THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie
"It attempted to do its own thing and not duplicate exactly what worked before."
Finally…30 freakin’ years after his last adventure, MAD MAX has returned to the big screen. I have yet to see MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, but by all accounts (Jimmy O had great things to say here) it doesn’t disappoint. I sure hope it doesn’t. The only thing I know is that no matter how FURY ROAD turns out, it’ll be different, which is hard not to appreciate from director/co-writer George Miller. Why? Because the man isn’t afraid to try something new, to alter the formula. MAD MAX is about the loss of humanity. ROAD WARRIOR is balls out survival. And BEYOND THUNDERDOME is about…something completely different.
I understand why some people have issues with BEYOND THUNDERDOME. Let’s start with the obvious, that whole Lord of the Flies subplot, which is obviously supposed to humanize Max as he takes responsibility for a bunch of weird, oddball orphans. Now I’ve always enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but honestly, I must mentally block out the 30 minutes or so of Max playing Mr. Brady with the kids.
Too bad it gets too goofy for its own good. Everything before and after remains fully entertaining. Ok, so there’s some cheese thrown in like Max unloading countless weapons before he can proceed deeper into Bartertown (it’s very Bugs Bunny-ish) or when the kids listen to that “How to Learn French” record (which is still funny). Even the music gets too cheeky, sounding more like HOOK than a MAD MAX feature.
Still, we can see Max growing, changing, reconciling with who he has become. We all love the badass Max who drives around eating dog food, but clearly Miller and co-writer Terry Hayes believe in the old Storytelling 101 idea that a character must learn or change. Gibson isn’t playing an Australian Clint Eastwood anymore. This was two years before he exploded as Martin Riggs in LETHAL WEAPON, but all that charisma is on show. Even with that terrible hair to start the film (what, he grows out his hair but shaves every other day?), Gibson proves his talent here combining action and comedy while still looking good in a leather jacket.
No one can deny the unevenness of the story (which has been widely bitched about) that comes from Miller sharing directing duties with another George named Ogilvie. (If you’re confused at the dual directing credit, in 1983 Miller’s film partner and friend Byron Kennedy was killed while scouting the movie. So Miller only wanted to direct the action this time out). The action remains just as intense -- especially the Thunderdome showdown and the final car chase -- and we learn more about the world (with little bits like Max testing water for radiation). The character development and the tone never quite find footing, but considering Miller ending up making a lot of family films after BEYOND THUNDERDOME, it all kinda makes sense.
Beyond delivering the best action ever put to film, another thing Miller kills is giving us great villains and henchmen. MAD MAX gave us the Toe Cutter and Johnny the Boy. ROAD WARRIOR gave us The Humungus and Wez. For this entry, he gave us …Tina Turner. Ok, so BEYOND THUNDERDOME catches a lot of shit of hiring Turner as Aunty, you know the one who chills in her above ground tent and listens to her blind Asian sax player. I think she’s fantastic. She controls every scene and she gets to deliver the most classic lines in the film (“But he’s just a raggedy man” or “Two men enter, one man leaves.”)
While Wez’s insanity is missed, we do get that little bald guy named Ironbar (Angry Anderson) who sports that Asian white face mask on a stick. It’s a great visual, especially as he pumps away on the rail cart like a…forgive the terrible pun…mad man. I only wish Masterblaster lasted longer than he actually does (somehow, I remember Blaster being in the movie more than just a few scenes).
Think about BEYOND THUNDERDOME this way. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD shows us brutal, unrelenting violence with a social perspective. With DAWN OF THE DEAD, George A. Romero took the same idea but made a comic book horror movie, something a little lighter, a little more over the top. That’s what this flick is. It’s uneven at times (which should be expected with two directors directing different elements), but damn if it isn’t strangely entertaining. Take when Max defeats Blaster in Thunderdome and he’s left with a little person and a massive mentally challenged man who both love each other. It’s odd, but touching.
Is MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME as good as THE ROAD WARRIOR? No. But it’s a different movie. At least it attempted to do its own thing and not duplicate exactly what worked before like most sequels. It has plenty of classic moments all by itself.