’s celebrated Lawrence of Arabia. This was a man whose tastes were eclectic to say the least. Lyrical. Mysterious. Haunting. Richly thematic and profoundly colossal in scope. But when you saw what director George Miller had in mind for Max’s next foray through the blighted landscape of marauders and weird refugees, the bigger surprise would have been not to have hired Jarre for the job. I will dispense with the background politics that attempted to oust the French-born composer from the task, except to say that Georges Miller and Ogilvie (who co-directed the film) were perfectly right to stick to their guns and think outside of the box.
With the sweeping majesty and danger of the vast and unforgiving desert very definitely singing in his veins after Lawrence, and The Man Who Would Be King and Lion of the Desert, Jarre was certainly the man for the job of musically illustrating this strange landscape and its ever-evolving culture of barren dangers, hidden delights and exotic mysteries.
Knowing the structure of the first two adventures and how they relied upon kinetic momentum and the pulverizing metallica of slam-on collisions and muscular impacts, Jarre amassed an armada of percussion. But he also wanted to convey the personality of the desert and the deadly allure of the endless sands. And he would need to describe two vastly opposed cultures – that of the post-industrial techno-yobs of Bartertown, and that of the lost tribe of history-sidetracked children out in their own oasis, oblivious to the fact that they are already living in potentially the only paradise left on Earth. He was working with myth, machinery and machismo and he would create a score as unconventional, as experimental and as enthrallingly fresh as Jerry Goldsmith would do for Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Alien. Jarre would have a singular vision for how this world ought to sound – dredged from some infernal, unstoppable pit of incessant toil. Hammers and rocks, steel and leather. Blood and sweat.
It is an indulgent score. Huge and rollicking. There is barely a moment of the film that doesn’t have music accompanying it. Well, there are some … but the fact is that Jarre probably did score them as well, as this complete soundtrack will testify, but the cues might not have made the final cut. This is old-fashioned, yet dynamically fresh and original. Jarre’s approach to Beyond Thunderdome has not been repeated by anybody before or since. Even his own earlier scores were smaller, more cyclical and less demonstrative. This is all-encompassing, and it has everything. From wind-borne Australian exotica and aboriginal instrumentation to thrashing, sax-heavy pig-rock, and from anvil-hammering action to the sweetly lyrical strains of optimism and the depiction of a tranquil oasis, both literally and figuratively. He speaks of lost worlds and thrusting new societies, some misguided and some led almost by a Messianic hand. There is primal power and energy here, but it is not cave-man-like. It is the raw and muscular voice of the remnants of a civilization gone to wrack and ruin, but determined to claw some semblance of order back from the sheathing dust-clouds of hopelessness and oblivion.
It is, quite simply, one of the best and most epic scores ever written … and it has hardly been awarded much credit over the last three decades. I attempted to set the record straight with the film in a review of the Petrol Can Mad Max Collection on Blu-ray, so I will now give the score the same treatment. This is very worthy of adulation.
Twenty years or so are supposed to have passed since ex-MFP driver Max Rockatansky became the Road Warrior and, like Western icon Shane, aided the Gucci Arabs to their sanctuary far away from “men on machines”, and Max has been wandering the wasteland and presumably having many adventures of his own. The world has changed again. The roving gangs of murderers, rapists and pillagers are probably still around, but a new society has sprung up in the middle of nowhere to rekindle a sense of the old ways, a semblance of order amidst the chaos. After being robbed of his camel-train and belongings, Max ends up in Bartertown, the new empire that has risen from the dust and ashes of the past. He knows that his equipment is there and he enters into a deal to have them returned to him. But the deal means having to kill a man in the arena known as Thunderdome.Tina Turner’s alluringly chainmail-clad dominatrix, Aunty Entity, runs Bartertown, but she reveals that the one who pulls all the strings actually resides below in the squalor of the Underworld – a festering industrial furnace-pit filled with pigs, from whose manure the entire operation is run. A high-powered gas called methane … and “Methane cometh from pigsh*t,” Max is informed. A midget known as Master is the brains of the industry down below and, sitting atop his muscle-bound and armoured enforcer, Blaster, he secretly rules Bartertown, with the power to shut off its energy supply whenever he doesn’t get his way.
Aunty Entity wants the muscle killed, but the brain kept … so Max must pick a fight with Blaster and defeat him in the arcane arena of Thunderdome, a gladiatorial domain which has been designed to stop disputes from ever reaching the point of tribal warfare – since that was the sort of epic confrontation that ignited the fireball that then engulfed the world. Aunty created all of this, and even if a trifle ruthless, she is certainly a forward-thinker and something of an entrepreneur. You can imagine her setting up a Bartertown franchise all over the remains of the world, each with its own Thunderdome.
Where Max’s adventures were mean and streamlined before, the Trilogy’s tailgater is an epic fantasy that is part Western, part Samurai, part Star Wars, part Conan, part Moses. It is nothing if not proudly, dangerously ambitious. The score had to match such huge concepts.
If anything … it exceeds them.
The opening track is Jarre’s Original Main Title Music, in which he would establish all the themes and motifs for the score in a hard-hitting yet, at one juncture, sweetly elegaic mini-overture. Max’s theme, the Bartertown motif and that for Thunderdome and both Aunty Entity and Master Blaster, and also the lost tribe stake a claim in this old-school appreciation and foretaste of what is to come. It would certainly have kicked-in the notion of a brave new world of savagery and toil and self-reliance, but also of pageantry and mystique and optimism. In the end, with Tina Turner on board, it was deemed more commercial to have her perform an introductory rock ballad. I mean, if you’ve got a rock, Motown and R&B queen, you might as well use her. Thus, the film begins with the excellent titled One of the Living, a terrific song that belts out the survivalist ethic of post-apocalyptic Australia. Of Turner’s two song tracks in the finished movie this was the least popular, but it remains my personal favourite. The very opening beat as the titles ignite the black screen are powerful and exciting. However, it is obviously great to hear how Jarre would have approached this title sequence, and his track makes perfect thematic sense as a prelude. Turner’s, of course, stemmed from commercial reasons, though it still adds a poignant, personal and evocative statement upon where the series was headed.
