Friday, 28 April 2023

Mad Max (1979)


Mad Max

All franchises started somewhere and one of the more successful franchises, the Mad Max franchise, started with a low-cost production called, yes, “Mad Max”. According to Wikipedia it holds the Guinness Book of Records for most profitable film ever. Those two facts are likely why it earned its place on the List.

In some undefined future that looks very much like the seventies, road anarchy is the order of the day. On the mostly empty roads outside of Melbourne, the Main Patrol Force (MPF) has largely free hands to combat misbehaving traffic. Goose (Steve Bisley) and Max (Mel Gibson) are officers of the MPF, wearing leather suits and driving supercharged police cars. They get involved in a war with a biker gang led by an ugly fellow named Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a fight that eventually costs the life of Goose. As a result, Max resigns.

Later on, Max is enjoying a little vacation with his wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and their toddler son. Again, they encounter the biker gang who pick out Jessie for a target. Soon the little family is on the run, but eventually the bikers catch up and (SPOILER) do something terrible to tip Max over the edge and send him down vigilante road.

It is not a terribly complicated story and neither the acting nor the setting are particularly impressive. Both scream budget. There is very little to indicate that this is some future and the roads which are 90% of the sets are just empty country roads. I have been on those roads, and they are very… empty. The dialogue is not great, but mostly good enough to avoid outright embarrassment and Mel Gibson is likely the only actor with a standout performance.

What “Mad Max” does is show us a lot of burning rubber. Right from the beginning we are getting high speed chases, cars and bikes being rammed off the road and supercharged engines. The dominant sound of the movie is not dialogue, music or gunfire, but that of revving engines. And those are no ordinary engines. Indeed, there is almost a glee to those sounds.

I have not myself followed the Mad Max franchise. Once, on a plane, I decided to start so I watched this one, but, while I did not outright dislike it, I was not particularly impressed either and I did not follow through with the later installments. Given the amount of money “Mad Max” brought in, I have the impression that production value improved a lot for the following movies, but I cannot confirm that. Somehow, the premise of the movie just does not tempt me enough to give it a shot.

I totally get why “Mad Max” is an important movie, but I cannot say that this is a great movie. It is not even a fun movie to watch unless high speed chases do it for you. It is in fact a rather sad and depressing movie about the cheapness of lives and how basic instincts take over when law breaks down. I can see a coolness factor in some of it, but again, I feel it is a bit off. Those leather-clad police officers look like they are on the way to a… different kind of party and the villains, well, it is almost sweet that they remember to wear proper crash helmets.

On a rather different note, there is something curious about having a film, indeed a franchise, about speeding on Australian roads. First thing you notice when you drive a car there is how slow everybody drives on those very straight and empty roads. They enforce those speed limits very strictly. A few months after returning from Australia in ’16 I got a greeting from Victoria Police sent half the way around the globe for doing 57 km/h where 50 km/h are allowed. I am a road pirate. Lucky, I did not get shot.

Recommendation? Not certain, but if you are into the franchise, I suppose this is where you start.


  1. I see we are both two movies away from finishing 1979! I have Christ Stopped in Eboli and Apocalypse Now to go. The latter is not readily available streaming or for sale. Also wanted to see Norma Rae but that is the same limbo. This particular movie did not wow me. Bea

    1. Indeed, we are.
      I did find Christ stopped in Eboli on Amazon, but it was not cheap ☹️. Really looking forward to my next movie,

  2. I like this one, but to be fair, I watched it at an age where it was essentially geared to be liked by me. It's not as good as the first sequel (which I actually saw in the theater at too-young an age), and it's not as good as Fury Road, but there's a lot of solid world-building in this one that I appreciate.

    1. I do get the impression that the sequels were better and I guess I should make a try for them.
      As for world-building I see what you mean, but I do think they got around it fairly easy. Out there on the lonely roads, they did not have to do anything really and the dystopian imagery is mainly through the outlandish radio announcements. They work well, I admit, but it is a discount solution.