Mad Max Anthology
Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie.
Starring Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward, Bruce Spence, Mike Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Emil Minty, Kjell Nilsson, Virginia Hey, Tina Turner, Adam Cockburn, Frank Thring, Angelo Rossito, Paul Larsson, Angry Anderson, Robert Grubb, Helen Buday, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton
Warner Bros. has released all the Mad Max films in one collection before, but this is the first time the studio has issued them together in 4K. In fact, the new Mad Max Anthology marks the first time Mad Max 2 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome have appeared on 4K discs. All four films look spectacular, but Mad Max 2 is the only one to include any bonus features. Codes for digital copies are included too.
Warner Bros.’ new Mad Max Anthology marks the first time Mad Max 2 (known as The Road Warrior in the US) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome have been issued in 4K. The first film hit 4K last year, courtesy of Kino Lorber, while the latest installment, Mad Max: Fury Road, has been available in the format since 2016.
Warner says that all four films were remastered in 4K from scans of the original camera negatives, although it’s not clear if the Mad Max 4K disc uses the same master as the one Kino Lorber released. A comparison of the two discs showed that there wasn’t much, if any, difference between them.
All four films show a moderate amount of grain, even Fury Road. I don’t have the previous 4K disc of that one, so I don’t know how it compares, but like the other films, it looks beautiful. These movies tend to have a darker color palette, especially the many underground scenes in Beyond Thunderdome, but they hold up well from beginning to end. My only quibble is that Mad Max 2 looks like it had DNR applied a bit too heavily in some scenes – the characters sometimes have a plastic-like quality to them. But, thankfully, that’s not the case for much of the movie.
The bonus features are scant in this set. Only the second film has any, and they include an introduction by Leonard Maltin, the documentary Road War: The Making of Road Warrior, and a commentary track with director George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler. Maltin’s introduction gives a good overview of why Warner Bros. decided to ditch the Mad Max 2 title and call it The Road Warrior. (The film included here says Mad Max 2 at the beginning.)
Road War features Miller, star Mel Gibson, co-screenwriter Terry Hayes, and others looking back at the making of the film, from the director’s initial ideas for it to the finished product. Several minutes are spent examining Max as an archetypal character not unlike a samurai, a gunslinger, or even a Nordic hero. Miller cites Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces as a key influence on the script.
Finally, the commentary track has Miller and Sempler getting into the nuts and bolts of the making of the film, including technical details like the kinds of camera lenses used and which shots were handheld. There’s very little dead air and almost none of the dreaded “let’s describe what we’re seeing onscreen right now” stuff that plagues lesser commentaries.
I don’t have any previous home video releases of Mad Max 2, save a digital copy I bought on iTunes a while back, so I don’t know how those bonus features compare to what was originally offered, although it seems clear that all of them were ported over from previous editions.
I’m also not sure why the other three films don’t have any bonus content. It’s not uncommon for 4K discs to skip the extras to maximize space for the video files, but commentary tracks shouldn’t take up much room. And if the 95-minute Mad Max 2 could have some extras, I think the first film, which clocks in at 93 minutes, could have at least had some too.
However, you also get codes for digital copies of all four films. Now let’s take a look at each of the movies:
Mad Max (1979)
Max Rockatansky’s first outing put Mel Gibson on the map. Set in an ambiguous dystopian future, the film was bootstrapped by George Miller after leaving the medical field. In fact, the need to film in cheap locations led the filmmaker to a dilapidated area near Melbourne, Australia, which in turn prompted him to change the setting from the present day. Given the turmoil over oil and other commodities at the time, it probably made sense to a lot of people that the world was headed toward a fate not unlike what’s depicted in the film.
Over four decades since its release, Mad Max still holds up as a great action film featuring some of the most exciting and death-defying stunts ever filmed. (Watch for the stuntman who hits his head on a motorcycle wheel.) Like all the Mad Max films, the plot isn’t its strong suit, but that’s okay.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior, 1981)
Director George Miller had captured lightning in a bottle with Mad Max, so he quickly set out making a sequel that would take advantage of the bigger budget at his disposal. Known as Mad Max 2 in most of the world but The Road Warrior in the United States (Warner Bros. didn’t think most people had heard of the first film, which was true), the sequel outperformed its predecessor at the box office and among fans and critics alike.
Taking a cue from Sergio Leone’s “Man with no name” westerns, as well as a bit from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo/Sanjuro, Mad Max 2 finds our hero helping a group of settlers defend themselves from outlaws who call themselves the Marauders. (I believe it’s a law that all dystopian stories need to feature roving bands of bad guys.) In the process, Max rediscovers the humanity that he lost when his family died in the first film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The third Mad Max movie has often been seen as many as a gimmick film, since it co-stars Tina Turner, who was coming off her mega-hit 1984 album, Private Dancer. While she was never going to threaten Meryl Streep’s film career, Turner holds her own as Aunty Entity, who co-runs Bartertown with the dwarf-giant combo Master-Blaster. She tasks Max with defeating Blaster in Thunderdome if he wants to get back his vehicle and equipment.
After Max refuses to kill Blaster, he’s exiled into the wilderness and is found, near death, by a group of children descended from the survivors of a plane crash and living in an oasis they call “Planet Erf.” They believe Max is the plane’s pilot, who had left with their parents to find civilization, and when some of them leave and Max tries to help them, he ends up crossing paths with Aunty Entity again.
In retrospect, Beyond Thunderdome is an underrated entry in the series. It may not have as much non-stop action as other installments, but its heart contains some nice thoughts on the nature of family, which is an obvious sub-text running through all the Mad Max films.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Whether you consider it a reboot or a continuation of Max’s story (director George Miller said: “It’s kind of revisiting a familiar place for me.”), Mad Max: Fury Road is a love letter to action movies. Like its predecessors, it’s light on plot and heavy on action, but the action here is so over the top, so wild and crazy, that I can’t help but love it.
Tom Hardy replaced Mel Gibson in the title role, but he brings the same edgy, laconic “Man with No Name” energy to the part. I actually prefer him as Max, since Gibson also had a smarminess to him that sometimes felt like he wasn’t taking the character seriously. Hardy is more believable as a guy who’s haunted by trauma but willing to access the humanity buried deep within him when necessary.
Fury Road features Max running afoul of the dictator Imortan Joe and his militia of War Boys, who have been sent to retrieve one of his lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa. Furiosa is on the run with Joe’s five wives, hoping to get them to The Green Place, where they can live out the rest of their days. Like in the previous two films, Max initially acts only out of self-preservation before deciding to be altruistic. (I don’t count the first movie because it’s purely a revenge story.)
The action scenes in Fury Road easily top the ones in any of the previous Max movies, and they’re even more astonishing when you consider that many of them were filmed with actual vehicles in real locations. Sure, there was CGI used throughout the film, but whenever possible, Miller went with practical effects. The end result is a stunning achievement that sets up Max as yet another modern day movie franchise. And we all know how much Hollywood loves that kind of thing these days.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★