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Warner Home Video presents
The Road Warrior HD-DVD (1981)

Nathan: Thank you, thank you.
Max: Save it. I'm just here for the gasoline.

- David Downer, Mel Gibson

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 15, 2007

Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence
Other Stars: Mike Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Kjell Nilsson, Emil Minty, Virginia Hey
Director: George Miller

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, gruesome images, nudity, rape)
Run Time: 01h:36m:47s
Release Date: May 15, 2007
UPC: 085391142614
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ACB- B+

DVD Review

Although Mad Max (1979) was a major hit in Australia, it suffered from limited distribution in America and its star, a young Mel Gibson, attracted little attention. That all changed in 1981 with the release of the sequel, Mad Max 2, which Warner retitled as a standalone feature, The Road Warrior, with nary a hint that it was in fact a sequel. But it's one of those great rarities: a sequel that far surpasses the original in just about every respect. In the process, it became an instant action classic, without the dreary setup of the original or the sappy sentimentality of the followup.

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, Max (Gibson) drives through the desert with his blue heeler dog, marauding for gasoline and food, while he attempts to keep out of the clutches of the vicious punk motorcycle gangs that populate the wastelands. When he runs across a refinery operating in the wilderness, surrounded by a gang led by the Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson), Max's instincts to help get him in trouble, and before long he has to make a deal to help the people in the refinery to escape with their gasoline, leading to Max driving a tanker in an amazing climactic chase. The onscreen title is Mad Max 2, and this appears to be the international cut of the movie, with a few additional seconds of violence trimmed for the original R rating.

Dropping us in media res, the picture carries an impact that the original never had. Everything the audience needs to know—which isn't all that much, really— can be conveyed in the brief voiceover narration, and then we're dropped immediately into the first of many action sequences. That ends with a highly evocative hint of what is to come, as Max attempts to collect some gasoline from a wreck, and drops of blood mingle with the gas. In the briskly-paced running time, there are at least four major chases, with the final one running nearly fifteen minutes, an astonishing bit of sustained suspense. But the chases are all so different that they never become duplicative or tiresome, and keep the viewer at the edge of the seat constantly.

Writer/director George Miller also manages to bring a fair amount of character bits into the midst of the action. While Max is impenetrably stoic (and it's a relief to see Gibson being subdued instead of using his persistent mugging in his more recent picture), he also forms bonds with a feral boy (Emil Minty) and a twitchy gyrocopter pilot (Bruce Spence). One charming moment is Max's evocation of the lost world of the past as he plays a "Happy Birthday" music box wistfully. Even the bad guys get some defining moments, such as the Humumgus' toady, Toadie (Max Phipps), joyfully and mistakenly attempting to catch the Feral Kid's razor-sharp metal boomerang, a hugely crowd pleasing moment. There's plenty of dark humor throughout, despite the sparse dialogue. The humor is mixed with the poignant, as the pilot reminisces about the old world, with bicycle seats, lingerie and desserts; the longing proves to be irresistible, if fruitless. The hopes of the people at the refinery are shown to be a sham based on promotional picture postcards, demonstrating that hope in this world is a matter of futility.

The character design is hugely influential; it's hard now to imagine a post-apocalyptic movie that doesn't involve fetishistic punks dressed in black leather bondage gear. It's entirely over the top, but that's more than in keeping with the turbocharged nature of the picture. It's entirely relentless, exhilarating and exhausting, but few action pictures have managed to match it in the twenty-five years since.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The picture memorably opens with the flashback in Academy ratio, then when the story begins properly, opens into its anamorphic glory, which is more than striking on the HD DVD. Color is reasonably good, with Mel's sunburn looking quite painful at times. Unfortunately, this is a low budget movie that should have substantial grain, and it appears that someone at Warner went mad with the grain and noise reduction. In the process, the picture was substantially softened and a good deal of detail was lost. However, it's still a huge improvement over the standard DVD, which was one of the very first releases in the format over ten years ago.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
+
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: There are some limitations to the source material, which has always sounded to some extent as if it's coming over the tinny speakers at the drive-in (where in fact I first saw The Road Warrior). It's pretty much lacking in bass, although it's relatively clean. Brian May's score offers some nicely piercing brass and heavy percussion that comes across well. The dialogue is clear throughout, once you pierce the accents.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Leonard Maltin
Extras Review: The ubiquitous Leonard Maltin offers an introduction (3m:36s) that doesn't say much most viewers won't already know, but he does seem genuinely enthusiastic. There's also a somewhat worn trailer that shows just how grainy the picture is supposed to look. Finally, there's a solidly chatty commentary that offers plenty of information about the filming and the cast. There are precious few dead spots, and both commentators happily refrain from narration. The case indicates that this commentary is exclusive to the HD discs, giving yet another incentive to adopt HD DVD.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

One of the greatest action pictures ever, with a decent heart to go along with a vicious attitude, with nonstop suspense and marvelously drawn characters to go along with Mel Gibson earning his stripes of stardom. The HD DVD has the bonus of an exclusive commentary.

 


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