Mad Max Blu-ray Review
I like this hi-def transfer of Mad Max quite a lot. The 2.35:1 print comes to BD via an AVC encode and it takes an image that has almost always looked quite dry and shabby and spruced it up with appreciable vigour so that it now boats stronger colours, some clearly apparent improvement in the definition and more robust blacks. The picture is film-like and retains its grain with no untoward use of the DNR button. Print damage is still noticeable, but it is extremely mild – there are a couple of white dots (one very glaring that lingers over a couple of shots), one frame jump (right at the start as Charlie argues with Big Bopper as to who is going to drive) and some rapid colour fluctuations during the opening chase (most obvious during our introduction to Goose in the roadside diner).
Contrast is actually quite good, in the main, although this does fluctuate on occasion, which I think will also be down to the original source. Colours may have had some boosting, but with the exception of the neon sign for Fat Nancy’s diner – which has always been on the bright side, but blazes so intensely now that it becomes fuzzy, and does look like an error to me – they seem fine and appropriate to me. Skin tones are reasonably naturalistic – especially the swarthy, grime-scuffed complexion of the Nightrider – and the bleached-blonde locks of Steve Bisley’s Goose now stand out all the more. Fifi’s shiny bald bonce and that curious little blur-blob tattoo on the back of it look more naturalistic, but I’m still having trouble seeing that little spider that is apparently wandering over it. Those piercing blue eyes of Gibson are surprisingly restrained, however, with only a couple of iconic shots allowing them to blaze through the screen. Blood is now a touch brighter. The explosion of Max’s knee-cap, for instance, looks a lot more vivid. The brilliant blue and yellow of the Ford Falcons provides a beautiful contrast to the otherwise drab (and intentionally so) landscapes that surround them. The poor Chevy that gets ripped apart provides scarlet and silver-chrome highlights against the dusty blacktop and fields. I think the primaries have been lifted perhaps a little bit too much but, as I say, this works well as a garish counterpoint with the dry and grubby setting.
When we turn our attention to the extra definition, we find more detail in the MFP badges on the jackets and crests on the cars. The scruffy interior of the Halls of Justice yield more junk, scrawl and bric-a-brac littered about. The detail on the costumes is definitely improved, from the zips and buckles to the possum epaulettes on Toecutter and the shine on the leather jackets. Car interiors, bike speedometers and the tools in the beach-side garage offer cleaner and crisper edges and delineation. The shotgun pellet holes in the mannequin and the wounds on the face of the stricken bloke within the bashed-up wreck of his car are more finely etched. The excellently lensed chase through the woods is also sharper and more convincingly shadow-drenched than ever before. Detail on the bark and on the leaves may not be finite, but you won’t have seen it this clear, and the sheer depth-of-field makes this sequence a distinct improvement of any prior home video incarnation. Fast action, an essential element of Mad Max, is well held with smooth panning and no overt aliasing taking place as bodies and vehicles take to the skies and go for some bone-crunching gymnastics.
This is a fine 1080p makeover. It certainly won’t set the world of high definition transfers alight, but this is definitely a very worthy upgrade for a little backwaters exploitation flick that put Australian Cinema on the world map.
Although there is the comical “American dub” available as an audio option in DD Mono, I really can’t take it seriously – not even for simply nostalgic reasons – so I haven’t bothered to listen to it. But we have an authentic “Aussie” original mono mix as well as a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix featuring that same original Aussie language track that should have been there all the time.
The lossless track may not blow the socks off anybody’s sound system, but it doesn’t come across as being too shabby either. The source and the dynamics are limited and it is to the engineers’ credit that they haven’t opted to embellish the design with any silly, unconvincing or just plain unnecessary effects to clog up the extra channels. What they have done, though, is to seemingly widen the frontal array, punch out the bass and the overall dynamics and to create a bit more space and power for the track. Engines have a nice guttural and throaty roar to them. They always did to be honest … but they do sound better here. There is some degree of split-channel movement for the frequent drive-bys, the design now catering a lot better for those awesome low-angle shots that have the vehicles chunnering along past us. High-speed impacts are good, though not great. The sub does play a part, but whist what oomph there is on the track is effective, there is nothing here to disturb the neighbours. In fact, this is one area in which Mad Max has been always been surprisingly light on. You listen to the opening cavalcade of plunging, shearing metal and you’ll notice that the actual impacts are somewhat lacking in genuine clout. This said, though, the incidental detail that takes place within these frequent vehicular skirmishes is actually quite clear and vibrant. Rattling exhausts, the air whistling through some shattered bodywork, the clinking and clunking of agonised engines and, naturally, the screeching of tyres ripple and belch through the general cacophony with style.
One problem with the film – whichever dub you care to choose – is the variable quality of the dialogue. Whilst this does not affect either the Toecutter or the Nightrider, it can muffle, distort and dislocate speech from Max and his MFP brethren from time to time. Considering that a fair chunk of dialogue is issued during high speed chases, or has been dubbed over scenes that involve a lot of movement or action, or feature several speakers in the environment at once, this is something that doesn’t actually surprise – or pose any distraction – given the low-budget nature of the film. Voices can sound somewhat alien to the speaker at times, but this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for anyone kicking back and enjoying the movie. And Brian May’s emotive score gets a fair crack o’ the whip. Once again, it won’t blow anybody away, but the orchestration is a little more boldly rendered, the clarity and power richer and more forceful. Percussive elements of the score aren’t taxed, but they do sound quite cool, even if they are a little “contained” – I’m thinking of the bass drum roll that accompanies the Nightrider’s immolation here, but that lightning-crackle/thunderclap roar that heralds the film's gleaming chrome title-card is still impressive.
