Growing up I am relatively sure that I was introduced to the Mad Max movies in reverse order. Like many people the first one I saw starred Tina Turner and featured the line “Who run Barter Town!” This also happens to be the one which most people have seen if they have seen any of the three films (at least that’s what I have observed in my own experiences). Next I saw The Road Warrior and learned to “just walk away from the gasoline.” Of the series this is the one that people either haven’t seen, or didn’t realize it was a Mad Max film until later. Finally I saw it. I saw the original. I heard the gospel of the Night Rider, and I saw Mad Max. Now that I’ve built up some drama I’m going to go ahead and ease the tension with a simple categorized review.
The Good – Nitro-Fueled Violence
At their core the Mad Max movies are action films, and as would be appropriate of every series, the first installment expresses this in its purest form. This purity comes from the lack of “flash.” Cars don’t just explode in the real world like they do in Hollywood, and Mad Max embraces that. Cars and motorcycles shatter and crumple, but there are only three explosions, and they are all at least semi-explained (they are still bigger infernos than they likely would be). Scenes are filmed from speeding cars and bikes to really put you into the moment and make you feel the power roaring down the highway. While the human to human action is actually rather minimal, it is no less brutal. I don’t want to give anything away, but the final act of the movie is one of the cruelest honest-lies I have seen in film.
Unfortunately The Road Warrior does not maintain quite the same level of truth, but it is also a much more fantastical movie by comparison. It does however possess more human on human violence and does what it can to make it visceral, but not over the top. The series is based on being as real as possible, and the second installment does a great job of maintaining that standard despite having a rather fantastical aesthetic.
The Bad – Watered Down
But then the third movie came around. I think at this point American mainstream took over a bit as the violence got cartoony. Well… cartoony for Mad Max. The character Ironbar actually personifies the comedification of violence rather well for the movie. His expressions are exaggerated, and he really never comes off as a true threat. His first fight with Max consists of him getting bopped in the face a few times and thrown over a railing to then be seen hanging on and angry (laughtrack!). Later on we see him manning an old railway handcar all by himself (laughtrack!). Even when he should just be ended in a fiery inferno we see him blackened and screaming on the front of a truck (LAUGHTRACK!).
Not only does Thunderdome feel like a watered down action film overall, but a good deal of it actually mirrors The Road Warrior. We find max caught up between a group of people that wants to make a pilgrimage to a promised land and a crazed oppressor who is hungry for power. Both climax in a car chase/battle centered on one large vehicle, and both involve Max getting left behind by those he helped find freedom as well as those who might want to kill him. (whited out for spoilers)
The Ugly – Interesting Thoughts
I won’t completely knock Thunderome though. I actually think it did some really cool stuff. While I don’t like the overall tone of the movie, I do love what it did with languages (here is where I piss off my Linguistics-major compatriots). There are three distinct dialects of English used in the film. The standard dialect that Max, Auntie, and most of the characters speak the Oasis dialect that is spoken by the oasis orphans, and the Master dialect spoken by Master. These dialects add character to the setting of the movie and help define the characters who speak them. The children were orphaned at an extremely young age, so they stopped hearing standard English a good while ago and seem to have preserved many of the speech errors that children are prone to produce. Not only that, but they have incorporated some words into their vocabulary in weird ways based on how they remembered hearing them during their pre-orphan crisis. This melds into their superstitious vision of the world as well.
Then we have Master who speaks very broken English. At first I always found this very counter to his character. He is the only engineer in the entire area! Why is he speaking in such a distorted way? But then I thought about his potential development as a character (so yes, I’m probably interpreting something in a way it wasn’t meant to be interpreted, but it makes me enjoy the movie more, so leave me alone) and where this dialect may have come from. As I already said, he is the only man of science in the movie, so if we assume he was an advanced engineer pre-apocalypse, then we can also assume that he probably spoke with big fancy words and plenty of jargon. But as the only person left with that background no one else could probably understand him. He seems rather curmudgeonly, so where he could have started to teach people his trade and language he probably just simplified his phrases into simple commands to just get the job done. Combined with Master’s near symbiotic relationship with Blaster and how well he could (more of “could not”) understand advanced phrases it is possible that Master just fell into the habit of speaking with only subjects and verbs.
There is of course plenty more that could be said of each of the three films, but if you haven’t seen them I would rather you just get out there, watch them, and pay attention to some of the cool intricacies floating around yourself. Have some trailers for even more motivation!