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MGM Studios DVD presents
Mad Max: SE (1980)

"You and me Max, we're going to give them back their heroes!"
- Fifi (Roger Ward)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: December 27, 2001

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisby
Other Stars: Tim Burns, Roger Ward, Vince Gil, Lulu Pinkus
Director: George Miller

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for (contains some graphic violence)
Run Time: 01h:33m:00s
Release Date: January 02, 2002
UPC: 027616869241
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BA-B+ A-

DVD Review

Speeding chaotically down the unending highway, the Night Rider (Vince Gil) creates a destructive path through the unfortunate souls driving innocently on the road. This crazy villain has stolen a police car, and he uses the radio to taunt his pursuers while recklessly flying through the sparse landscape. With surprising skill, the Night Rider continues to avoid the cops while succeeding in destroying their vehicles. However, one man exists with the fearlessness and abilities to take this loose cannon down—Mad Max.

Max (Mel Gibson) initially appears on the screen only in close-ups of his clothing and his impressive automobile. We receive brief glimpses of his black leather outfit and boots while he makes preparations to encounter the Night Rider. Without any noticeable traces of fear, Max embarks on a game of chicken that quickly reduces the nasty tough guy to a sobbing, weak figure and brings him to his ultimate end. Twelve minutes into the picture, viewers finally have a nice look at our hero who will do anything to take down lawless goons. This also marks the first significant screen appearance of Mel Gibson on screen, who quickly became an international superstar.

Utilizing an extremely low budget, director George Miller (The Road Warrior, Lorenzo's Oil) injects tremendous intensity into this opening scene—one of the best in the film. During one nerve-wracking moment, the chase incorporates a baby in the street, several couples, a motorcycle, and a Bongo van into a classic wreck. The highlight is the eye-popping spins of the van, which are that much more incredible considering the special effects limitations of the time period. This exciting sequence immediately draws us into the chaos with little dialogue or explanation necessary.

Taking place "a few years from now," Mad Max introduces a post-apocalyptic world where brutal motorcycle gangs rule the streets and wreak violent havoc on ordinary citizens. Lead by the hulking Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), this group commits horrible acts for the sheer joy of causing pain to other people. In one harrowing scene, they arrive in a small town and proceed to attack its commonplace residents. One young couple tries to flee this monstrosity, but they're eventually dragged from their cars and treated barbarically. Although it takes place in the future, these events in the town closely mirror the actions of the wild cowboys of the western genre. This gang has victimized a defenseless town, and Max and his lawmen must seek out the parties responsible.

Max's partner-in-arms is Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), an energetic, blond-haired cop with a firm belief in the law. Sadly, the system often lets him down and sets criminals free on technicalities. One such release leads to an emotional confrontation that places him within the deadly sights of the Toecutter's gang. They also have eyes on Max's family, which leads to several harrowing moments in which their safety remains in question. Is Max willing to fight at the level of his enemies in terms of violence and tactics? This conflict exists at the forefront of the story, where justice has little power against the wild, uncivilized forces.

Although this film starts and ends with a bang, there are quiet interludes inbetween that showcase Max's humanity. He lives near the coast with his charming wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and they share a relatively normal domestic life when he's around. During one effective moment, Max tells Jessie his innermost feelings and reveals a tender side within the rough exterior. Miller does a nice job injecting these quaint moments to keep the mayhem from overwhelming the senses. The story remains pretty simple and focuses on the chases, but morality does play a role in the occurrences.

Much of Mad Max's success originates with the impressive supporting cast, who offer nuanced performances of both brutality and grace. Keays-Byrne's Toecutter dominates every one of his scenes, and perfects the extreme oddities of his character. Tim Burns also brings an inspired craziness to Johnny the Boy, a new member of the gang uncertain of the Toecutter's leadership. Joanne Samuel beautifully plays Jessie as the moral center who keeps Max from reverting more towards the tactics of his opponents. Her presence raises the film above a more-formulaic chase movie and gives Max an emotional bond worth defending.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This release features a newly remastered 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that wonderfully presents this cult favorite. The picture contains virtually zero defects, and the amount of grain is minimal throughout the movie. During the frenetic chase scenes, the images remain sharp and generate the necessary intensity. This transfer fails to match the pristine quality of the premier recent releases, but this makes sense due to its older source material.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoAustralian English, dubbed Englishyes
Dolby Digital
Australian Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: When Mad Max originally appeared in the United States, it sadly contained overdubbed English dialogue because the distributors felt the Australian accents would turn off viewers. Finally, this disc offers U.S. audiences the chance to hear the Australian English track in an excellent 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The accents are fairly easy to understand throughout this track, and the dubbed English appears silly when watching the film. If anyone has a problem, the version used in US theaters does remain here, along with the Australian mono track. The 5.1-channel transfer offers significant power during the chase scenes, and provides a nice experience. While the sound field is not very complex, it still conveys a clear and well-done presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Terminator: SETerminator: SE DVD
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Eggby, Jon Dowding, Tim Ridge, and Chris Murray
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:00m:06s

Extra Extras:
  1. "Road Rants" Trivia and Fun Fact Track
  2. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: This top-notch special edition includes two documentaries that provide interesting background on both the film and its star. Mad Max: Film Phenomenon offers a nice retrospective with some unfortunate promotional narration. Both film critics and the crew speak about the numerous stunts, the futuristic vision, costumes, and the car designs. They also discuss the difficulty of using such a low budget, and specific scenes are covered in depth. Mel Gibson—The High-Octane Birth of a Superstar focuses on the early acting career of this actor who became a household name after this film. Early acting teachers from NAIDA (The National Institute of Dramatic Arts) and other associates help to explain the roots of Gibson's impressive persona. This 16-minute piece is pretty light fare, but it does contain some decent insight into his origins.

This disc also offers an enlightening feature commentary from three pivotal members of the crew and a film historian. Director of photography David Eggby, art director Jon Dowding, special effects coordinator Chris Murray, and historian Tim Ridge provide a well done overview of the production. Several speakers had not seen the movie in 20 years, and they still retain plenty of knowledge and enthusiasm for the material. Many elements from each scene are covered from different sides of the film's creation. It's especially interesting to hear a discussion of the dangerous stunt scenes, completed before the age of computer animation.

Similar information is covered on Road Rants—a subtitle track with lots of tidbits about a wide array of items. The facts stream nearly constantly and reveal both the basic info and some faults in the production. It is amazing to consider the limitations of the $200,000 budget, which wouldn't cover the catering on today's big-budget films. Also, Mel Gibson only garnered $5,000 for this role, which falls slightly below his current over $20 million-per-film salary.

This release also contains four television spots, an international photo gallery, and trailers for Mad Max and the special edition disc of The Terminator. The preview for the film appears in a mediocre widescreen picture and nicely conveys the kinetic action.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Many American film audiences (included this reviewer) were introduced to George Miller's vision of a futuristic society gone amok with The Road Warrior, a sequel that offered a large budget and more complex chases. This movie sent people scurrying to locate its origins in Mad Max. It is excellent to finally be able to view this lively picture without the annoyances of ridiculous dubbing. MGM deserves high marks for this special edition, which should introduce this film to new viewers everywhere.


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