Mad Max Marathon!

The last two nights I watched the Mad Max trilogy: Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Beyond Thunderdome. I have no desire to see the new one. I’ve heard mixed reviews about it and I think my main motive was nostalgia for some half remembered movies of my boyhood, not to see something new.

Speaking of nostalgia, look at this guy.

Speaking of nostalgia, look at this guy.

Mad Max, the original, I had never seen all the way through. Sure, it is a cliched cop movie, but I can see why it was memorable; it taps a natural fear. Ordinary citizens are not conditioned to deal with something like a band of roaming sociopaths. If the mechanisms of security were to break down, how on earth would we cope? What could we do if our sleepy little towns were invaded by the modern equivalent of Vikings or Saracens, except hope to die last?

Just stopping in for some gas, drinks, maybe a rape or two.

Just stopping in for some gas, drinks, maybe a rape or two.

We get an answer: an ordinary man responds by giving into his dark side and becoming something of a sociopath himself.

Mad Max never explains the cause of the social erosion, but the impression of bad times getting worse, of people trying to carry on and ignoring the impending doom, is powerful.

The Road Warrior I must have seen twenty times as a boy. Less drama and dialogue, it is mostly action without being overbearing. Now civilization is in full collapse, the fall blamed on nuclear war. Cars crash, people die horribly, and things blow up in fairly predicable sequence. Why does this dumb action movie have such staying power?

Well, the movie did predict gay marriage.

It got everything else wrong, but the movie did predict gay marriage.

I am just going to throw out ideas: the action is powerful but raw, not slicked up with huge budgets. Mel Gibson had improved as an actor and brings much more presence to the role. The visual details hold together: Max is still in his police uniform, still wearing a brace on his knee, but become a hardened survivor in an unforgiving land.

I think in the end it is those atmospheric details that give the movie its strength.

Beyond Thunderdome is the least memorable of the trilogy. I saw it last night and I’m already forgetting it. The plot too closely mirrors the second and the new elements fail to leave much of impact. While the atmosphere of The Road Warrior seems original, Beyond Thunderdome feels like every other post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie ever made. A few too many plot contrivances thrown in (How did the slave know to send the goddamn monkey? How did the goddamn monkey find Max? What are goddamn monkeys doing in Australia?) and it just feels cheap, like Alien From LA cheap.

alien-from-la

Oh, and the soundtrack sucks.

But in spite of obvious weaknesses I found things to like about it. Tina Turner is surprisingly good as the bad guy: she mixes ruthlessness, vulnerability, showmanship, self-possession, and visionary leadership in a respectable performance.

Seriously, it just works.

Seriously, it just works.

As for the stupid kids… the hardened hero having to rescue adorable children etc is a horrible plot choice (see the failure known as The Temple of Doom), but…

Provided enough of the bigger kids were decent sorts (so they would not go full Lord of the Flies), wouldn’t a tribe of children left to themselves for a few years turn out something like that, with screwed up language, group emotional displays, and tragically distorted notions of the world?

The kids were generally good actors and the Savannah character, the bright-eyed believer who finds new ways to sustain her hope in a better future, gives the film an emotional content the others lacked.

Like Tina Turner, it just works.

Like Tina Turner, it just works.

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2 comments

  1. I wanted to like the Mad Max movies, but they were too… weird… to the point of distracting. I liked the overall idea behind them, but couldn’t get into the actual movies very much. I would definitely agree that the Road Warrior was the best of the three though.

    However, after I saw the trailer for the new one, I was excited to see it because not only did it look really cool but there was something in me that still really wanted to like a Mad Max movie. And actually I thought the new movie was quite good for the genre. To me, it was more of what I wished the older ones had been. Still weird of course (sorry for not defining what I mean by “weird” but I hope you understand), but it somehow worked very well. The action was very impressive, and even having seen quite a few war movies I would say it was intense, especially on the big screen. I wouldn’t call the original movies “intense” like I found this one to be. Of-course the machinery used throughout was great. That alone makes the movie fun and was a great aspect of the Road Warrior also. I would dare say that if you liked the original Mad Max movies you should definitely see the new one.

    -Ben

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I might see Fury Road some day, I’m not opposed. I do like Tom Hardy.
      But as action movies go I prefer Road Warrior to most contemporary action films, even though the sound and special effects are better today. I think the low budget actually made it seem… I don’t know if “real” is the word, but that it would actually be that way in such a world.

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