Jarre uses deep bass and percussion and wild dissonance. An ethereal choir enters and then is whisked away by the desert wind. The sax comes in and the track’s pace begins to speed up in a depiction of what will become the inferno collision from The Big Chase later on. This all culminates in a huge shivering clash of cymbals. Deep and throaty and physical, Jarre’s main title would tip you off that this was going to be a strenuous gig for the ears.
Pure fantastical Oz is evoked in Max’s Theme/The Desert. There is a didgeridoo, some ethic woods and forlorn horn-play as Dean Semler’s camera swoops down through the skies to observe a strange vehicle being hauled by a team of camels across an eye-bogglingly huge, scar-coloured landscape. Max is driving this, but not for long as Jedediah (the Gyro-Captain’s Bruce Spence returning from Road Warrior) and his son, both sporting pith helmets, pitch the lonely drifter from his vehicle with a timely smack from their odd little plane, and make off with his vehicle and his animals. Max’s pet monkey, ever resourceful, tips equipment off the back of the caravan so that the he can retrieve them. The element of that track that is Max’s Theme is whimsical and weary, wind-led, but it will take on a more typically heroic guise later on. But the really interesting element is of the purely Aboriginal sound of buzzing instrumentation, wobble-board, plastic tubing and sonorous horns. This is to suggest that Max has been out in the wasteland for so long now that he has gone native. Jarre’s track cuts out at the point at which Max pulls a whistle from the strap of his boot and serenades his miniscularity amidst this great plain as the sun melts down upon the horizon for the night.
With the Bartertown Theme, the scene shifts to Max, now booted and striding remorselessly to the edge of a promontory, over which he surveys the flotsam and jetsam of humanity all heading in the direction of a huge cave entrance – the way into the fabled province of Bartertown. Max joins the hopeful throng. Jarre’s music is immediately alien and primitive. A quartet of differently pitched anvils are smacked in discordant tune, raucous brass meanders about, chimes, gongs and all manner of percussion, metal, glass, wooden, are bruised and bashed. Drums enter and brass forms its own sleazy theme for the township.
The beautiful and spine-tingling refrain for the anvil is a gleaming accent on metal pipes, tapped out with an almost derisive comment on the state of the flood of refugees and their desperate hungry faces, when contrasted with the Imperial Guards and the kabuki-doll wearing lieutenant Ironbar Bassey (Angry Anderson), who look on with smirks and a sense of wariness when the black-garbed figure of the straggly Max moves through the rabble.
Once inside, Max meets the Collector (Frank Thring) who initiates whatever deal or bargain can be struck with each hopeful who wants to enter Bartertown. In Accents 2 Suspense Max states his business – that he wants his equipment back from the guy who stole them – and is immediately tested by a nunchucka-swinging henchman. Super-casually, Max draws his sawn-off shotgun and blows the man’s huge Mohawk head-gear to smithereens, leaving him literally spitting feathers. Clearly the stranger has shown some potential. The Collector hints at a deal that could be struck and Max is led deeper into Bartertown. But first he must leave his weapons behind – “It’s the Law.” Jarre supplies an abrupt and shrill flurry for brass, shakers, tambourine and strings as Max fires his shotgun in that very Indiana Jones-style moment, and then moves into an amusingly dark and edgy phase for muted horns and woods that then transforms into a sort of impatient and quietly incredulous motif as Max surrenders all manner of death-dealing accoutrements from within TARDIS-like confines of his robes and battered cop leathers, the scene marvelously deadpan and Jarre’s accompaniment deliciously wry. Listen for the vibraphone and the semi-mocking tones of the clarinet.
The next part of the track becomes slowly angular and metallic as Max is led into the crowded environ of Bartertown, itself. The Bartertown Theme is replayed, but it is much more measured and notched down in gear to a snail’s pace, so that we can observe the denizens of this strange place. Horns, cymbals, strings and gleaming percussion shiver as we spy the place in which Max will meet the ostensible leader of the township, Aunty Entity.
In Track 5’s Tragic Saxophone, we have entered Aunty Entity’s high-rise pagoda and Max is about to go through an unexpected initiation before being given the deal. But over in the corner sits an apparently blind oriental called Ton-Ton Tattoo who plays mournfully on the sax. Now this, I believe, is supposed to be a direct reference back to the very first film in which Max’s wife, played by Joanna Samuels, plays the sax in a super-bluesy fashion for him back at their beach-house. The tune is not the same, but when Aunty instructs Ton-Ton to “play something tragic” and she and Max briefly gloss over their previous lives, it definitely takes on the same air of melancholy and fateful solemnity. The sax is used frequently in this score, but this is perhaps its most poignant moment, and it is a moment that is cut violently short with a bleated squeal as Max dodges a fired dart that then ends up embedded in the instrument, putting a swift end to such ghostly nostalgia. The track finishes abruptly with this wrenched and speared note.
The fight, itself, as Max is set-upon by Aunty’s henchmen to see if he really is good and quick enough to handle Blaster, is unpredictable and full of shrill strings, smears of brass, trotting tom-toms and precarious percussion to signify attacks from all over the place – all of which Max is able to deal with. In the film, this cue, entitled Heartbeat, is actually omitted, opting to go with just the sound effects of clattered chins, battered balls and jabbed faces. Having passed the audition, Max is then shown, via periscope how Bartertown gets its energy and who really runs the place – Master Blaster, “A big guy giving a little guy a piggyback,” who act as a single unit. Max agrees to the hit – “Oh, yeah, real civilized.” – to an even warier and then slightly more whimsical stew of themes illustrating the delicate nature of the crime to be committed and the much more formidable nature of his opponent. Most of this remains unscored in the film, although subdued remnants of the music create some tension.
