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After months of waiting, countless release dates and numerous delays Mad Max finally makes its way onto Region 4 DVD. An Aussie film that literally doesn’t pull any punches, this classic 1979 flick scooped the awards pool and gave audiences a glimpse of one of Australia’s finest acting exports. My guess is those patient fans won’t be disappointed when they relive the film on our favourite format. It’s finally time to watch Max get mad. Very mad.

The film starts off “a few years from now” with a brilliant chase sequence involving a lunatic cop-killer nicknamed Night Rider and his female sidekick, four police officers and a couple of cool-looking Main Force Patrol (MFP) pursuit vehicles. Enter motorcycle cop Max Rockatansky, Mad Max for short. He soon puts an end to the chase, ending in one almighty explosion.

But Max is a family man too, caring for his son Sprog (huh!?) and adoring wife Jessie who isn’t too comfortable with Max’s job as a police officer. When the Night Rider’s friends surface to seek some retribution Max decides he wants to take an extended break. But the gang is hell-bent on making life extremely hard for him, hunting him down to get the ultimate revenge.

Intimidation at its best
The rest of the plot follows a pretty simple course and works extremely well because of it. In what is basically trash cinema on a shoestring budget, the success of Mad Max was a huge surprise to all involved. The film is now an enormous cult classic and gave the filmmakers an unprecedented profit for a film with such a limited amount of money to spend.

The harsh Australian landscape is used brilliantly to portray an outback highway overrun by freaks and gangs who terrorise anyone passing through, including the local police. It’s also an excuse to show off some impressive motor vehicles, both the two and four-wheeled varieties. But it’s good old Mel Gibson who is the key to this flick, of course. Playing the title character, this was the film that arguably gave him a foot in the door to Hollywood. A household name the world over today, he was an unknown Australian back in ’79 but thankfully his brilliant performance didn’t go unnoticed. He might be pretty raw, perhaps deliberately, but there’s that element of class he carries which really shows through. And the performances of the eccentric supporting cast give this film the edge it was looking for. Fans of Australian drama will notice a very young Steve Bisley as Max’s cop buddy, among a handful of other faces who went on to bigger things on local TV.

There’s no doubting the fact that Mad Max is an attitude-filled, violent thrill ride that slots nicely into the category of classic. Upon revisiting the film none of the effectiveness had worn off, proving that it certainly hasn’t aged over time save for the limitations in filmmaking those twenty-odd years ago. Those not used to a bit of Aussie hardness and humour may find the film a little odd but will soon realise just how trashy but cool this one really is. Brilliant.

A little strange
Max certainly couldn’t get mad about this transfer, because it comes up an absolute treat. Presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced, a film of such vintage has no right to look this good. But thankfully it does, mostly due to an incredibly sharp and vibrant presentation. Colours are very bright without being over-saturated and the inevitable black specks aren’t all that distracting on the whole.

Filmmaking techniques have changed a lot over the years, particularly with set design, costumes and framing and some of this is obvious in the film. However, the transfer really does show how well those techniques were used in their time even though they might look a little strange to audiences trained on the look of post-80’s film. You couldn’t ask for a better-looking transfer on this one.

If you’re audio equipment isn’t DTS compatible then I suggest you save some of your cash and change the situation. The full bitrate DTS 5.1 soundtrack included on this disc is so impressive I can’t begin to tell you how much you’ll enjoy it. But I’ll try.

There were originally two dubs of the soundtrack, one for American audiences (to make the dialogue a little more intelligible to US ears, I assume) and the original Australian dub that sounds perfectly fine to me. Thankfully some of the problems with dialogue being drowned out by effects and music have been rectified, this problem only cropping up in a couple of instances throughout the film.

There is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also included on the disc but it lacks the usual punch and clarity that the DTS mix provides. Most of the dialogue and general noise comes from the front but there have been some great efforts made to increase the use of the surrounds and immerse the viewer in the action. And it definitely works.

Widescreen rules, OK?
The music, designed by a man named Brian May, really does help build the tension and give those romantic scenes a bit of a boost. It’s a pretty corny mix, full of booms and bangs any time something mildly dramatic is taking place, but it fits the trashy style of the film to a tea. And boy does it sound impressive booming out of the speakers.

Subwoofer action must have been high on the agenda when mixing this soundtrack because it’ll get one hell of a workout with this flick. It is utilised extremely well to punch out all those low-frequency booms and give those car chases and explosions the little extra force that’ll shift the family cat to the other end of the house.

All in all this film has never sounded better and I wouldn’t hesitate to rank this one up there with the best of them.

Max will definitely be mad about this one.

How on earth a classic Australian film can be denied some of the extra features present on an overseas release that hit stores more than a year before it was available locally is totally beyond me. If you take a look at Australian films that haven’t seen the light of day in Region 4 just yet you’ll see how truly bizarre the situation is. The US has seen a release of The Castle, one of Australia’s best ever films, and the UK has been given recent hit Risk on DVD, albeit both of them bare-bones releases. How these two can be distributed in a different country but be totally overlooked in the place where they will undoubtedly sell the most copies is truly amazing. But I digress. Here is what is included on the Mad Max disc.

The only meaningful supplement is a text-based fact file entitled To The Max – Behind The Scenes Of A Cult Classic. Divided into eight parts and covering a whole range of issues to do with the production, there is quite a lot of interesting reading. Probably more suited to a visual, live-action featurette rather than a text-based file but sadly this is all we are given.

The only other extras on the disc are two trailers, one for the sequel Mad Max 2 and the following sequel Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Who was the brains behind this move then? Where the hell is the trailer for the film that is actually on the disc? Unbelievable.

Die hard fans will know full well there’s an American release with a commentary track, two featurettes and various other bits and pieces that put the Region 4 extras package to shame. What the US disc misses out on, however, is the stunning DTS soundtrack. A bit of a toss-up really. You’re choice of which one to buy. Heck, just buy both!

Taking aim
Roadshow have done an excellent job at bringing this film to DVD in the best way possible with outstanding video and audio packages. Sadly no strings were pulled to find the extras available on an overseas version, so there are a couple of tough decisions to be made. The full bitrate DTS soundtrack helps the Region 4 disc a lot, because it really does sound top notch. Those few who haven’t seen the film should go out and grab a copy straight away and see a young, raw Mel Gibson take this low-budget, techno-trash cult classic by the horns and drive it to overwhelming success.