“Just walk away. Leave your pump. Just walk away and I promise you safe passage through the wasteland.”
I know that we blitzed the Mad Max Trilogy on Blu-ray, but the post-apocalyptic white-line nightmare isn’t over yet … we’ve still got a helluva lot of road to cover … and how better to do it than with Brian May’s dynamic and pulverizing score to Mad Max 2 The Road Warrior revving-up alongside us?
So gather up your shotgun and whatever shells you can find, fasten your seatbelt and take a deep breath … ‘cause we’re going for the ride of our lives!
Without sounding conceited, it wouldn’t have taken much to become Australia’s premier film composer during the late seventies and early eighties. The Oz Film Industry wasn’t exactly prolific and, barring a few of the artier titles like Picnic At Hanging Rock and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, its produce wasn’t known for travelling far beyond its own shores. The sadly late composer Brian May had already chalked up a few successful films, though, and covered a range of material, from the psychic thriller Patrick and the weirdly Rasputin-esque Harlequin to the hard-edged vehicular road-rage in George Miller’s original Mad Max, the very film that put Australian Cinema well and truly on the map. His score for the first story of wrathful future cop Max Rockatansky was diverse, thrilling and rousing in all the right places, but also evocative of the romance between the hero and his doomed wife, and yet actually quite scary for the sequences when the biker gang led by the Toecutter are stalking their prey. May was able to switch from hi-octane heroism to neo-gothic chills on a dime.
When the inevitable sequel came to what was the most successful independent picture that had ever come out of the Land of Oz, the story had changed, the setting had altered and the thrust become severely more linear, streamlined and fantastical. But the guiding forces behind remained the same. Director George Miller was back, alongside producer Byron Kennedy and writer Terry Hayes, and naturally the superstar-in-the-making, Mel Gibson. To complete the family reunion, which would also include some battered and bruised stuntmen from the first go-round, was May, who leapt at the chance to return to this “blighted land” of “men on machines” who were willing to go to war “for a tank of gas”. By this time, May’s style was becoming quite well known. His staccato approach to action, his catchy use of drums and percussion and his surprisingly simple rhythms had aided the likes of the unusual suspenser with Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, Road Games, and the bludgeoning bloodfest satire of Turkey Shoot (aka Blood Camp Thatcher). He was also made the Musical Director of the Australian Broadcast Commission, his stature as a composer on the worldwide stage steadily growing, although he would never quite gain the recognition that his American counterparts regularly attained. But his was a distinctive voice in a very crowded genre and something that he didn’t do, which would have been so easy and so obvious, was to emphasise the very Australian-ness of many of his scores.
The score for Mad Max 2 was grander than its predecessor, more jagged and muscular, but less of a cohesive, storytelling device, and absolutely minimalist when compared to what would follow in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when Maurice Jarre took the musical steering wheel for an altogether more massive and ambitious soundtrack that would be a soundtrack like no other and a sensory experience unto itself. But, like the film it supported, it was hard, fast, metallic, sharp-edged and violent, punctuated by an eerily effective mourning for a world and a civilization now long buried in the dust of nuclear ravaging, and a little but semi-jubilatory motif for the swirling airborne antics of the spindly Gyro-Captain, played by Bruce Spence, Max’s unlikely compatriot. Its combination of speed and melancholy is uncanny and haunting, and as timeless as the stunts that have still to be equalled.
Varese Sarabande’s original release, which I have two separately packaged versions of on vinyl, alongside the first film’s score, was quite unique in that it contained not only the film score as written by May but also certain cues with their sound effects laid-in. That release made it onto CD and has remained, to my knowledge, exactly the same ever since. It is this soundtrack edition that I am going to dissect now. I should note, however, that another version seems to exist that may, or may not have more actual music on it – but I have only ever seen images on the net of this and cannot vouch for its official status or whether or not it genuinely exists as a lengthier edition.
May would use several repeated motifs, and a couple of variations. He would blend dark and satanic industrial lunacy with high-octane musical pitches, rolls and collisions to evoke the crunching of vehicles and the catapulting of bodies. There would be mystery and there would be the odd glimmer of optimism too. He would fashion a compelling and profoundly exciting score that would be the literal musical equivalent of the chaos and carnage seen crashing all over the screen. It is an unusual score in many ways, with some odd and very cleverly designed mechanical sounds to aid the belief that we are almost perpetually sat behind the wheel and travelling at some speed through an unrepentantly hostile landscape.
