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5.0 out of 5 stars A Phenomenal Series Given a Solid, if Unspectacular, Blu-Ray Treatment, June 6, 2013
This review is from: Mad Max Trilogy (Mad Max / The Road Warrior / Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Soon after George Miller's "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior" burst onto the cinematic landscape in the early `80s, they ushered in a whole new genre of thrillers where warring gangs ruled the roads, fighting for gasoline and whatever scraps of food were left behind by scavengers. Many of those imitators have been (deservedly) forgotten as the years have passed, yet the MAD MAX TRILOGY itself remains a favorite of fans, with Miller's brilliantly edited set-pieces keeping viewers enthralled despite the familiar settings of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Warner Home Video's newly-released Blu-Ray box-set of the "Mad Max Trilogy" offers - in a single, three-disc Blu-Ray case (housed inside a slightly unattractive oversized tin) - a reprise of MGM's original "Mad Max" BD; a new AVC encode of "The Road Warrior," premiering here with a DTS MA soundtrack; and the HD debut of the third film in the series, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome."

The original MAD MAX finds Mel Gibson launching his career as a tough cop in a world where unhinged loonies - including Hugh Keays-Byrne as the nefarious "Toecutter" - attack unsuspecting motorists and innocent civilians. Max's battles with his own bosses - desperately hoping to keep "heroes" on the road - are contrasted with the violent attacks of the gangs, and once Max's partner is killed and his wife and child targeted by the thugs, Max turns from desperation to anger in a soon-to-be-post-apocalyptic society quickly spiraling out of control.

Though "Mad Max"'s world is only semi-futuristic compared to the films that followed, it's still a bleak, and captivating, environment that Miller captured on-screen - particularly considering the era in which the movie was originally released. The various car chases and action sequences deliver the goods, and while the picture - penned by Miller and producer Byron Kennedy from James McCausland's original story - isn't as compelling or tightly packaged as the film's immediate sequel, the original "Mad Max" remains one of the most important productions to originate Down Under. The picture ignited Gibson and Miller's respective careers, single-handedly ushered in a whole genre of similarly-themed cash-ins, and along with the works of Peter Weir, announced the Aussie film industry as a major player in world cinema.

It's also a movie that's perpetually had to shake off a nagging reputation that it's inferior to its sequel - something not helped by the fact that many of us originally saw the film second, after "The Road Warrior" was released, and usually in lousy TV prints at that. With its widescreen Todd-AO dimensions cropped, and its original Aussie dialogue dubbed by Samuel Arkoff's American-International, it's no wonder "Mad Max" came off for many years as the weaker sibling compared to "The Road Warrior." Still, taken on its own terms as an appetizer before the main course, and with its technical trappings restored, it's an involving, memorable picture with striking directorial choices.

MGM's Blu-Ray here boasts the same exact presentation as its prior BD release. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer offers an appreciable enhancement over its decade-old Special Edition DVD, limited only by the occasional griminess of its source materials, while most of the potent extras from that release have been carried over, including a 25-minute retrospective documentary and an insightful audio commentary featuring cinematographer David Eggby, Jon Dowding, Tim Ridge and Chris Murray. These extras, along with the U.S. trailers, are on-hand, plus a remixed DTS MA soundtrack of the original Aussie dialogue and Brian May's occasionally bombastic score (the American-International U.S. dubbed track is also included in its original mono).

One of the best looking Blu-Ray catalog releases, "Max"'s sequel, THE ROAD WARRIOR, has now been surpassed by a remastered Warner Blu-Ray that's even better than its predecessor, though more so for an augmented audio track than its slightly enhanced visuals.

Gibson returns here as a more haunted, grizzled Max, with the world now completed dominated by punks while bands of humanity attempt to survive in the wasteland. Miller, Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant's script works in elements of classic westerns like "Shane" as Max reluctantly bands together with the survivors - including Bruce Spence's Gyro Captain - to ward off the villains.

"The Road Warrior" has always been one of my favorite films of the early `80s - an improvement on the original "Mad Max" in every way (from Miller's direction to Gibson's performance and Brian May's more sophisticated, richer score) and a driving, thrilling piece of sci-fi action that's never been duplicated in its genre. Its straightforward story, lack of extraneous dialogue and subplots, emphasis on the pursuit and energy of its chase sequences, and the brilliant editing and choreography of those set-pieces makes it an all-time classic - a movie that stands alone from its bookending pictures as a spectacular piece of filmmaking.

Working from the original negative, "The Road Warrior" looked great on the prior Blu-Ray and has been improved by superior AVC encoding here, though in general, the two transfers look roughly the same. As with before, Dean Semler's rugged, atmospheric cinematography is enhanced by high-def, with eye-popping colors and detailed textures on-hand at every turn; it's a dazzling transfer of a film that demands to be seen this way, or not at all. The audio here also receives an upgrade with a lossless DTS MA mix (the prior Blu-Ray's audio was rendered as a basic 5.1 Dolby Digital track) that rumbles with bass and a superb soundstage for May's musical output.

