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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 05.12.15] post apocalyptic apocalyptic action cult Exploitation grindhouse

[Editor's Note: This is not a review of the recent Shout! Factory Blu-ray, but the MGM release included in the Mad Max Trilogy Collection]

It's been some time since I've taken George Miller's original Mad Max for a spin around the race track, but when the team was tossing around the question of who would review which film from the original franchise, I jumped at the chance to revisit the film that started it all. And boy I'm happy I did, because even after almost 40 years, Mad Max still packs a serious, nitro-charged adrenaline punch.

Right out of the gate you know Miller is something of a maniac director whose aim is to sit his audience in the driver's seat of a car movie like no other. The opening chase between a team of Interceptors and the Nightrider is such a breakneck showcase of speed and well executed action filmmaking that even after all these years, it's easy to see why it caught the world's attention. Cameras attached to cars, insane editing and vehicles travelling at insane speeds push the cinematic form to an experimental place - a frenzied dance of action chaos. Except it's not chaotic at all, but carefully choreographed by a master storyteller.

Add to this opening the villain - the gleefully insane Nightrider, whose howls of glee seem to rival The Joker in terms of pure madness - and you're squarely in punk-rock territory; at the mercy of director with an anti-establishment ethos that might just take you anywhere. Mad Max begins as a scary and exciting proposition. Everything a genre movie should be.

The madness of it all also extends to the word Miller imagines - one on the brink of absolute decay. Not quite the defining, desert gangland we would get in the The Road Warrior, Mad Max still posits an Australia teetering on the edge of collapse. Some semblance of government still remains, though its understaffed and resourced police force seems to operate out of the rubble of some defining war. Civilization is doomed to die. It just needed this film to get us there.

Like The Road Warrior, Mad Max is a western at heart, only Miller hadn't perfected the formula quite yet. Max is a more idealized hero, struggling with the madness he sees around him and not wanting to succumb to it. He is a family man, though it all feel tragic before the film's events become as much.

Once the film becomes a revenge tale, the writing is one the wall for Max and the future of these movies. Max drives off alone, into what we now know will be a world of anti-heroes and villains. Into a trilogy that will ultimately end with him embracing his role as a leader of a new world. Ultimately pretty heavy stuff for a film that began as an apocalyptic western/motorcycle movie. And that's why these films will live forever.

Recommended Release: Mad Max Collector's Edition

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