Agreeing to it all, Max then takes a job down in Underworld, shoveling pigsh*t in order to get closer to his foe and size him up. Jarre really cuts loose now and has some nuclear-fun with the raucous, raunchy and ever-so-catchy post-holocaust ho-down, Pigrock. A steady, cool drum beat, guitars, sax really going for it – this is ribald stuff that flares in with a sense of cathartic fun. Jarre had incorporated a small rock group for this purpose, and it is hard not to imagine that the presence of Tina Turner was something of an influence. The anvils are still getting smacked and their physical impetuosity fits in surprisingly well with the toe-tapping beat. Listen how the tuba makes an appearance as Max, up to this waist in pigs and their excrement, spies Master Blaster moving about on the metal gantry above. Blaster has Max’s monkey dangling from a cord and this becomes Max’s chance to pick a fight, but Robert Grubb’s inanely grinning lifer, called Pig-Killer and branded as such, intervenes and stalls the moment, becoming a friend and ally to Max. The Blaster theme is heavy with bass and brass, befitting the giant with his clobbering steel-gauntleted arm, immense helmet and sheer bulk.
This intimidating theme for Blaster is carried over into Track 7’s Master Blaster, in which it is discovered that Max’s vehicle, a converted buggy that has been dragged into Underworld has been boobytrapped and the resident mechanic, Blackfinger (George Spartels), cannot find a way of deactivating it. Max, finding another opportunity to get close to his opponent, owns up that it is his vehicle and that disconnecting the battery will not do any good. Since Master (Angelo Rossitto) wants the vehicle as a prize, he demands that Max make it safe. Martial drums and insistent brass instill the combined twosome’s superiority. The Manipulator brings some quivering string suspense as Max goads Master by simply stating that he runs nothing if he stays down here in a veritable sh*t-hole. “Me – King A-rab!” insists the little dictator. Although Blaster has Max hoisted by the throat, Darth Vader-style, the Road Warrior’s ploy compels Master to assert his authority in another way. In Embargo and Aunty Humiliated, Master as the energy turned off so that Bartertown grinds to a halt. He demands that she publicly announce that it is he who runs the place over the PA system. Woodwinds quietly unsettle as the Blaster theme nudges along with bullish arrogance, until a sudden burst of dissonance from horns and bassoon hurries in. Aunty’s shame is exemplified with high woods and nervous drums in the background. Surprisingly, the film restrains much of this material.But all of this proves to Max that he should behave. For now. So once the embargo is lifted he agrees to disarm the booby-trap. In The Discovery he finds Blaster’s weakness. The high-pitched wail of his vehicle’s siren sends the brute into an agonized fit.
Further testing this out with his whistle, Max understands how he can defeat the giant. Jarre scores this with hints of the lost tribe’s theme, which is to come, possibly to signify hope against seemingly insurmountable odds, intriguingly offbeat and conspiratorial variations on other themes we have already heard, and all over a swiftly dealt, though subdued patter from the drums. The xylophone adds a frisson to the discovery, providing it with more grave importance as Aunty shows him the battle arena of Thunderdome and how the assassination is to take place without her and her committee being implicated in the deed.
And then the finale of this track erupts into another welter of Pigrock’ s sax, drums and guitar, the sax roaring out over Ironbar Bassy enjoying a drink at the Atomic Café whilst all the time observing Master Blaster moving through the crowd and mulling over how Max will pick his fight. He clearly didn’t like being made a fool of by this stranger, and is waiting for a chance to get even. The track ends with the sound of suspended pots and pans being rattled.
Conspiracy is a short, sharp shock of a cue. Max makes his move, demanding his vehicle back as Master Blaster rides through town on it, victorious. Their dispute is commuted to Aunty to holds court above-ground, and Master demands justice via Thunderdome. High strings that then descend and a shriek from horn. Menacing bass and a final twirl of woods capture the moment when the crowd sense blood and surge towards the big dome.
“Two men enter! One man leaves!”
The battle within Thunderdome is actually several cues bolted together into one cohesive, bruise-saturated marathon here on this release. The initial phase is a fantastic circus-like 360-degree spin around the crowd-packed curved walls of the arena. Trumpets herald the spectacle. Drums pound. Cymbals clash as though there are a million of those little clockwork musical monkeys all fired-up. A brief shot of Max, still outside, making certain that he has his whistle with him, hints at his own little conspiracy, but there is also a note of apprehension. All he can count on is that little whistle … against this undefeated giant.
Cymbals bash and clash some more, brass and horns hoot and brazen blare with mad carnivalesque intensity. Aunty glides down to the arena on a throned zip-wire to the applause of the crowd. “I know you won’t break the rules. There aren’t any,” informs the gothic MC, Dr. Dealgood (Edwin Hodgeman). “Get to the weapons. Use them anyway you can.” Blaster’s theme is given a vaguely more valiant stance, and Max’s theme is lost amidst the hullabaloo of the twisted Bartertown theme.
A middle section becomes cryptic with motivations. We have the fight going on, which seems fairly black and white, but we can see the reactions of Aunty and her henchmen and of little Master, as well. Somewhat unusually, he seems less than confident and we can, perhaps, sense that there is even more at stake than we previously believed.
The actual battle commences as a terrific waltz, a tour de force of bassoon, tuba, bass, Ondes Martinot, knifed strings. The combatants, attached to bungees are propelled all around the dome. Max is on the receiving end of the punishment for much of the time. Bass surges and horn-spit jabberings announce each bludgeoning impact. Elastic-like sproings, from the synth, signify the flinging about of the bungees. As the fight becomes more ground-based after the wires have been sliced, drums batter away in the recesses, and a sort of homage to Brian May’s driving heroic road fanfare can be heard, perhaps a rekindling of Max’s crusading days to help him through this battering. Bassoon, tuba and shivering cymbals knock us about all over the show, leaving us reeling with each impact. Big bass drums, timpani and higher flourishes finally reveal that Max may have the upper hand if he can just get to that damn whistle.
