Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index


Directed by George Miller (1981, Warner Bros.)
Starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence and Michael Preston

A rogue exchanges favors for gasoline after being attacked by bandits near a desert settlement.

View count: Twice



1+ stars+

May 24th, 2002 on TV  

I know that this is a classic, and that it has (or had?) a large cult following, but the movie itself is just not very good, the acting is pretty bad, and many times it is difficult to see what is going on.  However, incredibly, they manage to tell a decent story, making this movie much more than the sum of its parts.

I was ready to turn the movie off after the first five minutes.  The acting was so poor, and the texture, coming from the old print, I'm sure, was almost unwatchable. The dialog was almost nonexistent through the whole movie, which repeatedly amazed me.  I don't think there was more than a single page of coherent dialog!  I kept with the movie, however, and was rewarded by the action, which is pretty impressive.

The beginning narration brings us up to speed on the nuclear war and collapse of civilization decades earlier.  It also summarizes the first Mad Max movie, I believe, where Max loses his family to the gasoline bandits.  I saw that movie once, and am not really interested in seeing it again.  I don't remember a single thing about it!  The third installment, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome I remember to be quite good, but also very sappy.  This installment, the second in a trilogy, has what is probably the unique honor of being the best in a series.

And it's not even that good.  But still, it grew on me, and the action sequence at the end was almost fantastic -rugged, and completely believable. 

Max, like everybody else in this land, takes care of himself.  He steals gas wherever he can, he doesn't help when a man is shot nearby, nor when the woman is raped and killed as well.  But when the bandits take off, he goes to get the gas left over. 

But it turns out that the man is still alive, and so he offers even more gas in return for bringing him back to his small community.  This is an oil refinery, under siege by the bandits, which Max was scouting out after another trade with the gyro captain.  He is taken by the community, stripped of anything valuable, including his car, and almost tossed out, when the bandits attack again. 

Listening to their options: trust the leader of the bandits to let them walk away free or stand and fight to the death, Max offers them another: he passed a truck rig not long ago, which could haul their oil tanker to safety.  They give him some gas, letting him go fetch the truck by foot!  That must have been a long walk! 

Fortunately, he had tied the gyro captain nearby, and once they arrive at the gyro, they get to the rig fairly quickly.  The chase to get inside the compound was once again really heart-pounding, and I wondered if he was going to have any tires left when he reached safety.  Several more people from the community were killed as a few bandits also manage to get inside the compound. 

Max doesn't want to help them after this.  He wants his car back, with plenty of gas, and he takes off.  But the bandits are waiting, and he doesn't get very far before they overtake him and wreck his car, which was quite a surprise to me.  When harvesting the fuel form his car, however, they set off a booby-trap and the whole thing blows.  Max hid behind a rock, but is still pretty bruised up, that he can barely walk.  Strangely enough, he takes the death of his dog in stride, never baring any emotions. 

Thinking of that, he never shows any emotions through the whole movie. All he wants to do is survive.  He has hardened himself against everything and everyone.  Whether he is driving his car, trying to escape the bandits, or fighting for his life, he shows us the same side of  his personality -not much there. 

The climax takes up almost a third of the movie.  After being rescued by air, Max takes the oil rig on the road, leading the bandits on a merry chase.  One by one, his defenders fall.  They are a rowdy bunch.  Many of the defenders and bandits get killed in spectacular fashion, some of the highlights of the chase!  Several times the bandits use nitric oxide (or something like that) to boost their speed.  I wonder what all the fuss is about oil, if this stuff works better.  It's probably even more expensive, or rare...

What is so spectacular about the ending is that Max was actually driving a decoy.  The rig was full of sand!  The real gas got away when the rest of the community drove out in the other direction, abandoning the refinery and blowing it up.  Strangely enough, when Max finds out about this betrayal, he doesn't look angry -or show any emotion whatsoever.  Hmmm...

The characters were barely characters in this movie.  The bad guys were insane.  The good guys made some sense.  The only one besides Max who had anything real to do was the savage child!  He took Max as a role model.  He got to play with his boomerang, even killing somebody with it.  He tagged along on the race at the end, but I don't see that he actually helped.  Still, without speaking a single word, he provided some emotional attachment.

The ending seemed rather discontinuous, as if several scenes were cut.  The gyro captain, his gyro nearly destroyed, comes to pick the kid up.  Presumably, they offered Max a place in their society, as well, but he declined.  Next we see the gyro captain and the savage boy riding along in the convoy.  How did they get there?  His propellers were all destroyed, so he would have had to drive.  Did the convoy stop and wait for them?  That would have been dangerous, I think.  It is not really a problem, but I wonder if we suddenly ran out of time.

I still can't believe there was so little dialog in this film.  The movie had to survive simply on mannerisms.  The acting was not so great that this was achieved.  However, it is an action film, and as such, had to have monumental chase scenes.  Surprisingly, there were no gunfights.  It looked like bullets were prized even more than gas.  But the chase scenes, using crossbows and arrows, were much more spectacular than they would have been with machine guns. 

And so the movie was at least entertaining.  The parts between the chase scenes were still quite interesting, even if it was difficult to watch.  Laugh a lot at those scenes; it's the only way to survive through them. But stick around for the true action, which was really cool.


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