I guess I really shouldn't call this one an installment of "Netflix Nonsense" as it's more "Shomi Nonsense." As I've detailed on my podcast recently, I've been all conflicted about the new Canadian streaming video service, Shomi. I signed up for it, but then I realized I just wasn't watching it, so I cancelled it. I figured I'd watch it more if they had an easy-to-use Apple TV app. Literally a week after I canceled my subscription, they launched their Apple TV app. So after humming and hawing for a few days, I reactivated my account, just to try the Apple TV app.
Now, what to watch? Well, as I recently said in my Mad Max: Fury Road review, the Mad Max franchise is another of those embarrassing gaps in my personal film history. I haven't seen a single one, aside from Beyond Thunderdome on TV when I was a kid. And look! They're all on Shomi. So, just like back in November when I decided to binge on the Rocky franchise, I'm going to work my way through the Mad Max films. Let's start at the very beginning...Mad Max.
I'm aware of the history of Mad Max. A low budget film out of Australia, made a star out of Mel Gibson and writer/director George Miller. Despite being a big hit in Australia when it was first released, it was largely overlooked when released in North America...rediscovered when it's sequel The Road Warrior became a monster hit. I love the little factoid about the film's initial release in North America. Fearing the Australian accents and slang would be incomprehensible to North American audiences, it was was dubbed into American English. I must have seen that version on late night TV one night, because watching this film on Shomi today triggered a few memories. I'm pleased to report that the version on Shomi is in the original Aussie.
What shocked me watching the film today, firstly, was the colour pallette. There's green in this film. There's still green fields and trees, while the Mad Max universe is generally shown to be a dusty desert. That all ties in to the fact that this is the origin story. Yeah, I know. These days, they usually save the origin story for the gritty reboot, but George Miller thought he'd try something new and actually start the franchise with the gritty origin!
The Mad Max universe that we know takes place after the collapse of society. But this first one takes place just as society is starting to collapse. There's still towns and infrastructure and something resembling modern civilization, but the cracks are starting to show. The police find their resources spread thin. The police station we see is a bombed-out shell of a building. And it's at this detachment where Max Rockatansky is stationed. He's one of the best officers they've got, specializing in the art of the high speed pursuit, but the life is starting to wear him down, and he's considering turning in his badge to be with his wife and newborn child.
And in this world, a newer, more viscous brand of biker gangs are starting to roam Australia's highways. When we first meet Max, he's in pursuit of a stolen police car, being driven by a gang member called the Nightrider. Once Max gets the better of him in their chase, Nightrider bursts into tears as he knows he'll be seen a failure in the eyes of their leader, Toecutter. Nightrider soon dies, and Toecutter vows revenge on Max and the entire police force.
Thus our stage is set as Max and Toecutter are soon set on a figurative collision course, and the battle on the highways is one that will drive Max mad.
Seeing it today, it's interesting when you put it into context with the cinematic trends of the time. When this came out, two of the biggest genres going were car chase films (e.g. Smokey and the Bandit) and "the system doesn't work/lone man turns vigilante" films (e.g. Dirty Harry, Death Wish). The first Mad Max comes across as a bit of a mash-up of those two genres, especially at the finale when Toecutter finally kills Max's wife and child, and Max fully and finally becomes Mad Max and goes on a death ride to take down Toecutter and his men once and for all.
And the thing is, Max knows that there's the darkness inside him. When Max tries to resign, he confesses to his CO that most of the time he feels the only difference between him and the gangs is that he's got a badge saying he's a good guy. And, as is the case in so many of these films, when his wife and child are killed, his last tether to his humanity is gone and, well, he goes mad.
This being a Mad Max film, of course the car chases are good. I really like the fact that there's hardly any score in the scenes, just allowing the action to unfold with only the roar of the engines.
There's some weird, interesting visuals, too. Gotta love those split-second shots of the villains' eyes bugging out right before they die. And a few montages of just darkened highways. You can tell George Miller was still a rookie. Trying out stuff like that, but reluctant to let it dominate the film.
And Mel Gibson. Holy moly, I've never seen Mel Gibson so young. I can see that, from the very beginning, Max was a man of few words.
I found Mad Max to be a very enjoyable action film, and I'm looking forward now to seeing the sequel that took it bigger.