Not all of the fight is scored, but Jarre covers the majority of it with whirling, acrobatic brass and rolling percussive waves. Little figures for horns interject, like wheezing gasps from crushed ribs. For such an aggressive welter of metallica and roaring brass, the orchestra is incredibly flexible and dynamic. The circus-like Thunderdome cue returns at the very end of the track, re-establishing the giddy violent carnival of it all.
“Bust a deal – face the Wheel!”
Sledgehammer blows fell Blaster, and one removes his helmet altogether. Max closes in for the kill. Jarre’s music pivots from impact-heavy victory to hollow shock and pity as Max sees precisely who has been fighting all along. Blaster is revealed to be a retarded youth, who smiles benignly up at his victor when Max cannot go through with the death-blow. Caught in a moral morass, the Road Warrior’s humanity shines through once again. He will not destroy a man who has clearly been abused and exploited. Even Master, realizing that his secret is out, and that his protector has been defeated, leaps into the arena to plead for his friend’s life and, in a heartbreaking moment, apologise to Blaster for all that he has put him through. Jarre’s compassion is wrenched this way and that in Darkness, as Max reveals the conspiracy that was afoot. Max’s theme as well as a subdued motif for Master Blaster interweave against glowering tones from horns. Suddenly Master attempts to reassert his control over Bartertown, threatening to withdraw all its power, but Ironbar and his thugs slay Blaster with arrows and Thunderdome’s spectacle descends into travesty. Anguished and forlorn woods describe Master’s agony as he tends to his lost friend. Aunty refuses to allow Max to go free. He has reneged on their deal and now he must pay the price. He must face the Wheel, upon whose spin Max’s fate will be decided. Drums roll and light timpani give the impression of the stone-carved wheel spinning … and Gulag is the dreaded option that it lands on. Max is to be cast out onto the hellish and endless plateau of the Devil’s Anvil, to be baked upon its ceaseless sands.
Jarre has apprehensive tones from the Ondes Martinot, and the wobble-board, heard deeper down in the mix, as though coming from just over the sand-dunes that Max, atop a water-led mule and with a huge Mardi Gras head planted firmly on top of his own, is about to sent out over, and nervous licks from the woodwinds and a gradually building crescendo that all culminates in glistening chimes, odd, irregular anvil and plastic tube effects. This track also incorporates the fate that has befallen Master in the Underworld, in which we see that the midget has now become the plaything/pawn/repairman for Aunty, though more specifically the nasty-minded Ironbar. Little spiraling squalls from the woods accompany the imp as he is lowered into the pig-pen to be humiliated. Away from this, sustained cymbals and skittering woods and percussion swirl around Max as he heads deeper and deeper into the scorched wasteland. Didgeridoo and Aboriginal woods and percussion warp their woozy way all around him as his mule gives in and pitches him onto the arid sand, the poor beast then getting consumed by the soft and hungry desert, itself. Jarre, more than May, incorporates many native instruments to depict this terrible place and its haunting dominance over those who stray into it. May was working with machinery, though – car, wagons, trucks and guns – and the land, itself, was usually restricted to a wreckage-strewn road. Jarre has to dig back further to create the miasma of this lost and inhospitable world. He is moving about through a fantastical world, the aura of pre-history and shell-shocked future combining into one heaving mutation.
We see Pig Killer send out Max’s monkey with a little leather water-bottle to find him in the Gulag, and Jarre provides a terrific little scampering motif that becomes a mini-ode of heroism. Desert Hallucinating maintains more of the native sounds.
Electronica, Ondes Martinot and bizarre inflections from brass, strings and percussions ooze all over the place, disorientating and mind-numbing. Hints of previous themes wander in and out. Max’s frantic plight away from the sinking sand is meted-out with a brash eruption of all sorts of unpleasantry. Jarre throws everything against us for a tempest of danger and fear. The aboriginal lull that twists and turns on the wind to give us some slight respite is then disrupted with a horn, brass and string stinger as Max’s monkey suddenly greets him at the top of the sand dune. Morricone did some wondrous work with desert themes and how the sun and the heat and the exhaustion can affect a character in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in this cue, aptly titled The Desert. Jarre creates a similarly scary, relentless and haunting passage here, although his is altogether less lyrical and more painfully intense. Shades of Lawrence carry on the wind. The cue ends with Max and his monkey collapsing and getting slowly covered with sand.
“Now, listen. I’m not Captain Walker. I’m the man who keeps Dr. Dead in his pocket.”
This quasi-mystical/element disquiet is carried over into Magical, Max’s prone figure becoming obliterated by the landscape. Dissonance is broken with a fierce percussive wallop. Then ominous male voices, wordless and hauled up from one of Hell’s antechambers billow like the sandstorm, an utterance of sheer gothic portent that recalls some of the primal vocal ululations heard in Gyorgy Ligeti’s scary theme for the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.But, in a very Lawrence-esque moment of complete thematic reversal, Jarre then dispenses with the terror, the doom and the gloom as a figure is sighted on the horizon, emerging from the heat-haze and coming towards the stricken form in the sand. This is Savannah Nix (Helen Buday), a tracker from the lost tribe of children, who has been out scouring the desert for the return of their fabled Captain Walker. One look at the disheveled mess that Max has become and she believes she has found their tribe’s saviour who once ventured out into the wilderness in the hopes of finding a means to get them all “Home” again, and has now returned.
Brass takes on a very Ben-Hur-like fanfare, further establishing the mythical quality of the story, and a thematic and narrative shift has been announced. Strings, so neglected previously, reach out into the clouds, and chimes are heard. Jarre has offered tantalizing hints of hopefulness and youth already, but it is at this point that the score takes a huge detour into another realm entirely. Woods, horns and harp carry the buoyant new theme, which will swiftly and spiritedly develop to become the film’s next major musical phase. The transition from wretched, death-observed gloom to shining optimism and luck has, indeed, been magical. The finale of the track plays softly and slowly the opening of what we will here as the Children’s Theme.