After the sound effect of the boomerang whizzing from side to side and back again with fine stereo, denoting one of the film’s favourite lethal devices and visual gags (actually listed as a separate track on the original release as Feral Boy Strikes), the score album commences with the central element from the big chase (“The tire! Shoot the tire!”) that all but fills the final thirteen minutes of the movie, with all cylinders on fire and the orchestra belching brimstone. We segue immediately into the cue for when Max, having blown two marauders off the cab with his shotgun, brakes hard and sends Wez (Vernon Wells) flying off the roof, and with the sadistic Bear-Claws’s finger-blades embedded in his shoulder suddenly spins the wheel and turns the truck around to race back down the road in the direction he has just come from. It is a pell-mell piece of intensely bravura scoring. The brassy percussive hammering motif pummels us as Max, with the maddest expression on his face in the entire series of films, bounces vehicles off his armoured hide left and right. George Miller has cinematographer Dean Semler shoot the spin round from above and Brian May actually copies the height with a spiraling ascension of a two-note horn repeat. Drums, brass – trombones and trumpets roaring, horns screaming in staccato fury – and bass and strings slicing and cutting bring all of this to intensely vivid life. The bleating, shrieking motif that becomes the personal musical stamp of this ceaseless rampage is full-blooded and will have you weaving about, imagining how you’d react to each bone-jarring impact as another vehicle is slammed and shunted out of the way. Cymbals shatter like hammers of ice against a backdrop of speeding metal percussion. This is not how the film starts, of course, but by God it’s an attention-grabber here.
“Hey kid … get the bullet! The bullet! GET THAT SHELL!”
This is the climactic stuff … and we’re hearing it right here at the start.
This section culminates with the brassy arrogance and apparent ineptitude of the Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilssen) as he fires up his nitro-cannisters to hurtle his souped-up dragster, with the now headless bodies of his prisoners still strapped to the front, at ridiculous speed towards Max’s truck, which is now coming directly towards him.
Exciting stuff, of course … but very oddly placed here on the album.
Although entitled Montage, this really isn’t accurate at all. This would apply to the dirge for strings and horns that serenades the mysterious and ominous narration about how the world was consumed with hellfire when two mighty tribes went to war over the global commerce of oil, and a recap of how Max came to exist within this brave and dangerous new wasteland after the events of the first film. And this opening track does, indeed, flow into this gravely morose and melancholic reflection upon a society that destroyed itself. This lament becomes the Main Title, as it will signify the plight of “Men like Max, the Warrior Max”, and will be heard over flashbacks of death and destruction from the previous outing, and will be heard repeated at the very end of the film when he realizes that he was making a fool’s run in order to save the good guys in a pure diversionary tactic. But this first track is a real conglomeration of elements, mingling as it does the appropriate title and montage themes and then disrupting them with intense action surges. The central cue, heard here, is not what we could associate with the Title track at all, but forms the essential and most memorable piece of music from the whole score, and probably the first bit of Mad Maxian Muzak that any fan immediately thinks of when the film series comes to mind. It is the furious, metal anvil-bashing, car and truck and bike cleaving barrage that accompanies both Max’s return to the refinery with the rig he’d seen earlier, and the major battle motif for the big chase along the road during the extended finale. The action motif ends here with the lilting woodwind phrase for the Feral Kid, who is hanging-on to the rig for dear life … before slowing into the Main Title, which will go on to become Max’s theme. And then the track closes on the ferocity of the first encounter that Max has with the Mohawk renegade Wez in hot pursuit of the ex-cop’s black V8. Like bullet-riddled car-horns and strangled sirens, trumpets and horns holler and percussion rams into and then alongside this screeching, speed-balling tempest of orchestral roller-derby. What this multi-cue opening track actually achieves is a sort of semi-overture for the themes and motifs that will comprise May’s musical odyssey through these badlands. Snare-drums yabber into a throaty repeated call from trombone, and then the piece slides to a close, leaving you sort of puzzled and adrift. Like Max, I suppose, who is equally unsure if any attack will come his way … or if he has a moment or two of respite.
So, you’ve pretty much had an epic smash-bang into this dangerous environment already. The presentation isn’t quite as you’d expect – almost the musical equivalent of a four-car pile-up … and with a boomerang slicing over the top of the wreckage – but it is an opening that is both rollicking and moving at the same time.
