The Road Warrior Blu-ray Review
PictureWell, the good news is that this 2.40:1 1080p transfer is simply amazing in terms of the newfound detail that the high-resolution provides. With a particularly scrubbed-up, re-mastered print, virtually every speck and scratch has been removed, leaving a gloriously clean frame, with only a thin smattering of grain that can be seen against some blue skies. But take note that several sequences - some of the night-time scenes, primarily - still look softer and less-distinct and suffer from the poor contrast that has been prevalent on every version that I have seen (and I've seen a few on tape, TV, laserdisc, DVD and cinema screen). Another notable shot that loses definition considerably is the one featuring the marauders looking down the highway at the overturned tanker, but again, this has always looked soft and ill-defined and, if you listen to the chat track with Miller and DOP Dean Semler, the reasons behind it looking this way are explained - basically to enhance the distance view of the wreckage. But there are other shots that seem to drift back to little better than standard-style clarity throughout the movie, though these are definitely in the minority.
For a terrific example of this transfer getting everything right, look no further than the very first chase sequence, when Max first meets Wez and co. out on the open road. Colour, detail and sheer clarity are at a premium and, together, create a fantastic picture that will have Max-fans drooling. Every scrub of parched plant-life at the side of the road, every stream of exhaust fume, every piece of stone or gravel on the road surface is beautifully highlighted. The blue skies exhibit no banding and the detail on the varied wrecks littering the road is incredibly clear. Check out the bruised and bloody hand that makes its final death-grasp out of the ruins of a devastated vehicle - you can clearly see the horrible raw pink skin exposed by the cuts, the image is that sharp and vivid. Likewise, the half-rotted corpse that tumbles out of the cab has never been bestowed such a livid colour scheme.
Three-dimensionality is quite acute at many times throughout the film, benefiting from a terrific new measure of depth of field. Wez and his blonde buddy pulling a wheelie over the crest of the highway after Max makes it clear he is not afraid of them. The long-distance views of the bandits circling the camp and overrunning the unfortunate scouts sent out at dawn. The tremendous aerial shots as we chase after Max and his pursuers at the end, and the scene when Toady and his crossbow-wielding cohort descent upon Max's stricken vehicle. These and a great many other moments are marvellously captured by a transfer that reproduces Dean Semler's exquisite compositions to perfection.
Explosion-junkies can rest easy, too. The various conflagrations look pretty darn spectacular. The fuse on Max's booby-trap glows brightly and the resulting fireball literally engulfs the screen with wild flame. The really big explosion later on is tremendous to observe - full-colour fireballs and heaps of finite debris pepper the image with vibrant intensity. And check out the big collision at the end - for the first time you can actually see the chunks of human meat spinning across the frame in all their gory glory. This is something that I had never noticed before.
So, overall, this is a great makeover that adds an incredible amount of detail. There are still some issues but, bereft of edge enhancement, smearing, pixilation or any other compression nasties, this is a very valuable upgrade.
SoundSadly, the vast improvements made with the picture have not been equally realised with the audio transfer. Surprisingly only mixed into DD 5.1, just like its previous SD incarnation, Mad Max 2 only offers a nice wide soundscape across the front channels, with very little use being made of the rear speakers or even the sub. Consequently, there is actually very little to report.
Dynamic range isn't terrific, although we do get some nice variance with the assorted crashes, bangs and wallops. May's score is mixed quite dominantly within the track but, to be fair, the film has always sounded music-heavy. The stereo spread across the front is very reasonable, without sounding bogusly pushed-out and steerage is quite dramatically achieved. We still get the little squeaks from Max's leg-brace. Even though he gets the contraption oiled during one scene, it is hard to imagine him being able to sneak up on anyone - even though he does just that at one stage.