And with this theme, which comes next, the music becomes playful, upbeat and effervescent with motion. Savannah has issued her cry across the desert and it has been picked-up by others of her tribe and we see her joined by a merry group of little wanderers who then help her to haul Max back to their river canyon paradise. Woods and shakers and tambourine are joined by synth and harp. It is almost like a desert-jig. The theme then falls back, almost in time, to a more primal, slower variation that emphasizes the various exotic instruments and the sheer beauty of wonder and rekindled hope and a people that time has sidetracked. The theme picks up the pace again as the motley crew arrive with the man they believe will lead them back to “Tomorrow-morrow land” as has been foretold. With the anvils now gone – at least for now – the music has become tranquil, melodic. The harmony is a sweet antidote to the harshness and the ear-bashing that we have endured up until now. To go from such muscular power and intensity to a supremely soul-uplifting nuke-uncaring lullaby is a transition that not many composers could so capture as successfully and perfectly as Jarre does here. He not only has to serenade the passage of Max into a new environment and to musically create new characters and a diverse new culture, but he has to do in the full knowledge that many of the series’ most devoted fans may well be aghast at seeing Max involved with a tribe of cute, Ewok-reminiscent kids. With this in mind, it may have been tempting to keep the exoticism and beauty a little more downplayed and perhaps even unscored, but Jarre finds an incredible variety of character, richness, hope and pathos, and even satire, to explore with the lost tribe … and Max’s reaction to them.
Whilst Ceremony offers ritualistic shakers, primitive percussion and melodic piccolo and piano, there is the sound of gently smacked metal. The kids have a jumble of salvaged spare-parts hanging about all over the place, like bottles on a line. These improvised sounds form a sort of backbone litany. All of this becomes a sudden, swirling, clashing whirlwind of sound as Max finally awakens, his long hair shorn by blades, and finding himself surrounded by kids, the Road Warrior blunders through their encampment in Confusion. All of these primal percussive tools are banged and clashed in a steady tribal beat as the kids relentlessly hound the man they believe is their hero. Synth swirls and little jolts of horn and brass and woodwind gather strength and crowd in on Max to essay his stunned reaction at what doesn’t look at all like his idea of the afterlife.
The history of the tribe is related to Max via a strange combination of cave-paintings, re-enactments and vocalization. Assuming his confusion to be some sort of test, Savannah tells the tale, and of how they assume him to be Captain Walker, the pilot of the crashed passenger plane, the survivors of which they are descended from. It is a patchwork, pidgin-English saga of the apocalypse and how they all hope to finally get back home to the big city with its “High-scrapers” and “vuh-vuh-videooohhhh”. Jarre appears to have scored some of this in The Telling, but I don’t believe that much of it was used. Forlorn woodwind flows into a choir-augmented slow rendition of the Children’s Theme, tingling metal percussion and then a broad sweeping rush of brash takes flight, led by trumpet. His music really kicks back again as Max, bemused at this turn of events but extremely reluctant to accept his part in it, follows the kids out into the sand dunes to see the crashed plane that still sits there, half -buried. A gust of wind, like the breath of Fate, has convinced the tribe that it is a sign that he will lead them out of there. This is really grand stuff, in very much the style of the big Biblical Epics. Lots of brass and horns dominate, strings and woods curl away beneath. This is a fanfare, but Jarre can just as easily turn this upon its head in the next breath. Max simply shakes his head, turns his back on their expectant faces and stomps back off to their river-side idyll. I Ain’t Captain Walker focuses upon this rising tide of hopefulness and destiny as the tribe surge out across the sands, and then falls away into bleakness and despondency as Max lets the side down. The woodwinds call out dispassionately and with dejection as the track draws to a close.Compassionbegins with dark notes from bass, clarinet, drums and a distant cymbal clash. We are back at the camp, with Max sitting alone whilst the tribe, now very dubious about him, are perched higher up on the rocks. Although he has attempted to tell them that nothing worthwhile awaits them out there in the wilderness, Savannah clings to the belief that if he could slog it out of the desert, then they can too. She attempts to leave with a chosen few, but Max snatches the staff they have been using and the bullets they had dangling as pendants and forcibly shows them how this contraption really works by firing warning shots at Savannah. Jarre uses martial drums to illustrate Max taking charge of the situation. Aggressive brass flurries reply as Savannah and her fellow trekkers hurl spears at him. Max charges up after her and slugs her on the chin. Now somewhat in-charge, he has her shackled to a post in a cave to keep her from wandering. Jarre has woods, drums and horns meandering through bouts of activity to convey the disquiet and the uncertainty in the camp. Parts of the children’s motif, and Max’s weave softly in and out as the track closes in edgy, pensive detente.
Bone-like percussion, drums and phases for horn and wood are heard inTyrant. It becomes clear that Savannah has escaped and that, together with a merry band, including Rod Zuanic’s oddball loner, Scrooloose, has made off into the wasteland. The first half of the track is unpredictable and roving. Little snippets of familiarity flutter about, a gong clangs, and some leather percussion and heavy angular notes from a prepared piano strike up. Horns attempt to describe the dangers that are out there, with heavier brass accenting this even more. The Children’s Theme then gets a sweet, high variation on the violin, with a glistening reflection from the harp.
Once they discover that Savannah has half a night’s head’s start on them and could well be lost out there in the desert, Max demands all the water he can carry and starts off after them, knowing that if then desert doesn’t swallow them up first, then Bartertown surely will. Jarre begins The Leaving with a hint of hopefulness, as once again, our reluctant hero feels compelled to do the right and honourable thing. As he and a couple of others set off, another straggler joins them – “He holds his own …” insists Max, but in the very next shot, we see the Road Warrior with the youngster hoisted on his shoulders. This track becomes tremendously exciting once the searchers discover that Savannah and her group are hanging precariously onto ropes to avoid the huge sink-hole that is claiming them, one at a time. Jarre goes through an array of dizzying motifs, one for staccato strings and woodblock as Max realizes their predicament and charges across the dunes, performs a daring leap and manages to haul the majority of the group back to safety. Sadly, one their number as gone under, never to be seen again. Max’s theme returns for the conclusion of the track. It is light and tired-sounding, but there is a definite sense of elation swept up in its lyricism.