The next track is a direct follow-on from the initial chase scene. Max sees off a couple of Wez’s bumbling accomplices, who crash and burn. In Confrontation, he screeches to a halt, instinctively going for whatever gasoline he can purloin from a tanker strewn across the road, a vehicle that will come to play a major part in the ensuing adventure. Drums rattle off, bass stretches out and we hear a cymbal clash in what is a nice poetic reply to a similar motif he used for when the Nightrider went up in flames at the start of the first Mad Max and drums pounded as we witnessed the raging inferno that had consumed him and his floozy. Cello and strings and bass begin to murmur ominously as a synth makes a grumbling bee-buzz like the insistent chunnering of a big idling engine. As he uses pots and pans and oily rags to mop up as much of the precious juice as he can from dripping tanks, Wez screams his defiance down the road at him and then, in a show of venomous spite and might, slowly twists the arrow that has been fired into his own wounded arm when it missed Max. May brilliantly accentuates this with Wez’s own seven-note villainous motif for brass and strings. Bahhh-Bahhh-Bahhh-Baahhhhh – BA-BA-BAAAAAHHHH! It’s panto-stuff, isn’t it? But it works astonishingly well, and really makes the blood freeze. The buzzing continues, burning at the back of the mind. Another synth-like percussive shimmer adds to sustained cymbals as the Mohawk marauder begins his grimace-worthy DIY surgery. Brass, horns and whips of strings and shooshing cymbals swirl into a storm of pain and arrogance. As Wez pulls a wheelie and disappears back over the ridge, saving for the fight for another day, the buzzing recommences. By the way, this buzzing sounds exactly like our washing machine winding-down its cycle. The track cuts short of the dying scream of a crushed baddie and the sudden shock discovery of a decomposing body in the cab of the truck, which May had delivered nerve-jangling stingers for.
After heading off, victorious, into a pink sunset Max then falls for the ruse of the Gyro-Captain, who has lured him into a trap with snakes and a concealed pit, but swiftly turns the tables on the wirey weirdo. “Reflexes … that’s what ya got,” insists the sky-man. “Never seen a man beat the snake before.” In a trade for his life, the Gyro-Captain tells Max of the oil refinery out in the desert, a heavily defended outpost besieged by marauders under the mighty, muscle-bound, studded jockstrap-wearing Lord Humungus and Max’s newest enemy, Wez. “But a man of your ingenuity,” he insists, assuring Max that if anyone can get in there, it would be him. The camp, full of good guys that the production crew christened the Gucci Arabs, is run by Mike Preston’s chieftain Papagallo. Preston is a terrible actor, but in a way this works well because he is portrayed as a fairly terrible leader, too. His own people struggle to believe any of his promises and he comes across as quite wimpish and bland … so Preston, in fact, could well be a brilliant actor in making Papagallo seems so insipid! Max, his dingo-dog and the Gyro-Captain camp out on a mountainside to overlook the refinery and the scum that have encircled it and attack it day after day, night after night “Like angry ants.” Be sure to check out the amazing sixty-foot leap that a motorcyclist does over the barricades and into the compound. We only see it through Max’s binoculars and the stunt seems almost throwaway and understated … but that is actually one hell of a jump.
One of the most exciting tracks comes in Marauder Massacre. Papagallo sends out some scouts in all directions in the hopes that they might make it through the enemy encampments dotted all around the refinery and find a rig big enough to “haul that fat tank of gas” … but it all goes horribly wrong as the Humungus’ hordes swiftly catch up with them and either capture or kill them. From their hidden promontory on the hill, Max and the Gyro-Captain observe what happens when one buggy is overtaken and the occupants brutalized. This is May at his best. Some critics would say that he is Mickey-Mousing – which means that his music is following the onscreen action to the very beat of the action, literally sounding out every visual syllable. Yes, May does do this. It has been one of his hallmarks, but I don’t see, at all, how this could be a bad thing. He understands implicitly the connection between the musical and the visual and how they can work so symbiotically and in-tandem with one another that they produce the perfect responses from the viewer/listener. His entire score for Mad Max 2 is designed this way, but I feel that this track is the one that best reflects this intended reactionary catharsis.
