Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 11, 2022)
Essentially a Western dressed up in post-apocalyptic duds, 1979ís Mad Max proved to be a surprisingly significant release, especially when one consideres its origins as a low-budget offering made in Australia. However, its influence and success spread beyond those shores as the flick made quite a lot of money, and its dilapidated, gang-oriented setting proved to be very influential for many future releases.
Oh, and it helped launch the career of some guy named Mel Gibson.
Influential Mad Max may have been, but is it actually any good? Yeah, to a degree, but I must admit I donít feel the film had aged terribly well. It was easier to respect how fresh it must have seemed 43 years ago than to get into it today.
Max takes place in some undefined future ďa few years from nowĒ. At the start of the film, we see the desolate landscape and meet supercop Max Rockatansky (Gibson).
A nutbag named the Nightrider (Vince Gil) steals a cop car and tears up the landscape, endangering police and civilians alike. When the other officers of Main Force Patrol canít subdue the Nightrider, Max steps in and handles him, unfortunately (?) killing the criminal along the way.
This event brings the Nightriderís cohorts to town. Led by the sadistic Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), they wreak havoc with the locals and target Max and his co-workers for their involvement in the Nightriderís death.
Maxís fellow officer and best friend Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) also becomes more involved when lawyers get gang member Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns) out of jail on a technicality. Eventually, the stakes rise to a high level, and events occur that effectively make Max mad. Thereís your title!
On the positive side, director George Miller starts the film well. The opening confrontation between the police and the Nightrider works nicely as the filmmakers build the tension.
They show some exciting and vivid camerawork that vividly captures the action, and they also spotlight some fine stunts. Miller introduces Max in an especially provocative manner that keeps him a mystery until the right moment, so itís a great introduction that makes the first section of the film compelling.
After that, the situation seems less consistent. At its best, Max features some exciting stunts and action, but these come at the cost of interesting and rich characters. All of the different roles feel fairly one-dimensional, and none of them ever do much for me.
Toecutter turns into a particular disappointment. Keays-Byrne gives him a distinctive look and feel, but the personality himself remains somewhat flat and generic.
Gibson doesnít show much of the vaunted charisma that would make him such a star. To be sure, he seems more than acceptable in the role, but he rarely brings a lot of spark or fire to the part. He makes Max acceptably strong and forceful, but he canít elevate the role past its bland origins.
At times, Mad Max offers a reasonably well-executed little action flick. For certain, the crew does much more with little money than they had a right to do, as the film looks more elaborate and expensive than Iíd reckon on a low budget.
Nonetheless, the movie occasionally seems somewhat dull and lifeless to me, as the bland characters never lift the piece to another level. Mad Max merits a look as a groundbreaker, but I donít think itís held up tremendously well as a film.
The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus F
Mad Max appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Though a few concerns popped up along the way, as a whole I was impressed with the quality of this image.
Sharpness seemed strong. The movie remained crisp most of the time, as I discerned few signs of softness or fuzziness. Only a few interiors betrayed a minor lack of definition at times.
I detected no concerns related to edge enhancement or jagged edges, and shimmering also was absent. Grain felt fairly natural, and print flaws remained absent.
In terms of colors, the movie featured a somewhat overblown and washed-out look to match the desolate setting. However, when brighter hues made sense, the disc replicated them with solid vividness and accuracy.
The colors consistently appeared clear and distinct. The discís HDR added oomph and range to the tones as well.
Black levels also came across as reasonably deep and rich, and shadow detail looked clean and appropriately opaque. HDR brought impact and punch to whites and contrast. Overall, I was impressed with the visual presentation of Mad Max, as it exceeded my expectations for a 43-year-old low-budget flick.
The filmís remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack wasnít quite up to the standards set by the picture, but it held up fairly well. One positive note: the audio came from the original ďAustralian EnglishĒ recording and not from the atrocious American dub that most US fans knew in the 1980s.
Apparently the distributors thought Yanks couldnít handle those thick Aussie accents, so we were stuck with a terrible looped edition. That didnít appear here.
While the 5.1 mix expanded the horizons of the latter, it didnít do so to a tremendous degree, so during many parts of the movie, the soundfield essentially remained monaural. Music and effects demonstrated some spread to the sides and the rear, which meant at times I heard cars as they zoomed from one area to another.
In addition, music came from a mix of channels. However, the track stayed largely focused in the center, so donít expect any audio gymnastics from it.
Sound quality seemed fine given the movieís age and origins. Speech could appear a bit reedy but the lines remained acceptably natural and intelligible.
Music showed fairly nice range, while effects felt mostly accurate and clean. Those elements lacked great power, but they represented the material in a satisfactory manner. While nothing here dazzled, the audio seemed better than average for its era and origins.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the 2015 Collectorís Edition? I expected an identical 5.1 mix but felt the 4Kís audio worked better than what I heard on the prior release.
And perhaps the two did include the same 5.1 material and I just had clogged ears when I reviewed prior editions. Unfortunately, I no longer own those discs so I canít directly compare. I did feel more impressed with the 4Kís audio than I did the Blu-rays, so make of that what you will.
Less equivocal comments greeted the obvious improvements in terms of the 4Kís visuals, which brought the anticipated superior sharpness, colors and blacks. While the prior Blu-rays also looked very good, the 4K topped them.
Although the 2015 CE Ė and the original 2010 Blu-ray - came with a mix of extras, we find absolutely nothing on this 4K disc. The set fails to include a Blu-ray copy as well, so we get zero in terms of bonus features.
Though undeniably influential, I donít think Mad Max offers a terrific film experience. The flick has its moments and I can definitely see its impact on later movies, but the flick itself seems somewhat lackluster. The 4K UHD provides good visuals and audio but it lacks bonus features. The absence of supplements disappoints but at least this becomes a fine representation of the film itself.
Note that the version of the film reviewed here comes only as part of a four-film ďMad Max AnthologyĒ that also includes Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max: Fury Road. I included a link to a 4K version of the original Mad Max from Kino that sells on its own, but from what I understand, it offers minor differences compared to the Warner edition discussed here.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of MAD MAX