On the horizon, the stragglers see distant lights. “Is that Tomorrow-Morrow Land?” the kids enquire. “Nope. Bartertown,” replies Max. “It’s our only chance.”
The next two tracks Underworld Takeover and Arrival cover Max and the tribe’s infiltration of Aunty’s pig-foundry, the rescue of Master and Pig-Killer and the temporary defeat of Ironbar and consternation of Aunty Entity when she sees who has come back with the periscope. Guards are outwitted and smacked-about. Lots of people swing across the pig-pens and Ironbar lets rip with an assault rifle, before getting knocked into a vat of fresh manure. Not all of Jarre’s music here makes it into the film. The warped skirmishing of Underworld Takeover is fast and fun – it is the Children’s Theme hurled into frivolous percussive and horn-led encounters. Although there is danger here, Jarre’s material is reminding us that this is not filled with the violence of the Miller’s previous two films. This is more Indiana Jones than anything else, action-wise. But Jarre does not eliminate the primal percussion and exotic motifs that mark this out as something weird and alien and counter-culture. Arrival even mutates the joyous theme for the tribe, via piano and strings into a surprisingly ethereal passage, before then giving us a rather perplexing and far too early rendition of what will become the theme for the Epilogue, which is altogether sadder, more apprehensive and spiritually uneasy.
This then moves into a strangely melancholic stretch for sustained brass and slow tuba. I’m not too sure where this material should have fitted in best. Is it to comment on Aunty’s knowledge that Bartertown has been breached and that her authority is, therefore, compromised? Because this material will come soon enough. It is almost as though this section was for scenes that aren’t in the final cut of the film. An earlier section of the film allowed the camera to linger on the face of another convict down there with Pig-Killer. Perhaps this music was to cover something further with this guy, who does not escape with the rest of them. Either way, the film throughout this juncture is far more upbeat and humorously punctuated with action than the music in this section would seem to imply.
The vast score then carries on to Disc 2.
A touch of vintage Bondian John Barry occurs near the start of Max and Savannah Escape. Suspense from strings and bleats muted brass is then met with gleaming timpani in a softly atmospheric set-piece of nifty of creeping-about. Spirited sections for brass and xylophone and other smirk-inducing percussive instruments add the chaotic sense of anything goes as further henchmen are incapacitated or run-circles around by these strange invaders. As the infiltrators realize that the big power-source down there in the mine is a ramshackle converted steam-train/wagon, they gather together, board the contraption and fire it up, with Pig-Killer at the helm. Boarding The Train gathers momentum with trilling brass and horns, clanging bells, drums and cymbals, and then a triumphant burst of the Children’s Theme as the vehicle begins to break away from its moorings, blasting though the wall of the mine and leaving the place exploding behind it. There are little reminders of Brian May heroic motifs scattered throughout, ascending motifs and horn and drum combos.
After an introduction of drums and heraldic brass for the exodus of the good guys, stretched-out and dirge-filled, the Bartertown theme then takes a calamitous turn in Bartertown Destruction. This is grand stuff, like the fall of the Roman Empire or something. Brass and synth-organ rue the explosions taking place underground and the chaos they are bringing topside. The refugees are fleeing. The Bartertown theme gets a deliriously slowed-down and elegiac rendition. We see the Collector sitting, head bowed, looking for all the world as though he has simply given up and died. Manure is showering everything. Aunty screams for the evacuation to halt. She hollers down from the mount that Bartertown can be rebuilt. It was dust before, and they created a town out of it. They can do so again. But she wants Master back … and for those that took him … “no mercy!” There is more music in this track than plays in the film, and the tracks ends on a note of aggression as Aunty’s warriors take to their vehicles and, upon her signal, roar off down the ridge in pursuit of the renegade train. Clanging bells, military snares and cymbals echo. A very strange version of the Bartertown Theme comes over as though it was prepared with Native American Indians in mind – listen to the tribal drumming in the background.
The Big Chase. And the biggest track in the score.
Well, Jarre had some ground to cover here. Brian May had devoted the majority of this two scores to action-packed chase sequences, so there had to be some bash ‘n’ crash here. Having already revealed an ability to wield percussive mass and battalions of angular, jabbing metallica, it was, perhaps, at this juncture that he was totally committed to producing his most intensive speed, rhythm and fury for the film’s one and only automotive set-piece of hi-octane adrenaline. An immense track, The Big Chase more than delivers the goods with a steady, tribal beat, jangling refrains that demarcate Max, the lost children, Bartertown, Master and Aunty. Funnily enough, Ironbar, who features a lot, does not really get his own theme. He tends to blend in with the stew of the momentum, his own hiss, growls and shouts becoming his motif. That it all comes together in one almost singular and relentless rolling barrage is down to the fact that Max and Co. are riding on a souped-up, customized train, Jarre’s music signifying the vehicle churning its way down the track. May was taking onboard all the other vehicles that were bouncing off the truck during the climactic chase in Mad Max 2, so his music was all about buffeting and shunting, crashing metal and spinning bodies. He had to capture the muscular musicality of people leaping about all over high-speed buggies. In the first film, May was also very narrowly insistent with his chase material. Roaring heroism for Max and flashes of terror for those he was coming up fast on the tails of. Jarre, on the other hand, has less actual violence to contend with, so his chase theme is far more repetitive … but no less exciting.