Dramatic bass and strings continually harass one another over a steady, repetitive singular beat on the bass drum. This gains intensity and is frequently embellished with other instruments that come creeping in. Brass adds accent. The clarinet or the oboe provides further anxiety, but it is muted. Horns enter the fray, other woods prod the momentum. But the steady, rising rhythm remains consistent, gathering strength as a dune-buggy overturns and Wez and his crew arrive to rape and pillage. Max’s face conveys the shock and revulsion of seeing the driver getting casually quilled with crossbow bolts and his woman companion run down and raped on the deck. His binoculars prove no match for the clarity and the range of the telescope that the man-from-the-sky suddenly reveals, so Max makes an impromptu switcheroo as the urgency of the cue subtly alters in tone to one of more surly aggression. What started out as a high-wire escape bid has mutated into something more barbaric and mocking. It will also turn tragic. May’s driving suspense cue begins to churn over into something else as Max realizes that there is an angle here that he can exploit if he can get down to the crash-site quick enough. As Wez and his buddies leave the wreckage, the Road Warrior hauls the camo-net off his black V8 Interceptor and he takes off down the side of the hill. Horns and strings combine to create a rival five-note phrase that is purely a heroic response to the depravity we have seen – May increases the urgency and alters the tempo, with high strings keening down from the ridge-line, and the driving bad-guy theme barreling along with renewed vigour, and then Max’s brief but glorious fanfare of supposed chivalry overtakes and dominates. But once he is out of sight, and our view returns to that of what is seen down the end of the telescope, this turn nasty once more. The Gyro-Captain is left behind to watch as the rapist biker finishes off the woman with a crossbow bolt, May’s music taking a horrific course-veering from the noble crusade seemingly issued by Max’s response, to one of stunned and harrowing horror and despair. A searing, dreaded crescendo ensues and then strings and horns tail off the anguished lament.
Max finishes off the rapist who has remained at the scene of the crime, and then rescues the man who has been studded with arrows … but only on the proviso that he allows Max to have as much gasoline from the refinery when he returns him there safely. Before Max Enters Compound, hauling the dying man across his shoulders, May issues us with the crafty cue for the wallop that Max delivers to the baddie’s bonce with a big wrench, via muted trombone and edgy strings. The violins maintain a tense line as Max negotiates, and then brass and percussion aid the snapping of the arrow-shafts that have pinned him to his wrecked vehicle. Tense brass and horns, nervous strings and bass accompany Max’s meeting with the Gucci Arabs, who just don’t trust him at all. A dark motif for the resentment of the Warrior Woman, played by the attractive Virginia Hey, is heard, and this will become a signature for the good guys that we will hear much later and in far more desperate circumstances. There’s a little refrain for Emil Minty’s boomerang-flinging Feral Kid, who clearly has a fascination for the mysterious Max, but the majority of this track is made up of jittery flurries of brass, slow and wary meanderings of strings, and uneasy trickles of suspicion from the woods. Brass is often muted, as though submerged by the expanse of the desert and the winds drifting across it. A harp makes a very brief impression, and chimes occasionally sound. Although nothing astounding happens here, musically, the whole track is very interestingly handled. Nobody trusts anybody, least of all Max, whose deal for gas dies when the guy he saved breathes his last and he then becomes something of a prisoner, himself. May keeps his little motifs stuttering. Duh-duh-duh … duh-duh-duh. But they are low and suppressed. It makes for an unusual passage of mutually discomfort – neither party really sure what to do with the other.
Until the Lord Humungus, the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Roller pulls up outside with his army and a gaggle of captives … and Max is finally able to convince the Guccis that he is not on the scumbags’ side.
Well, the score in this album presentation misses out a lot of material now. In the film, Max makes his deal with Papagallo to sneak out of the compound and evade his way through the bad guys and make it to the rig. Then he will bring it back to them, driving it straight through Wez’s camp. Further skirmishing takes place, with scenes of captives being tortured up on the mountains as Humungus delivers a sermon of blood and fury, and Max, his dealing done, and with as much fuel as he can carry, will attempt to blast his way back through the enemy line in his V8. But Wez, equipped now with a nitro-tank outruns him and forces him off the road. In the ensuing chaos, Max is badly injured, his dog his killed and the last of the V8s is blown to smithereens. All of this material is scored, with suspense for the night-time escape from the compound, some lightness for the reunion with the Gyro-Captain and some barnstorming action for Max ploughing the rig through Wez and Humungus’ camp and back into the stockade, and then his pulse-pounding crash and close-shave with the exploding Interceptor. Now, admittedly, May uses some of this material at other times throughout the score so there is the consideration that the album could have become repetitive, but there is also plenty of fresh music during these scenes too, and some terrific variations upon established themes. The clock-ticking build-up to Max’s boobytrap going off is awesome and one of THE great cinematic combos of suspenseful visuals, music and editing, and it is a shame that we don’t hear it here. Plus, the ride back into camp in the rig has some splendid action scoring that is sorely missed.