But the lack of surround activity is certainly disappointing, the rears offer little more than ambience throughout most of the film. The sound of the incessant wind howling across the wilderness is pretty evocative and there is a fine spattering of hurled debris when Max's Interceptor flies apart, but there is little else to comment on. There are even occasions when some of the dialogue is submerged and muffled by the sound design. For example, when Humungus is roaring his rhetoric from the hilltop whilst some goodies are being tortured, much of his originally quite unnerving spiel is lost. Even the stereo track on lowly VHS captured this element intact. That said, other moments during the frenzied action, such as Max urging the Feral Kid to “get the bullet, the bullet! Get that shell!” have always sounded mushy and overwhelmed ... and the new mix can do little with these.
So, although no worse than any audio mix that I've heard for any other version of the film, this is still, irritatingly, no better.
ExtrasI've been a very long time for a special edition of this film to materialise and, sadly, I'm still waiting. For such an influential classic of two genres - sci-fi and action - and one of Mel Gibson's most defining moments, the commentary, introduction and trailer that are on offer with this release are simply not enough. Where are the retrospective documentaries? The stunt featurettes? The outtakes and deleted scenes? Above all else, where is Mel Gibson? Considering that this was the film that catapulted him onto the international stage and made his name, the actor/filmmaker is incredibly indifferent to the trilogy.
The commentary is nice, though. But only in a cosy, nostalgic way. We have director George Miller who, after the likes of Babe and Happy Feet, seems somewhat fuzzy about the whole violent enterprise he concocted so long ago. And, together with DOP Dean Semler, the track is warm and light-hearted, but with a definite technical slant towards the incredible work that Semler came up with. Along the way there are a few anecdotes to be savoured but very little actual discussion about the story or the character of Max, himself. To be honest, I would kill for a cast-track for this movie - just to hear Gibson, Wells and Spence chew the fat about the totally insane stuff they put themselves through during the making of the film. At the start, we do get a little background about the dog - a Blue Heeler - and how he got the part, getting off doggie Death Row in the process. We learn that the film was, unusually, shot in continuity and Miller waxes lyrical about the how the resulting imagery is music for the eyes, defending its lack of dialogue, in other words. There are occasions when the director lavishes a little bit too much adulation on his cameraman, though. But, at the end of the day, there is so little background information on this film - barring the likes of a stack of Starburst, Starlog and Cinefantastique magazines from two decades ago - that anything we get at all should be applauded.
The Introduction from esteemed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin runs for about five minutes and this, at last, confronts the cultural impact that this film and its predecessor had around the world. With a few clips from the first two films and a critical overview of the story and its themes, Maltin delivers a fine, albeit brief, pop-intro into the white-line nightmare world of Mad Max.
The original trailer crops up, too, though this hasn't aged too well.
All things considered, it is nice to hear something from Miller, but we still await the full quota of features that this film so desperately needs.
VerdictAn absolute classic.
A career milestone for both Mel Gibson and George Miller and a wholly defining moment for the action genre, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is still unequivocally the best and most exciting exhibition of motor-mayhem yet committed to film. It is also a brave triumph of how such an utterly threadbare screenplay can also give birth to one of the greatest screen presences of the last few decades. What Gibson accomplished here with only a handful of lines and three nearly aborted and practically hidden smiles is the stuff of cinematic legend. For pure auto-adrenaline, look no further.
The Road Warrior's arrival on Blu-ray may be scuppered by a dearth of special features, but the improvement in the image goes a long way to making up for it. Quite simply, I've never seen the film look this good - and I was lucky enough to have caught this and its predecessor on a special cult-night double-bill at the flicks a good few years ago. But I would have preferred a little more effort put into creating a more immersive audio mix. However, until a future triple-pack of all three movies with all the bells and whistles attached comes out - probably around about the time that part 4 finally arrives - this is still the one to get. The movie scrubs up well and is still as fresh as the day it was released.
Nigh on essential, as far as I am concerned So the package gets an overall 9 from me ... the film and its visual improvement is definitely worth it.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.97
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