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The Test of Time: Mad Max (1979)

08.14.2014by: Ryan Doom

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether or not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson, Steve Bisley, and Hugh Keays-Byrne

I think I can collectively speak for all post-apocalyptic fans with a giant "F*CK YES" for George Miller’s newest Mad Max adventure coming soon to a theater near you. That shit looks pretty damn awesome... even though its missing the key ingredient to the franchise: Mel Gibson. However, at least we can rest easy knowing Warner Bros didn’t hand the keys to the franchise’ to some douchey 28-year-old commercial director.

With Miller in charge of the Interceptor, faith remains high. Even though Gibson is gone, the whole Tom Hardy hiring, though he'll never truly be Max, seems like a quality choice. The question becomes will he make it his own? And can Miller recapture the "vision" he had over 30 years ago when he decided to leave the medical profession for a profession of fantasy stories? Regardless, it'll still have to live up to expectations, notably the flick that started them all.

Under the examination: Mad Max.

Iconic shot. Can't make fun of this one.

THE STORY: A few years from now, the highways have become a place of utter hell. Motorcycle gangs rule the roads, killing and maiming as they please with a stupid amount of reckless abandonment. The cops are outnumbered but they do what they can against the gang, led by the King of Chaos, Toecutter. After a cop named Max kills one of their gang known as the Night Rider, Toecutter steps up his war as the gang kills Max's partner, and then his wife and child. Shit gets real as Max goes out looking for revenge.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: For all of us that forget, this is a 1979 indie movie from Down Under that shouldn’t have done a damn thing. Somehow though with a small budget, a cast of unknown wearing way too much cheap vinyl, and a first time feature director (who had been working as an ER doctor), Mad Max caught on. It had a sense of danger and chaos that pushed the movie forward. Obviously, it had some damn good vehicle chase sequences too and Miller firmed his talent with the sequels, but here it’s clear he had a vision.

Car chases aren't anything new, but Miller found a way to film them with such muscle and fury that each vehicle became an individual badass character. When they hit the road, the sound of the engines could make any man piss himself. Even though the gang only ride bikes in this one, everyone else has something unique, Max's black Interceptor is clearly the showcase, and it remains my favorite car ever to appear in film (even more than any Batmoblie). 

Waiting is always the worst part.

Before I forgot, we need to talk about a young Mel Gibson here. He’s done some bad shit and has had so much shit piled on him lately that it’s easy to forget his talent. Sure, in 1979 he hadn’t polished his skills just yet, but it’s clear he had something to offer. While in The Road Warrior he plays the role completely stoic, Mad Max truly showcases his range. His loving scenes play cheesy, but when he loses his family...man, you can feel the pain within him. 

Speaking of showcase, I’ve always been surprised that Hugh Keays-Byrne didn’t end up in more movies as a villain. He’s superb here, looking like a mix between Ozzy Osbourne and Sam Kinison. If anything, Miller knows how to make lawlessness look utterly frightening as is the rest of the gang. These aren’t the sort of chaps anyone wants to run into late night out on the road.

A new form of therapy. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: I haven’t revisited Mad Max in quite some time, and I have to admit it's pretty dull in places. There’s too much build up to until we get Max going mad, which results in a lot of boring moments and character development that never pans out. Miller and company try to get us to care about all the good guys so that when only Max is left we really feel something. Problem is I don’t give a damn about any of them. They're all dull and 2-D. Why wait until the last 30 minutes? It's called Mad Max after all, so we all know what's going to happen. In fact, the outlaws, led by Toecutter, by far end up more interesting than anyone on the right side of the law. Of course, it doesn’t help that anyone watching this movie today knows where the franchise is headed. A broken Max plays more interesting than a love struck one. Even worse is the music, which is too classical and never fits with what we see on screen. 

THE VERDICT: The original Mad Max isn't a perfect film and has quite a bit of rust on the bumper. Honestly, if George Miller didn't make the sequels, I don't know how much people would still love this movie. There's plenty of good here, but there's plenty of dullness too.  




Now that's hands on filming. 



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