Friday, January 28, 2011

Mad Max (1979)
--- science fiction

Dir: George Miller

Dystopian futures are an easy sell for audiences. They are the one of the best uses of the science fiction genre, as a signpost to the dangers of not only where society is, but where we are headed. Within this sub genre we've had classics. Coming out of the 60's where threat of nuclear war was as imminent as visible storm clouds on the horizon, many filmmakers steered clear of the Totalitarian or Communist messages (such as "Alphaville", "Logan's Run", or "THX 1138") and more toward a believable future oblivion. These futuristic visions would spotlight a decayed complete collapse of any structure whatsoever. George Miller's "Mad Max" begins here.

The "Mad Max" trilogy (soon to be expanded with a sequel) has the unique distinction of chronicling the decay of a society. This first film is simply dystopian future of specific date, where outlaw biker gangs and psychopathic drivers roam free on the highways of Australia. The police force, while seemingly sparse, still manages to enforce law and order. Our introduction to this bleak future is through a patrol car tasked to take down a violent AC/DC-quoting driver who calls himself "The Nightrider"; a character straight out of a Carsploitation film. When the patrol vehicle is totalled during a harrowing high speed chase, the hero of our tale emerges; Max Rockatansky (played by a young and relatively unknown Mel Gibson). His Main Force Patrol vehicle appears to be a standard yellow, blue, and red, but the other vehicle had a code emblem of PURSUIT, and Max's has one V8 INTERCEPTOR (a converted Ford Falcon). This is the same vehicle that will turn up in the sequel, except it will be painted black, much like the "Nightrider".

"Nightrider" doesn't turn out to be much of a threat when Max catches up to him and his girl. They end up crashing and destroying their vehicle, and Max is saluted for his fine job of taking out the maniac. We're taken to Max's home life where we see he's a new father. It also is apparent he's a reluctant hero, who isn't so comfortable in his celebrity status. Soon we're also shown Max's car in the shop, being prepped by a mechanic to suped-up capabilities. Also, the politics from the insides of the "Halls of Justice" don't really even care to celebrate Max's contribution to the force, as we learn that isn't prone to staying a cop. Max's superior informs him a new foe has emerged from the "Nightrider"s death, when a biker named "Toecutter" (played to the hilt by a convincing Hugh-Keays Byrne) rears his ugly head with his gang in tow. They just as soon declare vengeance against Max and the rest of the MFP. To cement their threat, the gang molest a young couple outside of town and Max and his partner biker The Goose get called to respond. The damage is done and the gang is long gone, but they leave a one of their own behind, in a delirious Johnny the Boy spouting the same insane rhetoric about "Nightrider", allowing Max and The Goose to put two-and-two together.

They arrest Johnny the Boy, but after having him locked up in the shanty headquarters of their police station for awhile, the bureaucratic system releases him when no one shows for his trial. The Goose gets irate over this mockery of justice, and wants to take Johnny the Boy apart himself. The officers, still in disbelief watch as he is set free on the streets, but their superior allows them the officers to do whatever necessary so long as it's on paper. We soon see as Johnny the Boy returns to "Toecutter", he has to pay for his release, with the blood of one of the officers. So Johnny the Boy is coerced to go after the Main Force Patrol, and he targets The Goose. When The Goose is burnt alive and left for dead, Max goes on a temporary sabbatical in the country with his family. They enjoy the open freeway and head toward the beach where they visit with a family member. Unfortunately the solace is cut short when the "Toecutter"'s gang harrass Max's wife and child, and later hunt her down ultimately killing both. Driven to madness, Max takes matters into his own hands, taking his new INCEPTOR out of the shop and hitting the road with only one thing in mind . . . revenge.

Filmed on the very desolate outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, "Mad Max" is a film that came at a time in the Seventies when cinema was all about exploitation of all kinds. They ramped up sex and violence, and skewed toward fetish-esque niche markets like Blaxploitation, slasher films, revenge epics, carsploitation films, you name it. Mad Max fits in a couple of those sub genres quite nicely. The score was supplied by composer Brian May, that effectively amps you up with the roar of the engines and screeching of tires. It became a hallmark of Australian cinema. In the end film is a dark commentary on the anxiety of the late Seventies and the changing cynical outlook of our future. Borrowing from the influence of George Lucas' uber-successful "Star Wars", with the use of Joseph Campbell's 'Hero With A Thousand Faces' (as well as the swipe transitions in editing), Miller creates a new mythological hero in Max. Having placed a broken man in an equally broken society. With a dystopian landscape, Miller would soon help pave the way for the next decade in a slew of post-apocalyptic films, that were not only inspired by this film, but its sequel.