So, with a rather huge leap in film and scoring narrative, we arrive at Gyro Saves Max, in which the Captain spies smoke on the horizon and realizes that Max has come a cropper and flies out to rescue him. The cue follows Max as he awakens and sluggishly realizes that he is hanging precariously about eighty feet above the enemy camp as the gyro-copter flies him back to the compound. We hear parts of the Main Title, Max’s theme, although they are lent a whooshing from the strings to elaborate upon the height he is travelling at, and what will be his own lofty elevation from scavenger to savior. His theme takes on a more broken, subdued air as he finds himself swathed in bandages, his body cut and gashed and one eye almost closed-over with lacerations. May is superb at maintaining low growly tones that perfectly emulate engines purring. This ensures that we are always under the impression that things could suddenly shift into higher gear at any moment.
“If it’s all the same to you … I’ll drive that tanker.”
“You? You couldn’t even drive a wheelchair.”
“You should look at yourself, Max. You’re a mess.”
“Come on. Cut the crap. I’m the best chance you’ve got.”
And thus, Max plays unwitting decoy so the good guys can flit off to the beach.Break Out, as he and Papagallo, as well as a couple of hand-picked warriors and the Feral Kid’s stowaway, blast a path through the berserkers,is one of the fave cues, but it is maddening that the track is cut short and doesn’t play out as one continuous set-piece. A brass line slowly gathers strength, drawing nearer to us. The strings follow suit. There is excitement and anticipation with the music as heard from the good guys’ perspective. But this is furiously quashed asunder by the deeper and more bellicose reaction from the cues for the biker hordes outside.
And then we’re off.
The rhythm is galvanizing, struck from Hell’s own assembly-line and driven away by Satan, himself. The skill of the motif is that it is not roaringly fast and energetic. It feels fast, yes, but it is, in fact, much slower and more ponderous than you first imagine, and this is because May is deliberately suggesting the weight of the rig and the tanker, and the steady momentum that it is building up until it can reach the open road.
There is a delightful little woodwind phrase that signifies the rather strange love-affair developing between the Gyro-Captain and one of the compound girls – the cute blonde with the wacky palm-tree hairdo. Then horns blurt and the bassoon strikes up as the bad guys form up outside, the music taking on a sly and sinister, yet semi-comical tone with burping tuba when we discover that the impulsive Wez is chained-up for the time-being, champing at the bit to be unleashed to wreak havoc. Woodwinds return as the Kid is discovered hiding on the rig and removed. Max observes this but it is difficult to ascertain what his feelings are regarding this Kid, who has actually saved Max on a couple of occasions and certainly proved to be a worthy ally. But as the music finds a steadier beat and the truck takes off, the Kid breaks free and climbs back aboard, May allowing another hint of cheeky optimism to shine through the oppression. He is performing a very delicate balancing act. On the one hand, we need to feel that this strategy could work. But on the other we need to understand just how high the stakes are … and that not all of these people are going to make it. The orchestra, thus, has a juggling act making us aware of the various tangents of the scenario. Again, this is where May’s Mickey-Mousing comes into fine effect, establishing hope and despair, strength and heroism, wrath and raw aggression.
Listen to the chime being struck – such a simple little metal chink, almost cute, but it is used to puncture the music as Humungus’s Magnum revolver punches rounds through the steel plating protecting the engine-housing of the rig as Max lets her rip through the barricades and storms up the rise.
The trumpet comes in to herald the aerial wing of the good guys as the Gyro-Captain speeds over the enemy dropping fire-bombs on their positions. May actually allows this to sound quite spirited and wind-borne, swooping high and aloft, almost swashbuckling. Although still fired-up by man’s machines, this is much more liberated and far less bludgeoning than the stuff going on down on the ground. Drums and brass, followed by humming bassoon mark time as the bad guys spot that the refinery has been left unattended and a group of bikers infiltrate it and congratulate themselves … before the whole place goes up in flames. Sadly, this cue is not included here. We have to wait until the SFX Suite at the end to here May’s decisive oblivion.
