Mad Max (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Actors: Mel Gibson, Steve Bisley, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Tim Burns and Roger Ward
Format: Live Action, NTSC
Language: English
Number of discs: 2
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 5, 2010
Run Time: 94 minutes


How much does subsequent knowledge of a movie star affect the films in his canon?

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 ceremony.

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



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).