The disc otherwise is identical to the original Blu-Ray, with a pair of exclusive-to-HD extras included: a commentary track with George Miller and Dean Semler, along with a brief introduction from Leonard Maltin that puts the movie into the context of its other series films, plus the original trailer.

The worldwide success of "The Road Warrior" - and in particular its breakthrough performance at the U.S. box-office in 1982 - lead to another sequel, this time augmented by a larger budget afforded by its predecessor's commercial success.

Deciding to go in something of a different direction, George Miller opted to turn MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME into something of a more "emotional" piece less driven by violence and high-octane set-pieces. Miller and writer Terry Hayes took a cue from Max's arc in "The Road Warrior" and turned him into a slightly more charismatic, "Man With No Name" sort here, with Max stumbling into a post-apocalyptic village named "Bartertown." There, a political struggle ensues between leader Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) and the diminutive "Master" (Angelo Rossitto), who's the only one (apparently) who understands how to produce methane to power the town. Aunty strikes a deal with Max to knock off Master's physical bodyguard "Blaster," but circumstances eventually send Max off into the wasteland again, where he finds a "Lord of the Flies" type community of youngsters waiting for the messianic "Captain Walker" to return.

Miller co-directed "Thunderdome" with associate George Ogilvie, something that might explain the uneven pacing of this more ambitious, though decidedly least successful, of the "Mad Max" series. There are a pair of dynamite set-pieces on-hand when Max takes to the Thunderdome to battle the hulking Blaster, and Miller caps the film with one last, stirring chase with Max and the young refugees trying to escape from Aunty's gang on a train. As potent as these moments are, however, they're surrounded by a meandering mid-section where Max finds the castoff children, who look as if they've come out of the William Golding novel by way of the Ewoks in "Return of the Jedi." Their society isn't nearly as developed as it should've been, and for a group of naive youngsters who presumably haven't encountered anything of the punk-driven outside world, why one of them actually drops an f-bomb when they re-enter Bartertown is patently nonsensical.

There's also an obvious lack of energy in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" at times. The thrilling, fast-paced intensity of the earlier films is replaced here with a more deliberately paced fantasy approach, and for fans of "The Road Warrior," this PG-13 rated, decidedly less violent picture can be (and has often been written off as) a shock to the system. Even the production design of Bartertown seems uninspired, employing a "Temple of Doom"-like aesthetic that makes you think Mola Ram is going to pop out at any second.

Still, there are assorted pleasures to be found: Gibson exudes more of his natural charisma here, and this decidedly "looser" Max feels like a natural progression of the hardened warrior who rediscovered his humanity at the end of "The Road Warrior." Dean Semler's wide scope cinematography is once again stylish, and Turner brings sufficient life to her scenes as a scavenger who's recreated herself as the leader of Bartertown ("he's just a raggedy man!"). What's more, Maurice Jarre's glorious orchestral score helps to smooth over some of the picture's rough passages - with its sweeping scale and melodic interludes, "Thunderdome" is one of Jarre's strongest efforts from one of his most prolific periods (his marvelous "Enemy Mine" score would follow just a few months later). In fact, the climactic, 12-minute chase cue has to rank as one of Jarre's greatest in his esteemed career.

Although it's a definite comedown from "The Road Warrior," "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" is an admirable attempt at tweaking the formula established by its predecessors. Miller even manages to craft a surprisingly moving epilogue for the film as well, paying tribute to his late associate - producer Byron Kennedy - as the movie fades out and brings the original "Mad Max" trilogy to an emotionally satisfying close.

With only the theatrical trailer as an extra, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome"'s Blu-Ray debut comes in the form of a highly detailed 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The DTS MA soundtrack packs an impressive punch when Jarre's score takes center stage, though it's unfortunate his final cue was dialed in so low in the original mix.

With Miller having completed filming on "Mad Max: Fury Road" (apparently due for release sometime in 2014), it'll be interesting to see how the eclectic filmmaker - who hasn't directed a live-action film not aimed at children in 20 years - returns to the film series he's most remembered for.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 6, 2013 12:15:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 6, 2013 12:21:21 PM PDT
hickslv426 says:
I couldn't have said it better myself. Road Warrior is tops, but Beyond Thunderdome has that feeling of epic grandeur about it- a Lawrence of Arabia feel to it. What is the PQ like on MMBT? The previous DVD's were dreadful.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 6, 2013 4:19:48 PM PDT
Curtis G says:
Wake up, Hicks. :)
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