Alarmingly, we then come to the big crash, itself in Finale. The Feral Kid is edging along the hood of the engine to grab that tantalizing last shell balancing just out of reach. With a shrieking banshee wail of brass, the bloodied visage of Wez suddenly hoves-up into view and the marauder clasps onto the Kid, who becomes the object in a tug o’ war between the two crippled battlers. Max sees Humungus roaring over the ridge, coming towards them, nitro-powered and unable to stop. He struggles to get the Kid back into the cab as Wez, who has become a mutilated hood-ornament, realizes that he is about to be squished like a bug in the inevitable head-on collision. Brass and horns trade vicious blows with one another, cutting deep every time, and then as the truck topples over on to its side and grinds to a dirt-spewing halt off the road, bass and muted trumpets bound over and over as Max and the Kid are knocked all over the cab. Largo, the second half of the track is the music for Max’s stunned revelation that he was simply carrying a tanker full of sand whilst the “Juice … the precious juice was hidden in the wagons.” It is Max’s theme, and it is a variation upon the opening montage, full of gut-wrenching string surges and a dark tone of sacrifice and further physical misery, although it is beautifully capped-off with a note of optimism and a quirky sense of humour when the Gyro-Captain, who has been shot out of the sky with a stream of gas-powered darts and we’d believed killed in the crash, comes trundling up in his now ground-based copter and the two reluctant heroes/companions trade smiles – Gibson’s being one of the most unusual and enigmatic of a career that has seen a high quotient of big beaming gurns.
The cue ends with a gentle rephrasing of the Gyro-Captain’s theme, as the voiceover, actually spoken by the adult Feral Kid who has been telling us this tale, informs us that he is the one who leads the survivors to the Promised Land, to the beach. It is a lovely way to end the piece, with May counterbalancing the hope that this passage through the wasteland and the defeat of Humungus and Wez offers, with high, almost romantic strings and soothing horns playing more upbeat, and then, in a dazzlingly effective and haunting sendoff, harder, darker brass and cello provide a daring reminder that Max, the Road Warrior, is still out there … somewhere. Solo horn provides a signature motif for his heroic campaign. A stuttering brass and percussion march then signifies the open road, with all its dangers and adventures, stretching out for Max.
“And the Road Warrior? That was the last we ever saw of him. He lives now … only in my memories.”
Now, there is a way of getting this full final action sequence in order. Well, as near as dammit, anyway. You’ve got the opening Break Out, and you’ve got the bash, crash, full-on chase motif that lurks midway in the Main Title (for some reason) and you’ve got this final smack-together and mournful pay-off. You can easily put all this together to gain … well … almost the entire final pursuit mix.
End Title is May’s capitulation to world war and its grave repercussions. His dark and somber elegy is another famous track from the series, possibly because it is so at-odds with the breakneck pace and violence of the film that it just seems to stand out. Slow bass drum marks martial time. It is, of course, another rendition of the opening theme, in which we saw the world crumble and the humble beginnings of Max Rockatansky and his war with the Nightrider, the Toecutter and Johnny the Boy. It is very heavy and brooding material and it paints the story with a pathos that is necessary to weave against the comic-book tone and the visual look. The big bass drum then returns and then, somewhat awkwardly, the track actually then ends with the beginning frenzy of the first chase sequence, which closes out the score with a blindingly kinetic note of high speed aggression. Yet this final cue then goes nowhere and then … just … stops. Dead.
I’m torn about how and why they did this. In a way it is nice to be reminded that Max’s adventures are far from over, the whole thing turning cyclic and somewhat thematically lyrical. But it is also a weird finale that doesn’t quite allow the album to bow out in one particular tone – you sort of expect the whole thing to start all over again.
The final track of this presentation is the contentious one. Entitled SFX Suite, this contains three sections.
Some people despise hearing the film’s sound effects playing alongside its score. And, you know what, I would normally have to agree with them. But I am probably a bit more amenable to it happening it here because A), I have always heard the album this way since it was first released, so I am very used to it, and B) it has been maintained, right from the start, that the very intention of doing this was to show how Brian May shaped his score to fit the action and the sound effects that would be employed. Well, it is hard to argue with this. We’ve already talked about how he specifically patterned his music upon the onscreen visuals and the director’s intentions, so this certainly serves to illustrate exactly how he would go about it.
