Mel Gibson    Max
Joanne Samuel    Jessie
Hugh Keays-Byrne    the Toecutter
Steve Bisley    Jim Goose
Roger Ward    Fifi Macaffee
Vincent Gil    Nightrider
Tim Burns    Johnny the Boy
Geoff Parry    Bubba Zanetti
Paul Johnstone    Cundalini
John Ley    Charlie
Jonathan Hardy    Labatoche
Sheila Florence    May Swaisey
Reg Evans    Station Master
Stephen Clark    Sarse
Howard Eynon    Diabando
John Farndale    Grinner
Max Fairchild    Benno

Directed by George Miller. Screenplay by George Miller and James McCausland (based on a story by George Miller and Byron Kennedy). 1979. Running time: 93 Minutes.

janpick2.jpg (8818 bytes)It is the beginning of the fall of civilization. Huge gangs of bikers roam the countryside killing, raping and pillaging as they go along. There are only understaffed and demoralized leather-clad highway policemen in souped-up V8s to stop them - by any means necessary.

Strangely enough some vestiges of civilization still remain: television broadcasts, families that still pack everything into station-wagons to go on vacation by the coast and lawyers that manages to get their obviously guilty clients off. Welcome to the strange world of Mad Max . . .

Narrative weirdness or prophetic vision of a society in steady decline? Whatever. But what must be remembered is that this isn’t yet the all-out post-apocalypse of the petrol scarce society of The Road Warrior. Rather call it the pre-apocalypse. What must also be remembered is that when Mad Max hit the screens in 1979 its U.S. distributors didn’t exactly know what to do with it.

For starters it was an Australian film, so they wanted to do the predictable thing: have it dubbed with the voices of American actors. The other thing, which they did do and which was also pretty predictable, was that they gave it a limited release. It was only after the enormous financial success of its sequel, The Road Warrior, that the film found its audience in the States.

However, when the film was originally released it found instant cult status elsewhere in the world, which is why The Road Warrior is also known as Mad Max 2 in some countries. Here in South Africa it also caused a stir, provoking critics into bemoaning the level of violence in contemporary movies.

Obviously Mad Max has lost some of its impact. When I told a friend that I intended seeing it again on video again for the first time since I saw it as an impressionable 12-year-old, he warned me that he had recently also seen it again and that he was disappointed with the film. Of course, he is right. It is doubtful whether Mad Max would look the same if it were remade today.

By the action movie standards of films of today like The Rock and Con Air, not only is its budget showing through but also the era in which it was made. And I'm not only referring to the fashions and haircuts of the day: action and sci-fi films today have become all-out spectacles to attract the jaded eyes of audiences used to everything.

However, even within this context there is something appealing about the first Mad Max movie. Obviously its meager budget was spent on stunts and while it doesn't match its predecessors (Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) for sheer spectacle, the stunts have a certain appealing grittiness and realness to them that few films can match.

And who can ever forget the sight of the chief bad guy's (aptly called the Toecutter) eyes literally bulging straight out of his skull shortly before he crashes his bike head-on into a huge truck? Or the impressive sound "the last of the V8 interceptors" make? Or the bikers falling from a bridge into the river below?

Like I said, Mad Max may not compare well to many of today's genre offerings but it has a certain something to it that makes it worthy of the cult status it has earned through the years. Or re-screenings . . .


Copyright © January 1998  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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