Cinematheque kicks off a Mad Max retrospective with a new DCP edition of George Miller's 1979 debut feature. Info
Instantly sweeping viewers up in the speed of the titular character's black 600-HP Falcon XB Coupe with supercharger on the hood, George Miller's post-apocalyptic debut feature has served as an archetype for modern action cinema and video games since its original release in 1979. Mad Max has made a long-lasting impact both thematically (see: Class Of 1999, Terminator 2, Road Rash, Metal Gear, etc) and literally, with its high-octane vehicular stunts on asphalt. They still leave an impression 40 years later, which the Cinematheque is celebrating with a new DCP edition of the Australian cut.
In fact, the first 12 minutes in pursuit of cop-killing Nightrider (Vincent Gil) are some of the most carnage-packed ever captured on film, as Miller announces his brand of prescient pulp with a few artful narrative tricks up his sleeve to build suspense. Main Highway Patrol officer Max Rockatansky (a baby-faced, yet-to-be-canceled Mel Gibson) is less mad than he is a relatable rogue and vigilante-in-the-making, as the calamitous chase scene suddenly shifts to an almost comically tender moment with his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) that seems frozen in time.
Second act subplots turn attention to Max's potentially emphatic reformation and to his partner, Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), which quickly goes off the rails inside the Halls of Justice. But the film is really readying for the eventual showdown between personalities—Max and the "cyclecade of nomad trash," Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne)'s rampaging biker gang. Yet, it's quite unlike a Marvel duel between absolute good and evil. Rather, Miller offers a noir trope-tinged commentary on the idea of heroes themselves, captured in an exchange between Max and his superior Fifi (Roger Ward). In a relentless 93 minutes, Mad Max has more style to burn than modern epics of nearly twice its length. —Grant Phipps