The debut of Australian director George Miller ("Babe 2: Pig in the City") and the second credit on Mel Gibson's career list, "Mad Max" was a 1979 low-budget actioner that went on to become a suprise international hit, not only grossing 100 million at the box office, but going on to spawn two sequels. The film stars Gibson (who was 23 at the time) as Max Rockatansky, one of a small legion of police officers who are maintaining some level of peace in a future Australia, where criminals run wild.
In the opening of the picture, a vicious biker named Nightrider (Vince Gill) and his girlfriend are trying to make their getaway from a few police officers. When they can't manage to catch him, Max is called in and Nightrider is killed in the resulting crash. The head of Nightridger's gang, Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), finds out what happened and vows revenge. When all that's important to Max is taken away, he vows revenge back. So, in other words, the plot is generally a whole lot of revenge and good vs. evil.
While the plot is not exactly too detailed, there is still a great deal to admire about "Mad Max". The film was essentially made on a very, very small budget, but looks considerably stronger than the budget would indicate, with strong locations and very well-done stunt work and action scenes. Cinematographer David Eggby (whose stunning work was a highlight of the recent "Pitch Black") developed the bleach-bypass process to give "Mad Max" the film's sun-drenched look, which was something I learned on the DVD's "Fact Track" feature. Eggby's cinematography is often remarkable here, as well, as it brings the audience extremely close to some of the film's chases.
Furthermore, Gibson is perfectly cast in the lead role, showing strong presence even in his early 20's. Supporting performances are quite good, as well, but unfortunately, I don't think any of the supporting cast really went on to do many further films. Flawed as the film may be - the dialogue isn't that great at times, for example - the film is a strong piece of gritty action with a great deal of tension and impressive stunt work.
VIDEO: MGM presents "Mad Max" in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan & scan on this dual-sided disc. Both editions are located on one side of the disc, while the special features are housed on the opposite side. The presentation is actually quite good and occasionally falling over into great, but there are still some minor irritants visible here and there. Sharpness and detail are both pleasing, as the bright outdoor sequences and the dark, low-lit moments both look crisp and well-defined.
As previously mentioned, flaws are noticable when they do pop up, but generally are few and far between. Some light edge enhancement appears now and then, but I really didn't find this to be a terrible distraction. The print is also in quite fine shape, with only a few hints of print flaws now and then in the form of some slight specks and a mark or two. Some grain also appears, but no other problems - such as pixelation or any other concerns - show up.
"Mad Max" was never exactly a bright and colorful movie and colors look fine again here, appearing accurate, solid and with no smearing or other problems. MGM has had a rather inconsistent track record with their catalog releases, but efforts like "Mad Max" show that they really can do a fine job.
SOUND: MGM's DVD offers a few different audio options to choose from. There is both a newly remixed Australian 5.1 track, as well as the original and English-dubbed mono soundtracks. The newly remixed soundtrack isn't too bad, with respectable quality and expanded dimension. Surrounds are not given a great deal of work to do, but occasionally provide a noticable sound effect or two. Mainly, the score fills the front speakers and dialogue comes through sounding natural and fairly clear, with only a few exceptions in that regard. The film's audio isn't dynamic or agressive, but the new 5.1 edition is still certainly an improvement over previous listening experiences.
MENUS: Animated main menu with a clip from the movie; there are also animated transitions between the main and sub-menus.
Commentary: This is a commentary from cinematographer David Eggby, art director John Dowding, special effects supervisor Chris Murray, and film historian Tom Ridge. All four sit down to watch the film together and a couple of them admit to not having watched the film in many years. Yet, while one might think their distance from last having watched the picture would lead to a rather quiet track, this is actually a very informative and insightful discussion of the picture. The four blend a relaxed chat about what they admire about the film with a good deal of detail about how certain effects and stunts were achieved, working with the film's actors and more. There's only a few small pauses as the group is able to carry the discussion throughout the film.
Fact Track: An additional informative option besides the commentary to play during the main feature, this fact track allows the viewer to read boxes with text information that pop up above and below the image while the movie is playing.
Mel Gibson: Birth of a Superstar: While the combination of somewhat cheesy voice-over narration and heavy praise makes this seem like a bit of a fluff piece at first, it actually becomes a bit more enjoyable as it goes on, as we are informed about Gibson's early days in acting classes before he went on to "Mad Max", as well as Gibson's first film, "Summer City". The documentary then goes on to discuss how Gibson landed the role in "Mad Max", as well a tiny bit towards the end that discusses what Gibson has done since. It's a nicely done documentary overall, with some insightful interviews and good stories. 17 minutes.
Mad Max: Film Phenomenon: This is a 25 minute documentary that explores the film's exceptional elements, with comments from both members of the crew and various film critics. There's also further chat about how some of the film's stunts and look were achieved with the film's low budget.
Also: Considerably worn trailer and TV spots, as well as international poster gallery and promo for "Terminator: Special Edition".
Final Thoughts: A shocking and intense film that looks impressive with only a small budget, the film also boasts a terrific early performance from Mel Gibson. MGM's DVD offers good audio/video quality and even the film's original audio track, as well as some fine supplements. With the low retail price ($19.99 and less at most stores), this is a definite recommendation.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 87/B = (348/400 possible points)
Audio: 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Extras: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B