An all new Ultra-HD release for the wasteland warrior’s first outing
One of the most enticing aspects of a new media format, is seeing old classics get a new lease of life. Thanks to Kino Lorber, we get to go back to the beginning of the now revered Mad Max series from maestro George Miller (The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe). A sharp and impressive 4K transfer makes the film hit all the harder as it starts the franchise and the career of future screen legend Mel Gibson ( Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, those egregious interviews and tapes) as a police office doing his duty in a near-future where the collapse of civilization is imminent. A world where an oil crisis has heightened tensions, teetering on the verge of war, and lawlessness has started to envelop the land. A savage motorcycle gang ruthlessly dominates the region until Max, as one of the few Main Force Patrol Officers left, challenges their raids. The conflict pushes him to his limits, before a tragedy tips him over the edge.
The film isn’t simply about revenge, for the most part it’s about resistance. Miller together with screenwriter, James McCausland, were inspired by the 1973 global oil crisis to contemplate a world where a lack of resources drove people to do unimaginable things. A breakdown of law and social structure, the emergence of bartering, bargaining, and villainy to survive. The merciless Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byne) and his opportunistic ravagers are savage foes, but also startling in their representation of what humanity is to become. Those who hold on to their duty and decency, can be stripped down and changed by the fracturing of norms and inhuman acts that they witness and they endure. At the beginning, madness is escalating but it hasn’t consumed everyone…yet.
Unlike the later outings by Miller, this isn’t a world that has fully become a wasteland, its still teetering on the brink, even adding moments of tenderness and joy. A film less immersed in world building, new traditions, and ritualistic nature of the wasteland, this is a trimmed down, more raw precursor. Mad Max marked a strong statement of intent from Miller. Muscular filmmaking that drew from American action thrillers married to a weird sense of Oz-sploitation. If Fury Road is his symphony, this is a riveting thrash metal record he put out as a young man. Practical effects, shot on film, ones that reflect some of the horrific incidents that Miller himself saw as a young physician, from his career before. Thrilling chase sequences, crashes to make you recoil, and punctuations of violence to unnerve. A warning to mankind, and a chilling first shot in the Mad Max series. We all have our favorite entries but there is a raw potency to the original that cannot be denied.
Having seen Mad Max on a multitude of formats over the years, this 4K release is at the top. Some older films have their limitations and budgetary shortfalls shown up in Ultra-HD, but here, with so many practical effects and being shot on film, the experience is heightened and it deepens appreciation for some of the risks involved and overall Miller’s efforts. Colors are healthy, detail is superb, and a nice layer of grain persists throughout the clean presentation. Most of the extra are ported over from previous releases and are solid, although some new contributions would have been fitting/welcome:
- 4k Edition of Mad Max
- Audio Commentary with Art Director Jon Dowding, Cinematographer David Eggby, Special Effects Artist Chris Murray, Moderated by Filmmaker Tim Ridge: It’s a shame to not have Miller involved, but the conversation is still lively and interesting. Worth a listen if only for getting it pointed out when Miller’s own car is torn up in the film
- Blu-ray edition of Mad Max
- Audio Commentary: as above
- Road Rage: An all new interview with writer/director George Miller. Running over 30 minutes, the featurette digs into his early years, the steps into filmmaking, the talent that inspired him, before digging into some of the hardships and successes that came when making Mad Max. Nicely done, it goes some way to making up for the lack of a Miller commentary
- Interviews with Stars Mel Gibson & Joanne Samuel and Cinematographer David Eggby: Cut together, rather than presented seperately, each talk about their recruitment to the project, and throughs on aspects of the production, including costumes, stunts, and other cast members
- Mel Gibson: Birth of a Superstar: While that status is questionable these days, this is a rather effective reminder of the man’s talent, with a nice glimpse into his early years on stage, even seeing a contribution from his acting coach and agent
- Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon: An archival featurette, running just over 25 minutes. It uses a host of cast and crew to frame the films place within the Australian film scene and the American markets, rundown specific aspects of production such as costume and stunt work, and the cultural impact of the character and series
- Theatrical Trailers:
- TV Spots:
- Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson: The podcaster recants his own personal experience viewing the film for the first time, and also touches on one of the more maligned aspects of the feature, its dubbing in select countries.
- Radio Spots:
The Bottom Line
Mad Max opens with a title card, “a few years from now”. Looking at Max’s journey, it could be the same for any one of us. A trial by an increasingly cruel world and the unleashing of a reckoning, channeled a only George Miller can, in such a charged and hard hitting manner. Nicely done Kino Lorber, now do The Road Warrior!
Mad Max 4K is available via Kino Lorber from November 24th