It starts out quiet enough with wafting ethnic woodwind catching the desert air, creating a gentle and lyrical ode to the vastness of the landscape - just a pleasant cruise through the wasteland. But a view down the binoculars back the way they have just travelled reveals that Aunty’s forces are exceptionally highly mobilized and have, indeed, caught up with them. As her dragoons clambour aboard, Max, Scrooloose and Savannah fight them off with saucepans - this, again, is a homage to the first when poor Charlie in the Big Bopper Pursuit MFP vehicle “copped a saucepan in the throat.” Max actually gets hauled off alongside his combatant and lands on the cowhide body of a dragster speeding along beside the train. Not to be outdone, Scrooloose performs his own slow-motion dive onto a huge dune-buggy, and is compelled to use his saucepan on the driver. Jarre covers all of this with pounding drums, flurries of brass that then develop into tri-tone belches. Anvil, metal percussion, triangles and chimes add accents to the big bass thumps. Impacts on the drums and the superbly jarring sound of a prepared piano carry slight echoes, bringing a sense of speed and distance, as though each on-screen event has already passed-by by the time that you’ve seen and heard it. Cymbals, trombones and trumpets and horns blast out a staccato interpretation of the Bartertown theme. Horns and piano drive right alongside the ferocious percussion. The piano’s thudding notes carry a resonant clamour, capturing the ungainly and rusty weight of the train/wagon’s wheels on the tracks.
Brass sounds deep and guttural, rattling like the phlegm in the back of a dragon’s throat. But he counterpoints this with shrill angular bells and chime-led xylophone, amped-up like some supercharged skeletal death-rattle. It is action music … but like nothing you’ve ever heard before. It is the fast-moving equivalent of the Thunderdome duel, just travelling in one distinct line, rather than tumbling about all over the place.
Max shovels off his attacker and swiftly commandeers the cowboy vehicle. Scrooloose, too, is able to take control of the combat buggy. Aunty, her Imperial guards and Blackfinger have boarded the train and are desperate to get hold of Master. Ironbar Bassey in the meantime has leapt from vehicle to vehicle and taken charge of a huge harpoon mounted on the back of a jeep. With a whoop of delight he spears Pig-Killer’s leg to the driver’s door with his first shot, before being viciously shunted directly into the path of the train as Max barrels into him from behind before he can reload. Jarre delivers a cacophonic eruption of drums and brass, whirling horns and almost endless cymbals as Ironbar’s jeeps explodes on the cattle-grid of the train in the film’s biggest fireball. Jarre marvelously builds to these various crescendos, totally understanding the cathartic release that such punctuation requires.
The track drops into a curious lull at this point lasting a couple of seconds. The cymbals shimmer to a close … and then nothing. It may sound odd on the score CD, but this is how it plays out in the film, as Miller then reveals that Ironbar is actually gripping onto the cattle-grid, all blackened and charred, but alive and now angrier than ever. The chase theme then strikes up again, prepared piano, battering drums, trombones growling out the Bartertown theme at its most militaristic. Listen to the full keyboard run of the piano, adding a gleam of delicacy to the carnage. This makes a delightful change from the deep, reverberating, train-like hammering of the prepared piano, which sounds as though King Kong is playing it with his elbows.
The most heroic motif heard is when Aunty gets a grip of Master and manages to wrestle him away from Savannah and Blackfinger lets go of the other carriage. Max somehow contrives to climb out of the cowhide dragster and propel himself along its hood, then up onto the back of the rear carriage, up onto its roof, snatch the little feller from Aunty and make the leap across the widening gap to the still speeding front carriage, leaving his nemesis wailing in frustration behind them. Now, this is quite an unusual way for Jarre to handle what is clearly the most noble and physically heroic deed during the entire sequence. His motif rises to a champion’s crescendo, but it is still sort of subdued in favour of the relentless pounding. Personally, I would have expected this motif to have been roaring out as a pure moment of chest-beating … but, this said, I still like the way that he refuses to perform the obvious and opts to keep the passage deeply embedded in the midst of the continuing action taking place all around. It seems to show that he has his eye on the individual acts of derring-do, but will not take his other eye off the riotous activity all over the rest of the image.
Jangling deep piano notes hammer out Ironbar’s sudden reappearance as he scuttles up the side of the wagon and grabs hold of Master’s little legs. Max swings a boot around and slams him in the mush, sending him out of over the hurtling terrain and hanging desperately onto a hot steam pipe that has swung out with him. Drums and piano scorch out a beat as a motorcycle and sidecar attempt to race up beneath Ironbar and save him, but the rider doesn’t figure on the concrete slab that marks the end of the ground before a gaping chasm. Mimicking, all too tamely, the classic 65-foot, freefall cartwheel that a biker does in the previous film, the rider is pitched over into oblivion. Jarre keeps up the chaotic barrage of speed and danger as Ironbar is then forced to raise his legs, Tex Avery-style, over a serious of steel frames running alongside the bridge that stretches across the chasm. But his travails are not over as one of the kids then saws through the steam-pipe and he falls from the train deep out of shot. Jarre, unlike Brian May, refuses to Mickey-Mouse the moment with any playful music descent and impact.
Another brief lull happens with Max hauling the spear out of Pig-Killer’s thigh by opening the door on a fake count of three, and then the train has to suddenly break hard when a small, Pith-helmeted child on a mound of sand holds them up with two vintage rifles. This is Jedediah Jnr., the son of airborne thief. Jarre establishes the frantic slowing down of the train with harsh, stabbing brass and percussion, that piano clamouring as deeply as though it is being played at the back of a cavern. With all of Aunty’s forces bearing down upon them, the refugees and midget highwayman climb down into the pilot’s underground lair. At Max’s insistence, Jedediah Snr. agrees to get them all out there in his plane. Jarre resumes the enjoyable drum and bass beat as they speed out to the plane that is already trundling along. There is a more heroic flavor to the beat, this time. It is almost as though Jarre knows that things are going to get airborne, and the energy of the chase is somehow elevated. Aunty’s armada comes speeding down though the pilot’s topside encampment, but the shock is that there is apparently not enough room for the plane to take off. It seems that Max is destined never to get settled for too long. With Jarre’s most heroic and noble thematic stance driving into effect, Max takes over the dune-buggy that Scrooloose was operating and speeds up ahead of the plane, bent on a head-on collision with Aunty’s force to buy the plane time and space for a launch. With a salute of respect from Master and expressions of reverence from all the kids crowded within the plane, Max revs up the vehicle and thunders ahead, with Ironbar, once again, risen from the dead, coming straight for him, a grin and growl helping to propel his onslaught. A fanfare from horns, jubilant drums and a valiant statement from strings, woods and percussion urge Max forwards at breakneck speed. Jarre alters the thematic course to one of impending destruction, a blistering buildup of intense hammering piano, insistent cymbals and a rush of brass and percussion as the two vehicles meet, Max’s buggy shearing the top right off Ironbar’s.
