Haven't had a chance to see the new MAD MAX: FURY ROAD yet but I hope to do so soon. The buzz about it is good and the trailers look awesome. But before I venture off to the local cinema, I thought I'd spend some time this afternoon revisiting an earlier MAX film: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981).
I first saw THE ROAD WARRIOR when it was released in 1981 at the old Highland Mall Twin Cinema. I didn't see the first film, MAD MAX in the theaters when it was released, but I do recall seeing ads for it when it was out. Just never made it to the theater where it was showing (the old Northcross Six, if I recall correctly). I finally saw MAD MAX on either HBO or Cinemax, back when those two movie channels actually showed movies, and was a bit underwhelmed by the film. It was an okay, low budget actioner but I didn't think it was anything spectacular.
THE ROAD WARRIOR, on the other hand, blew me away. I saw it twice at the theater and a couple of more times on home video but I hadn't seen it in at least thirty-four years until this afternoon. It still holds up as one hyper-kinetic, adrenaline fueled piece of filmmaking. And it looks fantastic on Blu-ray.
I recall describing the film when I first saw it as "Jack Kirby meets VANISHING POINT" (and extra points if you get both of those references). Australian director George Miller tells what is essentially an American Western film set in the future in the Australian outback. A world wide conflict has reduced humanity to warring tribes and oil is one scarce and precious commodity. Max (a very young Mel Gibson), survives on the roads against marauding gangs on motorcycles and vehicles that look like they came from some dark and twisted version of the old cartoon series WACKY RACES. What Max needs is fuel and he finds it in a besieged refinery compound in the middle of nowhere. The people in the compound are constantly harassed by the marauders and yearn to escape with their precious oil to a more civilized (a relative term of course), outpost. Max, who only wants enough gas to get him on down the road, falls in with the group, realizing that he's their only hope of salvation.
Max agrees to drive an 18-wheeled oil tanker out of the compound and thus begins the astonishing, climatic chase across the desert. It's a thirteen minute long set piece of sustained vehicular carnage and edge-of-your-seat thrills which ranks as one of the greatest chase sequences ever filmed. And when the chase is over, so is the movie.
I have still never seen the third Mad Max film, BEYOND THUNDERDOME. Maybe I will one of these days. But I can't imagine it's as good as THE ROAD WARRIOR This is stripped down, pedal to the metal action film making at it's finest, an amazingly durable touchstone of '80s science fiction cinema. Highly recommended.
P.S.: There's only one thing that could make this movie better: