much does subsequent knowledge of a movie star affect the films in his
In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter at all. The movie is the movie, the
star is the star, and the latter’s life shouldn’t affect the former no
matter how many cars he sets fire to in the parking lot of the Viper Room.
In the case of Mel Gibson, however, the ante goes up a bit. Anti-Semitism,
racism and unsettling sadomasochism have bubbled to the surface in both his
films and his personal life, coloring those once-dreamy blue eyes with hints
of hateful insanity. Once you see it for what it is, you can’t simply
dismiss it, and the effect echoes in every appearance he has made.
It’s easier to swallow if the film in question sucks. You can dismiss piffle
like Edge of Darkness or Conspiracy Theory for being hackneyed
crap-fests without having to meditate on the star’s personal statements. But
now comes the new Blu-ray version of Mad Max -
an undeniable classic which made Gibson’s career - putting the equation to a
huge test. Can one set aside his racist comments and Anti-Semitic paranoia,
and just enjoy the film for what it is?
It certainly offers a lot to enjoy. Director George Miller staged some of
the most impressive car crashes in film history, injecting Mad Max’s dark
future with a double-helping of adrenaline that time cannot diminish. The
fascistic revenge fantasy holds plenty of power as well, as does the way
Miller conjures a crumbling future society with little more than spackling
and tape. Gibson’s tormented cop endures the loss of his wife, child and
best friend at the hands of a marauding biker gang before settling the score
in the most brutal, bone-crunching manner possible.
As visceral button-pushing, it has few equals, with Max’s family portrayed
as achingly pure and the bikers who violate them literally the dregs of the
earth. Max’s good buddy Goose (Steve Bisley) further emphasizes the
black-and-white nature of the story: embodying the laid-back Aussie
stereotype that Paul Hogan made famous a few years later, until those nasty
bikers turn him into a charcoal briquette.
Miller coats it all with the sheen of social commentary - as decorum and
legal procedure work in the bad guys’ favor a la a thousand other right-wing
actioners - but wisely slides away from simplistic solutions. Throughout the
film, the question of whether the police constitute just another gang
lingers hauntingly in the air, and Max’s eventual rampage signals a society
collapsing into ashes more than a restoration of law and order.
That works particularly well in light of the film’s sequels, with Mad Max
the fall, The Road Warrior the void and
Beyond Thunderdome the slow emergence of
something new. Like all of the best exploitation films, it transcends its
limitations while simultaneously embracing them, proving that true art often
arises in corners of the film world that never see the inside of an awards
And yet, for all its greatness, it now holds a thorny question at its core.
Above and beyond Gibson’s current pariah status (and his statements which
brought him there), the film constitutes an early sign of the brutal sado-masochism
which dominated his later works. The obsession with pain, suffering and
mutilated flesh that appear in everything from Apocalypto to
Lethal Weapon first rises to the surface here, with a focus on the
exquisite horrors that men can visit on the bodies of their fellows.
Does it detract from the experience, knowing now what we didn’t know then?
That’s up to individual viewers to answer; at the end of the day, the film
remains its own entity and still transcends the sins of its central figure.
The fact that those sins loom as large as they do is just one more thing
Gibson must answer for.
THE DISC: The Blu-ray contains a remastered version
of the film—with the original Australian dialect intact—and a new
documentary short. The collection also includes a second disc, featuring the
DVD version of the film on one side and a plethora of docs, features and
behind-the-scenes goodies on the other. Mad Max fans may find the
second disc familiar: it’s precisely the same one released in 2002 by MGM.
Audio commentary from Jon Dowding, David Eggby, Chris Murphy and Tim Ridge
appears on both the DVD and the Blu-ray.
WORTH IT? Mad Max ranks as one of the true
greats , though Gibson has saddled it with baggage it doesn’t deserve.
RECOMMENDATION: Fans who already have the 2002 DVD
probably don’t need this one: all you get is the Blu-ray and its improved
visual quality probably isn’t enough to justify the purchase. For anyone
else, the comparatively modest price constitutes a solid deal.
- Rob Vaux