Mad Max is the movie that brought Mel Gibson stardom after only one starring role in a previous film. Though the movie did not do much outside of Australia at the time, but eventually there came a sequel which was released wider and with some promotion in the States leading to a second sequel which was heavily hyped and had Tina Turner. So it might not be overnight success but it comes close. But not only got the world Mel Gibson (and thus movies like The Passion Of The Christ and Apocalypto) but also a whole string of movies about desolate post-apocalyptic futures and worlds like 2008’s Doomsday which heavily borrowed from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. But it all started here… Now, over the years I’ve only seen this movie once in the early 90’s and had no real recollection of it other than some scenes involving highway chases. The sequels however were shown more often and so I was curious how this original movie holds up after all these years.
Quite well actually although people expecting to see the grand scale apocalyptic scenery from the sequels will be disappointed because in his first outing Mad Max still is riding in a world that still resembles our everyday scenery. It is set in the near future where biker gangs rule the road and the law consists of police-men in pimped muscle cars trying to at least recreate a feeling of security for the citizens. One of these outlaws is Nightrider who dies after a lengthy chase in a stolen police car with Max and his partner Goose. This comes to the attention of his buddies; a biker gang under the leadership of The Toecutter. Well we can only guess how he got that name, but we never see him live up to it in the movie though. But he is a nasty guy and his gang of hoodlums terrorize the area in which the Nightrider was last seen alive. You got to give it to these guys, their lives are fairly simple; just go around raping and beating people (and their vehicles) up.
In the mean time Max wants to quit the force and after Goose is severely injured by the Biker Gang he does so. But when going to the coast his wife gets into an argument with the same biker gang and then they become the target which turns the movie in a cat and mouse game and eventually in a even larger tale of revenge.
Now what surprised me about the movie is that the plot does not follow a standard three arch storyline. The injuring of Goose happens when the movie is at the half of its running time. But another event that will set up the character of Max for the final chases and the sequels happens at 20 minutes before the end credits role. This is what surprised as normally an event like this usually happens fairly early in a movie but it’s a bold move and gives the movie a more epic feel as it creates the feeling that the movie wants to be more than just a simple revenge tale.
But what surprises me is, when compared to this movie, how over-the-top the outfits of everybody in the sequels are. Or how under-the-top this movie is in its portrayal of the citizens in the near future is. All citizens dress normal, the Police is dressed up in tight leather outfits and even the bad guys are fairly plain. The sets consist of the Australian landscapes, desolate small towns and a quiet railway station. The difference between Mad Max and the sequels is like day and night.
Mad Max is still a movie that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. It’s portrayal of the near future is less over the top than we’re used to by now but the low budget that probably caused this also helps the movie from alienating us not immediately from the franchise as this movie will probably be easier to watch than its sequels for some people as the extravagant outfits can put someone off. It’s more than just a simple revenge tale but quite depressing on the whole. There’s really very little room for a laugh in this film, which makes it a bleak film. Not for everyone’s tastes but definitely worth a look, and that’s saying something considering this is a low-budget indie-film from Australia made more than 3 decades ago.