Updated: Jun 24
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
In his breakout role, 23-year-old Mel Gibson plays Max Rockatansky, the Federal police officer who takes to the road – and the law into his own hands – in his high-powered V8 Interceptor.
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4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, 1979, R, violence, language, brief nudity
Best extra: “Road Rage,” a new interview with director/writer George Miller
YOU PROBABLY know why Max Rockatansky left the Main Force Patrol and set off on his dystopian road trip: the breakdown of society, lawlessness on the highways, a spineless judicial system and the murder of his best friend and wife and son by a motorcycle gang,
But you may not know that director/writer George Miller, who was steeped in rural Australia’s car culture as a boy and immersed in its “dark side” as an emergency-room doctor, originally considered setting his game-changing feature debut in present-day Oz.
He changed it to “a few years from now” for a couple of reasons: It would be less realistic as a contemporary story and he and producer Byron Kennedy were pragmatists. Their budget was so low they couldn’t afford to block off streets, hire extras or alter vehicles. Placing the action in the near future let them tell the story in “a more exaggerated way,” Miller says in “Road Rage,” a must-see new interview included on this Kino Lorber release.
(1-5) “Mad Max” opens with a white-knuckle chase after Nightrider (Vincent Gil) escapes from police custody and tries to hook up with his gang. He doesn’t make it. Director/writer George Miller says that he had a notion that to get the audience involved, he had to keep the camera moving and low to the ground. (6) Max joins the chase and witnesses the fireworks.
He and Kennedy cut costs in other ways, too.
Because they couldn’t afford a leather jacket for Max (Mel Gibson, “Braveheart”), he wore vinyl. It was a “big deal,” Miller says, when he was properly outfitted two years later in “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.”
Photocopying the storyboards wasn’t in the budget either so Miller had to include the details for each shot in the script. Instead of the typical 90--or-so pages for a 93-minute movie, his screenplay was a whopping 175.
He wanted Hugh Keays-Byrne (“Kangaroo”) to play Toecutter, the psychotic leader of the motorcycle gang, but couldn’t fly the Sydney-based actor and his mates to Melbourne. Keays-Byrne suggested that Miller send the bikes up by train and they would ride them south. The two-day ride and overnight camping forged a bond that translated to the screen.
Miller also recalls being “nourished” on the silent films of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, which told their stories through cuts and composition, and how the action sequences in John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1939) and the chariot races in William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” (1959) helped him imagine the possibilities.
Fast-forward to October of 1977, when shooting began in Victoria. Before then, if you shot a car chase, you set up a camera and panned. Miller’s crew was versed in television and had never made a feature film, much less an anamorphic feature – “Mad Max” (2.35:1 aspect ratio) was the first in Australia.
Miller took it from there. “I had the notion that to get the audience involved, you had to keep the camera moving and low to the ground.”
“Notion,” indeed. “Mad Max” didn’t just lay out the ground rules for “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), it put Australia on the cinematic map and generations of filmmakers on the road to the post-apocalypse.
(1) Exhausted and disillusioned, Max finds solace in the arms of his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel). (2-4) A young couple keep their distance when the motorcycle gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) terrorizes a small town. (5) They try to get away but are assaulted by the thugs. (6) Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), Max’s best friend, carries the young woman to their patrol car.
Four decades on, “Max” is all vim and vigor thanks to Kino Lorber’s 4K Ultra HD makeover – sourced from a 4K master. That’s not to say it’s perfect – the sometimes soft focus is most likely due to decisions by Miller and cinematographer David Eggby (“Pitch Black”) and the contrast isn’t always super-sharp – but the beauty is often in the details, especially the sweaty close-ups and steel and rubber of the cars and bikes.
The cinematic grain is another plus, but the biggest upgrade is in the color grading. It’s rich and deep and looks … well, real, whether the camera is hurtling along the blacktop or moves to the remote farm where Max and his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel, “Early Frost”) retreat to reconnect.
Kino Lorber has included three standard tracks: the lossless Australian English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 (Mono) and U.S. English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The 5.1 was surprisingly deep and uncluttered, though, truth be told, composer Brian May (“Gallipoli”) pours it on a mite thick. The strings could have been dialed back, then again, they’re crystal-clear and he did win the American Film Institute Award for original score.
Free tip: Avoid the U.S. English DTS-HD track. It’s the dubbed version, and it’s awful. Apparently, someone thought audiences couldn’t handle Australian accents.
(1&2) After he’s badly burned in an attack by the gang, Goose is left clinging to life. (3) Max and Jessie reconnect while on holiday at a remote farm.
Other than the Miller interview, the extras are carryovers: a commentary with Eggby, art director Jon Dowding and FX artist Chris Murray, interviews with Gibson, Samuel and Eggby, short features about Gibson and the film, the Australian, English (dubbed) and theatrical trailers and TV and radio spots.
But start with “Road Rage.” Conducted via the Internet because of COVID-19 concerns, it’s an engaging affair that touches every base. Miller’s conclusion is especially candid. He says he hadn’t realized what he created until “Mad Max” took off in Japan, where he was seen as a samurai; in Scandinavia, where he was likened to a lone viking; and in France, where critics and audiences saw the film as a “Western on wheels.”
Max, he realized, was the archetypal hero, an “agent of change” who relinquishes his own self-interests for the greater good, a theme that Miller has revisited in most of his films since, “Babe” included.
– Craig Shapiro
(1&2) Toecutter comes on to Jessie then runs her and her young son down. (3&4) Max listens at the hospital as the doctor discusses his family’s grim prognosis – and soon has the gang members in his sights.