Undoubtedly the crown jewel of of the 70’s Ozploitation explosion, George Miller’s blistering, dytopian 1979 revenge flick Mad Max kicked opened the doors for Australian new wave cinema to get a foothold on the world stage. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “Ozploitation”, Ozploitation films are exploitation films – themselves a category of full blooded, low-budget horror, comedy, and action films – made in Australia after the introduction of the R rating in 1971 which usually managed to rival their American drive-in cousins in the liberal use of sex and violence.
Exploding onto the cinema landscape with dizzying cinematography, lethal looking vehicular carnage and more dilapidated locations you can shake a V-8 Interceptor at, Mad Max became an instant cult classic it brazenly forged it’s own identity while laying the groundwork which would eventually lead to Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie hailed by many as the greatest action movie of this century.
It’s the near future (isn’t it always) and society is noticably on the downturn. The highways are rapidly becoming a war zone as the immature boys club that is the Main Force Patrol clash with murderous motorists in a world that’s become more and more lawless by the day. In this petrol-head version of the Wild West we find Max Rockatansky, a young, but intense pursuit officer who wants to quit the force to be with his wife and young child but instead is romanced into staying by the promise of a supercharged V8-powered pursuit car. However, after an extended chase leaves a cop killing beserker known as the Nightrider as flaming smear on the concrete, a deadly game of oneupmanship begins between the MFP and the Nightrider’s former gang led by the deranged Toecutter (gotta love these names) which starts leaving collateral damage on both sides. In an attempt to declutter his stressful life of self proclaimed “fuel injected suicide machines” Max quits, fearing he’s going to end up manic as the other lunatics who recklessly burn rubber in these highway duels to the death, but a tragic encounter during a much needed vacation means that the young officer may be destined to become a justice dealing, nitro powered gladiator after all. With a rapidly approaching showdown with Toecutter and his rapidly collapsing gang of strung out freaks on the horizon, Max decides to invert the old saying, choosing to reinterpret it as “don’t get even, get mad”.
Despite sporting a plot that would fit on a postage stamp and a budget that must have gone entirely on petrol, painkillers and stuntmen’s hospital fees, Mad Max isn’t so much a movie that you watch as it is a movie you experience. Any chance you have of avoiding the wretched American dub can be swiftly taken advantage of with a quick flick of the audio button on your blu ray controller as the best way to watch this movie is to tightly embrace every inch of it’s Aussie charm, which piles quirk after quirk on top of it’s admittedly slender frame to create a world full of personality and character.
Where else in the world would you have a motorcycle cop come off his roaring steed to collide with another vehicle and when asked what’s going on by the driver, cheerfully replies: “Ah dunno mate, ah just got ‘ere meself!”
The film’s whole personality is comprised by bursts of brutal violence interspersed frequently with eccentric imagery all throughout it’s runtime; Max’s wife chills out by randomly playing the saxophone while his infant son casually toys with what looks to be a 44. Magnum, a gang member’s eyes bulge comically out of his head in a parody of a hideous cartoon as he’s about to plow into an oncoming truck, everything is an absurd perversion of a western all set to a panic inducing hysterical score by Brian May (no, not THAT Brian May…).
Filmed with the same unwavering grit, wit and low budget shit as George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, there’s something lovingly homemade about the film that put George Miller firmly on the road to a career featuring a demonic Jack Nicholson, talking pigs and tap dancing penguins, but despite the raggedy surroundings and degenerate characters, the director shoots the film with a knowing flair that shows off the polish of a man who would eventually gift the world with Mad Max: Fury Road 36 years later.
Less we forget, the movie also takes credit for slamming it’s star into fourth gear in the leading man stakes as the actor the world came to know as Mel Gibson unleashes every gram of laser beam intensity his piercing blue eyes can muster despite the character’s infamous lack of plot focus. Cast very much in the mold of Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name, Max is the kind of guy that stuff happens around until he deems it necessary to actually stick his nose in. In any other film he’d be weighing in with his fellow officers, driving side by side with them in their banana coloured interceptors as they clean up highways littered with murder and rape, but Max always hangs back. Quiet and introverted he’s an interesting counter to his thuggish team AND his mouthy best mate, Goose, a passionate man who respects life (more than most, anyway) and who in any other movie would most likely be the hero. It’s a testiment to Gibson’s potential star power that he still shines in a group scene despite remaining silent and when his anger finally blows it erupts steely, cold and measured as he systematically takes his shallow vengence. Thankfully the film’s villains more than earn the right to his wrath as each one (especially Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Toecutter) legitimately seem like genuinely unhinged gentlemen who nonchalantly disperse with their boredom by inflicting all matter of vehicular assault on any poor bastard that wanders into their orbit.
Endearingly odd and packed with raw energy to spare, it’s the first real time the world took Australia’s genre filmmaking seriously (a fact undoubtedly helped by the fact that it was the first film from the country to film in anamorphic widescreen) and while it’s not even the best Mad Max movie every made (Mad Max 2 and Fury Road are both legitimate and transcendent masterpieces) it’s still a pulse pounding milestone on the furious road to immortality.
You mad, bro?