Should I Watch..? 'Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome' (1985)
What's the big deal?
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (also known as Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome) is an action adventure film released in 1985 and is the third instalment of the Mad Max series, the last so far to feature star Mel Gibson. The cast includes singers Tina Turner (who also contributes to the soundtrack) and Angry Anderson, Bruce Spence and Frank Thring. The film sees Max encounter the murderous inhabitants of Bartertown led by Aunty Entity as well as a lost tribe of children who mistake him as their saviour. Co-directed by series creator George Miller and George Ogilvie, the film is dedicated to series producer and Miller's friend Byron Kennedy who was killed during a location scout for the film. Despite a warm critical reception, the film made less than was expected and the series was put on hiatus until the revival in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road with Tom Hardy replacing Gibson in the lead role.
What's it about?
With the world scorched after a nuclear apocalypse, former cop-turned-wanderer Max Rockatansky is crossing the desert in his camel-drawn wagon hen he is attacked and robbed by a flying pilot named Jedediah and his son. Following the tracks, Max arrives at the seedy community of Bartertown where his dangerous nature attracts the eye of the community's leader Aunty Entity. She agrees to help Max reacquire his possessions if he agrees to murder a potential usurper to her position.
Bartertown is fuelled by methane generated by a massive pig farm underneath the city ran by technical wizard Master, who rides around on the back of his massive bodyguard Blaster. Aunty wants Blaster taken out so that she has sole control of Bartertown but once Max backs down after discovering Blaster is mentally impaired, Aunty exiles Max into the desert to die where Max is found by a very strange group of children...
What's to like?
Anyone who has seen either of the first two pictures know that the Mad Max series is all about epic vehicular destruction and empty backgrounds stretching to the horizon telling their own story. What makes this entry stand out is that now Miller has the money to spend on sets, the film becomes a convincing and believable tale about the dregs of mankind scraping an existence together with what little they have left after the apocalypse. Bartertown is a nightmarish vision of civilisation brought to its knees, fuelled by pig excrement and ran by the ruthless. At the centre, the horrifying Thunderdome of the title only gets one scene but as fight scenes go, it might possibly be the greatest unarmed combat sequence before The Matrix came along. It's imaginative, thrilling and looks really quite dangerous!
With a bit more experience now under his belt, Gibson delivers a quietly effective performance as Max, a man in a hopeless search for his own humanity. His steely heroism provides this grubby film with a shining star at the centre, around which the mayhem ensues. But the supporting cast all combine well to make the film feel even more plausible - Turner is a revelation as Aunty, making you forget her roots as a powerful soul singer by giving the role a dark and malicious edge. The film offers the viewer so much more than either Mad Max or Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior but it still retains so brilliantly shot action sequences. The climatic chase is breath-taking with stunt-work taken to another level as drivers climb across moving vehicles and frantic henchmen cling onto the side of a speeding train.
- Miller was deep in mourning for the loss of his friend Byron Kennedy, even considering pulling out of the project altogether. To help him get over the loss, Miller directed only the action scenes while Ogilvie handled the rest of the film.
- Aunty Entity's chainmail dress weighed more than 55 kgs (121 lbs). The role was Turner's first in ten years after her cameo in Tommy but nowhere in the movie is the character called Aunty Entity - she is only ever referred to as Aunty.
- The children assume that Max is the saviour to take them to Tomorrow-Morrow Land. Coincidentally, the film Tomorrowland: A World Beyond was released just a week after the next film in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road, in 2015.
What's not to like?
With the investment of American money, there is a slight amount of dilution when it comes to the violence of previous instalments. The film has been watered down with fewer swear words, on-screen deaths and next to no adult content. It feels as though it has been made for a more mass-appeal audience, which is understandable but frustrating for fans of the other films, particularly the brutal second film. The film's story also felt as though it were made with this objective in mind, bringing in hordes of feral children to be rescued and allowing the film to end on a more optimistic note.
Other than this compromise, there isn't much else to be said against the film. A bit more lighting would have helped in the scenes underground and I was hoping that the Thunderdome would have at least one more fight to be shown, perhaps a show-down between Aunty and Max. But then, this wouldn't have worked with the final epic showdown between a ramshackle rail vehicle and dozens of cobbled-together cars armed to the teeth. I could happily sit down and watch that whole sequence all over again - it's so good that it's surprising Hollywood didn't pay more attention to Miller as he has a real talent for this kind of film-making. The Mad Max series has more intelligence, imagination and genuine excitement than Michael Bay's entire career.
Should I watch it?
Probably the best in the series so far, it's tragic that the film's difficult birth and unsatisfactory returns led to such a long hiatus. Fury Road demonstrated that with the right backing, the character of Max could have a truly great film. This third entry is a great picture to watch with some of the best action scenes ever seen in a pre-CG movie and terrific performances throughout the cast, helping to create a troubling vision of the future. It starts to get a bit Lord Of The Flies in the second half but this beats any of Mel's Lethal Weapon films.
Great For: fans of the series, survivalists, owners of black leather jackets, action fans
Not So Great For: pig farmers
What else should I watch?
Until Fury Road came along and smashed it out of the park, there weren't many other films to compare favourably with Miller's post-apocalyptic wanderer. These days, car movies tend to be strictly about racing and ludicrous stunts if the ever-popular The Fast And The Furious series is to be judged. Fast & Furious 7 was hugely successful with over $1.5 billion in takings and no doubt hopes will be higher for the next film after the recent Fast & Furious 8. But with the CG involved, I'm sceptical the films can match the brutal excitement of Miller's Max.
Looking further back, driving movies were seemingly more common and obsessed with stunts as opposed to speed. Films like Vanishing Point and Bullitt are fondly remembered by petrol-heads while the original 1969 version of The Italian Job even manages to make the Mini Cooper look cool by having the little blighters race all over, around and even under the city of Turin. Even Burt Reynolds' redneck classic Smokey And The Bandit had that mighty Trans-Am to savour, though I prefer my American muscle cars to have a touch of class and a roof.
"Mad" Max Rockatansky
Jedediah, the pilot
George Miller & George Ogilvie
Terry Hayes & George Miller
Release Date (UK)
18th October, 1985
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
© 2017 Benjamin Cox