Having jumped to safety, the bloodied Max lies on the sand, once again, as vehicles crash and tumble all around him. The plane does a salutary flyby as the people he has saved gaze upon their champion one last time before taking to the skies and possible salvation. A slow, yet heraldic phrase accompanies Max as he struggles to his knees and watches them go. Jarre allows the cocking of weapons and the groan of twisted metal and the gathering wind of the desert score Max’s final encounter with Aunty Entity, who enigmatically accepts that she has lost this battle, but that the two of them are apocalyptic survivors of a very rare breed. “Well, ain’t we a pair, Raggedy-man? Goodbye, soldier.”
Jarre leaves Max to climb to his feet and idly peruse the fresh wreckage whilst Aunty and her men ride away, leaving him in the middle of nowhere. Ironbar Bassey’s crushed hand flips the world the bird and then crumbles, finally dead. Jarre’s haunting Epilogue works with the irony of Jedediah and the kids flying through a red dust cloud and happening upon the ruins of Sydney. In the montage and voiceover from Savannah that follows, we learn that the lost tribe make their home in the old city, lighting the night so that all the other lost ones out there can find their way home. The blasted city can hardly be a replacement for the idyll that they have left behind, but Jarre doesn’t let that stop his music go from ghostly and referential to enriched and energized. As Savannah does the Tell for what is clearly a new generation, she talks of the man who came from the desert and salvaged them, and we see a solitary figure crossing the dunes into a redolent sunset. Max has not changed all that much. He has found humanity and he is certainly not so “mad” anymore … but he is still a broken nomad wandering the wasteland with one day blurring into the next. At the end of Mad Max 2 Brian May made this payoff an epic, gravely foreboding promise that he was still out there, somewhere. Jarre does not allow this thought to be a dark one – his closure is more colourful, more resilient and hopeful.
The film would close out with Tina Turner’s hit single We Don’t Need Another Hero, which was certainly a fitting ballad with which to turn off from the post-apocalyptic highway, although its saccharine children’s voices would only add to the impression that a once mighty and hyper-violent saga had bowed-out with a family-friendly whimper. It depends upon how you look at it of course. George Miller made three very different movies, and this was the most outrageously flamboyant and fantastical of the trio. It jettisoned the violence but it gained a terrific amount of riotous imagination and invention, and it greatly expanded what was fast becoming a clichéd future landscape. Many other filmmakers had emulated the look and vibe of Mad Max 2, and Miller wanted and needed to prove that he could far beyond their more obvious copies.
Inevitably, there are nods to Lawrence of Arabia, and other Jarre scores, but the one that is most emulated by Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is one that came out right around the same time in 1985, when he composed the music for Wolfgang Petersen’s SF adventure, Enemy Mine. But I maintain that Thunderdome is a towering achievement, musically. It lifts an already hugely ambitious film to a whole new level, and as an album it is an epic experience that frequently mystifies, stimulates and gains thematic richness and nuance every time, becoming deeper, more exciting and more beautifully exotic.
This release then features elements from the Original Soundtrack Album – combined cues for Bartertown, The Children, and lots of elements taking the shape of Coming Home. There are some interestingly emphatic and isolated piano overdubs for the Big Chase, and then some Organ Effects, like the echoes of canon fire. Plastic Tube Effects were clearly used to help augment the eeriness of the desert wind and the desolation, especially when Max is sent off into Gulag. These are enjoyable additions that help you ascertain the invention of the scoring and the crazy things that can go into creating something so memorable.
Tadlow’s excellent 2-disc limited edition release comes with a fine 16-page booklet of notes on the score from Eric Lichtenfeld and a few words from the album producer James Fitzpatrick. My copy has a mistake with the film’s title on both discs, but this is hardly anything to be concerned about. The overall sound quality is outstanding, and the very fact that we have this now after such a long time in which Maxian’s had to make do with bootlegs is a sheer indulgent luxury. At the time of writing, the album is still available online from various stores, and I can only recommend it wholeheartedly.
Full Track Listing
1. Original Main Title Music (2:00)
2. Max’s Theme – The Desert (2:41)
3. Bartertown Theme (1:55)
4. Accents 2 Suspense (3:48)
5. Tragic Saxophone (0:40)
6. Heartbeat / Pigrock (3:48)
7. Master Blaster / The Manipulator / Embargo / Entity Humiliated (2:29)
8. The Discovery (2:01)
9. Conspiracy (0:35)
10. Thunderdome (4:52)
11. Darkness / Gulag (3:48)
12. Master in Underworld / Desert Hallucinating (5:21)
13. Magical (3:02)
14. Children’s Theme (2:13)
15. Ceremony (1:12)
16. Confusion (1:14)
17. The Telling / I Ain’t Captain Walker (4:01)
18. Compassion (3:18)
19. Tyrant (2:45)
20. The Leaving (5:05)
21. Underworld Takeover (2:19)
22. Arrival (2:59)
1. Max and Savannah Escape (3:05)
2. Boarding the Train (2:22)
3. Bartertown Destruction (4:03)
4. The Big Chase! (11:44)
5. Epilogue (3:18)
Original Soundtrack Album
6. Bartertown (8:27)
7. The Children (2:12)
8. Coming Home (15:15)
9. Pianos Overdubs for The Big Chase! (2:37)
10. Organ Effects (0:39)
11. Plastic Tube Effects (0:47)
12. Wild Chords (0:25)
13. I Ain’t Captain Walker (The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra Crouch End Festival Chorus
Conducted by Nic Raine) (5:02)
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