We hear the Feral Kid’s Boomerang Attack upon Wez, in which the razor-edged weapon misses the intended Mohawk target and thuds horrifically into his Gay Boy Berserker boyfriend’s bleached-blonde noggin. The emphasis of the skull-splitting is heard here, too. Gyro Flight has the turbines whir into life as the little copter’s engines kick in. We get the engines gunned in The Big Rig Starts, and then, in what is actually surprisingly good fun, we hear Break Out with all of its grinding metal, its gunshots, the Gyro-Captain blurting “Ohhhh sh*t!!!!” as Humungus fires up at him, and then the laughter and voices of the bikers who have streamed into the deserted compound only to find that they have fallen for a bloody big booby-trap that we delightfully hear blowing them to iddy-biddy bikers pieces, with all the accompanying incendiary roars and bouncing debris as The Refinery Explodes.
Reprise allows us to hear Wez getting splattered in the truck’s collision with Humungus and the epic rolling-over of Max’s rig down from the road. All manner of effects are heard, although we don’t get to hear Wez’s high-whine shriek, which would have been great in this context.
This is not a long album, but the score, itself, whilst certainly longer still in its complete form, is not all that comprehensive either. It is a score that hits you hard and fast and then withdraws into melancholy for a spell, before storming back out of the heat-haze and bulldozing right over you again. There is a lot of fun to be had with this now vintage presentation, but I think the time is definitely right to re-evaluate Brian May’s music and to provide it with a complete and definitive version as testament to his powerful, fuel-injected legacy. At the time of writing, there is still no composer’s name attached to Mad Max Fury Road. Some rather obvious choices, and true exponents of nonstop, hair-raising, chest-beating adrenaline-rush action-scoring would be Brian Tyler, Marco Beltrami or Michael Giacchino who could, perhaps best of them all, work in a more fantastical milieu as well. God forbid we have Hans Zimmer taking on the task … although if I were a betting man, I’m afraid that is where my money would go. Then again, his droning industrial stance and his newfound propensity for pounding percussion might actually be the sort of thing that would put Max’s pedal to the metal with all the appropriate swagger and primal machismo. He excellently provided meat and murder for Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises ... perhaps he could be the man for Hardy's Mad Max, as well?
Well, I can’t say that this is the sort of thing that you should be playing as you plough down the highways, yourself … but certainly armchair driving has never sounded more exciting. Some miniscule notes are to be found in the four-page booklet, and the cover art of this edition is the most famous and iconic image of Max and his loyal mut, the red-neckerchief-wearing Dog.
With Brian May stepping on the gas, the apocalypse is coming ... and it is going to hit us head-on.
Full Track Listing
1. Montage/Main Title
3. Marauder’s Massacre
4. Max Enters Compound
5. Gyro Saves Max
6. Break Out
7. Finale And Largo
8. End Title
9. SFX Suite – a) Boomerang Attack b)Gyro Flight/The Big Rig Starts c) Break Out/The Refinery Explodes/Reprise
“Booby-trapped. Touch those tanks and … boooom!”
The Mad Max scores are all works of adrenal genius. Their composers, Brian May on the first two and Maurice Jarre on the third, both had their eye fixed on the distant horizon and their feet floored firmly on the accelerator, and they would stop for nothing. May’s versions of the apocalypse were more conventionally classical in structure, and his work for Mad Max 2 The Road Warrior was a clangorous action-packed assault of steel-reinforced mayhem. Brian Mayhem. Jarre would expand upon May’s work in every conceivable way, but that is a whole other story, and what that we shall look at another time. What matters right here and now is how Max’s second adventure sounds on disc.
Well, it sounds terrific. All the main themes are here, but the overall presentation, however cool it sounds, leaves much to be desired. There is music missing and the SFX Suite can be seen as either a gimmick or a time-filler, or, if you are in a better frame of mind, a study in how a composer can strive to match up his music with the onscreen action. But the main themes are action movie classics and the album, as truncated as it is, makes for a thunderously exciting listening experience.
Varese Sarabande’s CD edition is still widely available and obviously comes recommended, but we definitely await a full-throttle, stop-for-nothing definitive release.
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