Release Date(s)1979 (November 24, 2020)
Studio(s)Roadshow Film Distributors/Warner Bros. (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: This review has been updated to reflect new details on the film scan and video mastering.]
In the not-too-distant future, Australia has become a dystopia. Motorcycle gangs roam the land, terrorizing good, law-abiding citizens. The only thing stopping them are the fearless enforcers of the Main Force Patrol (MFP). But when one of the gang’s members is killed in a high-speed chase with the MFP, their leader, the infamous “Toecutter” (Hugh Keays-Byrne) decides to take revenge on the rookie officer he believes is responsible… Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson). First, the gang goes after one of his fellow patrol officers, causing Max to quit the MFP. But then, they go after Max’s family. So Max, at the wheel of the MFP’s latest supercharged Pursuit Special, goes mad in search of vengeance.
The film that pushed the Ozploitation genre into the American mainstream, and launched Gibson’s Hollywood career in the process, George Miller’s Mad Max is a surprisingly modest affair, but one that packs a genuine punch. Its villains feel manic and dangerous, and its anti-hero is unlikely yet charismatic. Having grown up in rural Australia, and later worked as an emergency room doctor, Miller was familiar with both the good and bad sides of car culture. He’d also developed a love of film by attending his local Saturday afternoon cinema as a child. What’s interesting about Mad Max is that its dystopian landscape wasn’t actually intentional and it’s certainly not post-apocalyptic, as it became in the sequels—the setting evolved instead from the need to find run-down and abandoned locations in which Miller and his team could shoot for free. But there’s no arguing that Miller’s first feature was energetic and gritty, with dynamic action quite unlike most other films of the time. And it soon attracted a cult following, eventually leading to bigger things.
Mad Max was shot photochemically on 35mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras with Todd-AO anamorphic lenses. It was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents the film here in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, mastered from what seems to be the exact same (and likely 2K) film scan used for the 2015 Scream Factory Collector’s Edition. The difference is, Kino and Shout!/Scream each did their own unique color grading passes, and—here’e the real key—Kino did MUCH less digital clean-up. Colors on the Kino presentation are vibrant and accurate, but there are tons of dust pops and even the occasional scratch visible in the image. Overall image detail is modestly improved from the original 2010 MGM Blu-ray, so both this and the Scream disc are definitely mastered from a more recent scan than that. But there’s no way this is mastered from the fresh 4K scan that Kino has taken advantage of for their new Ultra HD release. So if you’re looking for the best version of this film on Blu-ray, the 2015 Scream disc (reviewed here but sadly now out of print) is definitely the way to go at least image-wise. However, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new 4K Ultra HD presentation beats them all by a mile (and you’ll find our review of that disc at The Bits now as well).
Sound is included in lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and it’s the original Australian version. You also get that original Australian in 2.0 mono as originally released and the cheesy 2.0 mono U.S. dub for completion’s sake, each in DTS-HD MA. Both Australian mixes are solid. And even though many of us first experienced Mad Max via the dubbed audio, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to experience it that way again. It’s really a curiosity more than anything else. It’s also strange to see Mel Gibson talking with someone else’s voice. Sonically, all the mixes are of roughly similar quality—solid, but nothing to write home about. The 5.1 soundstage is medium wide, with a bit of light panning and effects extended into the rear channels. Dialogue is mostly clean and the Brian May score isn’t half bad either. Optional subtitles are also included in English only.
In terms of special features, Kino’s Blu-ray includes a nice mix of new and old content, as follows:
- Audio Commentary with Jon Dowling, David Eggby, and Chris Murray, moderated by Tim Ridge
- Road Rage: An Interview with Director George Miller (HD – 30:06)
- Interviews with Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, and David Eggby (HD – 26:28)
- Mel Gibson: Birth of a Superstar (SD – 16:43)
- Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon (SD – 25:35)
- Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson (HD – 2:12)
- Radio Spots (HD – 3 spots – 2:05 in all)
- TV Spots (HD & SD – 5 spots – 1:27 in all)
- Trailer 1 (HD – 1:56)
- Trailer 2 (HD – 2:10)
- Stryker trailer (HD – 2:04)
The Road Rage interview is brand new and absolutely fantastic. It features Miller discussing this film and how it connects to the others in the series, how he got started in the movie business, how Gibson was cast, the conditions under which this particular film was made, etc. It was produced in the time of COVID, so Miller’s component is presented via low-quality webcam footage, intercut with clips from the new remastered HD presentation. But don’t let that deter you; this interview is terrific. It’s 30 minutes well spent. Though brief, the Trailers from Hell piece is also new, and the Stryker trailer is a new inclusion too. The latter is a schlock film from 1983 (produced and directed by Cirio H. Santiago in the Philippines) that’s of roughly the same lawless, post-apocalyptic genre. Call it a Mad Max knock-off, and not a good one, but it’s interesting to see the trailer nonetheless. The rest of this set’s content is carried over from Scream Factory’s excellent (and now out-of-print) 2015 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release, as well as a couple of EPK-style pieces produced back in the day by MGM and Warner Bros. for past DVD releases. That’s basically everything that’s been released previously for this film, though the Scream Blu-ray did include a photo gallery (with production stills, lobby cards, and international poster art) that’s not here.
While Mad Max lacks polish, the seeds that eventually gave rise to Miller’s recent Mad Max: Fury Road (see our review here) are all present in its 93-minute running time. Kino’s done a nice job with this 4K remaster, at least as it’s presented in 1080p HD on this disc. And again, the new Miller interview is terrific. One would guess the actual Ultra HD release is superior, but you certainly can’t go wrong with this disc in the meantime. It’s worth a look.
- Bill Hunt