Mad Max (1979): Post-Apocalyptic Tale, Starring Mel Gibson

In preparation of Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy as Max, which will world premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Fest, we are revisiting the trilogy of pictures released three decades ago.

mad_max_posterWhen the first Mad Max opened in the U.S., it came out of nowhere, so to speak.   The movie immediately became a cult item, putting on the forefront the reputation of Mel Gibson as one of the hottest (and coolest) stars in the world.

“Mad Max” was a new type of film, an uncompromisingly  post-apocalyptic action thriller from director George Miller, which depicts a society descending into a complete state of chaos (or anomie, to use a more sociological jargon).

James McCausland and Miller wrote the screenplay from a story by Miller and Byron Kennedy (the film’s producer).

Gibson plays Max Rockatansky, a policeman in the near future who is fed up with and tired of his job. Since the apocalypse, the lengthy, desolate stretches of highway in the Australian outback have become no man’s land–bloodstained battlegrounds.  Having seen too many innocents and fellow officers murdered by the bomb’s savage offspring, bestial marauding bikers for whom killing, rape, and looting is a brutal way of life.

mad_max_6_gibsonMax says he just wants to retire and spend quality time with his wife and son. His boss tries to bribe him with a new, faster car, but to no avail. But later, when his chief tells him that he’s best cop around–the last of a declining number of good cops, he changes his mind and lets his boss talk him into taking a peaceful vacation.

A leisurely week on the beach with his family makes Max all the more determined to put away his badge and uniform.  However, Max’s world and entire value system are shattered, when a gang led by the vicious Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) murders his family in retaliation for the death of one of its members.  Left with nothing to live for, he becomes a vicious avenger. Emotionally numb and dead inside, Max straps on his helmet and climbs into a souped-up V8 racing machine to seek his bloody revenge.

mad_max_1_gibsonDespite low budget and second-rate plot, which borrows heavily from countless violent revenge sagas, “Mad Max” is exciting, due to the relentlessly kinetic movement and spectacularly staged road stunts.

Cinematographer David Eggby and stunt coordinator Grant Page did excellent work under Miller’s direction, resulting in a gritty and gripping thrill ride that grabs viewers viscerally.  Miller said that his inspiration came from comic books, serials, and B-movies.

A sequence in which a man is chained to a car and must cut off a limb before the machine explode is one of gruesome and graphically violent acts ever seen.

For the American version, which played for months in theaters (this was prior to the VR Revolution), all the Australian voices were dubbed, including Gibson’s.

Fashion Impact

mad_max_3_gibsonMax’s car is a 1973 Ford Falcon GT Coupe with a 300 bhp 351C V8 engine, customized with the front end of a Ford Fairmont and other elements.  Gibson’s costume, especially his tight black leather pants and boots), had a huge impact on fashion of the late 1970s and early 1980.

The solid box-office grosses placed “Mad Max” on the Guinness book of records as the most profitable film vis-a-vis its miniscule budget.  It’s also credited for further opening up the global market to Australian New Wave, led at the time by the director Peter Weir.

There were two official sequels, “The Road Warrior”(aka “Mad Max II”) in 1981, and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdorme” in 1985, not to mention and numerous (pale) imitations.

The first two chapters of the series, and the WWI drama Gallipoli, catapulted Gibson into a household name, first with young students in campuses and then as a major Hollywood star.

Cast
Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky
Joanne Samuel as Jessie Rockatansky
Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter
Steve Bisley as Jim “Goose” Rains
Tim Burns as Johnny the Boy
Roger Ward as Fred “Fifi” Macaffee
Geoff Parry as Bubba Zanetti
Jonathan Hardy as Police Commissioner Labatouche
Brendan Heath as Sprog Rockatansky
Sheila Florence as May Swaisey
John Ley as Charlie
Steve Millichamp as Roop
Vincent Gil as Crawford “The Nightrider” Montazano

Credits:

Directed by George Miller
Produced by Byron Kennedy
Screenplay by James McCausland and George Miller, based on story by George Miller and Byron Kennedy
Music by Brian May
Cinematography: David Eggby
Edited by Tony Paterson and Cliff Hayes
Production company: Kennedy Miller Productions, Crossroads, Mad Max Films
Distributed by Roadshow Film Distributors
Release date: April 12, 1979
Running time: 93 minutes