Without any errors that I picked up on, Mad Max enters the lossless fray with some style. The main element of kudos is that is sounds faithful to the source without giving in to the temptation to over-egg anything.
MGM's debut hi-def release of Mad Max is something to be trumpeted, but sadly this double-disc edition has very little to boast about. Basically, there is nothing new to this rather poor selection of extras. Everything here has been seen, and heard, before.
The commentary from art director Jon Dowding, cinematographer David Eggby (who looks like a cross between Peter Cook and Roger Daltry), and a couple of Mad Max historians (nice title, what qualifications do you need for that, then? I'm pretty certain I could have provided a bit more relevance than they do!) is actually fairly good. Naturally, we hear about the cars, the casting, the locations, the stunts and the camerawork, and there are plentiful anecdotes sprinkled about this good-natured and humorous track but there is a severe lack of true understanding about the theme of the film and the creation of the characters. For one thing, the MFP are not chasing after the Nightrider simply because they want their car back! Don't be stupid. These guys do their best, and it is very informative and entertaining, but where the hell is George Miller? Or Mel Gibson? Or Toecutter? Or even Steve Bisley? Jeez, this is the film that put Australia on the movie-making map as far as the rest of the world was concerned. The film that made a superstar out of Gibbo. The film the launched a massive trend for post-apocalyptic road sagas. That reinvented the core components of what it meant to be an action movie in the burgeoning 80's. These blokes provide plenty, but their chat-track should only have been but one option amongst a whole roster of them. Arguably, of course, it was Mad Max II that really fuelled the phenomenon, but even that BD release was viciously left out to dry with no meaningful extras. There was a chance to do the right thing here, and MGM have scuppered it with utter mediocrity.
Lumped together with a DVD version of the film, as has been MGM's wont for a while now, we get the unusual and aggravating practice of putting some extras on the SD disc that aren't on the BD, meaning that you will have to change-over to watch the short documentary Mel Gibson: The Birth Of A Superstar, look at the Photo Gallery and TV Spots, and to experience the moderately interesting trivia-track.
On both discs is Mad Max- The Phenomenon, which is a clips-heavy featurette with one of those utterly 80's over-the-top gravel-voiced narrations that will either amuse or irritate. The same bunch of people from behind the camera tell a lot of the same stories that we heard in the commentary, and a couple of critics, both Australian and American give their rather superfluous opinions about the film. But the thing is, this is still pretty good stuff, as we hear lots about the vehicles and the stunts and a smattering of background gumph on the stars. Of particular interest is the segment that shows us one of the MFP Interceptors today (well, it'll be a good few years ago now) and its very lucky owner who proudly displays it for us.
The documentary on Mel Gibson is incredibly dated and focusses on his early days in theatre, in Summer City opposite Steve Bisley, and, of course, Mad Max. We hear from his acting tutor and from his co-star, Piper Laurie, and director, Michael Pate, for the romantic drama that he made straight after Mad Max, but before the film was actually released, the critically acclaimed Tim.
It is not a bad bunch of extras and the reminiscences and opinions of Dowding and Eggby are very welcome indeed, but real fans want and deserve more than this old assortment.
One of the true classics from a very limited genre – the action/road movie – Mad Max is a raw and uncompromising look at the crusade between good and evil, the black and white of the endless roads forming the symbolic distinction that separates the two. Mel Gibson roared to super-stardom and George Miller made a promise that they would both come good on with the immediate sequel. The creative team would lose their way with the third and most ambitious instalment, although it is a brilliant and unorthodox entry in the series in its own right, but the original Mad Max remains something of a guerrilla achievement the impact of which has not diminished over all these years. The film still feels fresh, dynamic, brave and profoundly energised. Almost like Sam Raimi would do with Evil Dead II, Miller would sort of rewrite the genesis of the film to move it completely out of the realms of the urban road-thriller into the utterly mistakable domain of fantasy, and looking back on this relatively conventional narrative it would be easy to just dismiss it as being little more than a bold experiment … but Mad Max has so much more going for it. We all know about the Mighty Mel, but the biggest surprise, I feel, is how good the supporting cast are. Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Hugh Keays-Byrne and Joanna Samuel are superb. The story genuinely grips you, emotionally, for all of its comic-book excess and there is no denying the inner-rage that you, yourself, feel during the hectic final act as you ally yourself with Max on that cathartic spree of righteous vengeance.
MGM's long-overdue release provides a solid transfer that does the film justice, but despite some fine contributions from a cluster of the creative team, it comes up annoyingly short in the extras department, overall. The inclusion of a DVD is another of the studio's irritating habits, considering that some of the extras can only be found there, but the lack of anything new or properly substantial is something of a shame.
But, so what? This is Mad Max, the road's greatest hero and a man who believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. So buckle-up and ride shotgun with the last law in a world gone mad!
Very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15.49
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