Mad Max (Blu-ray) (1979)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Production Notes-TO THE MAX: Behind The Scenes Of A Cult Classic
|Year Of Production||1979|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||George Miller|
Roadshow Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||No|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, very mildly|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
A note here first: People know my stance against the bundling of DVDs with the BD and no option to buy the BD on its own. Some might find it a genuine surprise to learn that the Latin word from which fascism is derived means "bundle". But lest anyone think I am unfair, Mad Max has been available in Region A for a not inconsiderable number of months. But I refused to buy it. Then when I saw it on the shelf at the local JB Hi-Fi, instant sale! Why? Because the package had the high-definition version that I want, and nothing but. If what I want to say to MGM (the distributor in America) could be summed up in a movie line, it would be a Mickey Rourke one from Iron Man 2: "You lose..."
That said, it feels like an eon since I reviewed Mad Max on DVD. It was a much talked-about disc, partly because it had almost none of the extras to be found on the US version of the disc; mostly because it was one of the few commercially-released discs in this country with a full-bitrate DTS soundtrack. At the time, it was claimed by DTS themselves that at the full bitrate a normal human ear could not tell the difference between the DTS version and the uncompressed master. More on this point shortly.
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is a police officer in the near future. This near future, looking not very futuristic even by 1979 standards, has seen society fall into anarchy. The police are understaffed, underfunded, and under-equipped. Nowhere is this more evident than when a crazed hoon called The Nightrider (Vince Gil) steals a police car and races the police around what looks like the outer North of Melbourne (at that time). After some spectacular crashes that leave the police, including Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) in various states of injury, Max chases down The Nightrider and lets him crash into a wreck which sends The Nightrider up in a big ball of flame. If The Nightrider were just a loner hoon with no gang affiliations that would be the end of the case and it would be a short film. Unfortunately for Max and his family, consisting of wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and son Sprog (Brendan Heath), The Nightrider does have some affiliations and they are with some rather mean characters. Primary among these are The Toecutter (Hugh-Keays Byrne), Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry), and Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns).
Made on a budget that would not have even bought lunch on films made just a few years later, Mad Max is both a triumph of a talented filmmaker's will to get something done and an example of what Australians can do when they stop talking about how well they think they can do something and just do it. Hugh Keays-Byrne really steals the show as the primary villain, and the disc is worth getting just for his performance.
Mad Max was also one of the first films in Australia to be shot with an anamorphic lens (Todd-AO 35 according to the credits). Some major technical issues also exist with the film, which I will explain in more detail during the Audio section.
The transfer is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio within a 1920x1080P window. The sharpness of this transfer is variable. Most of the time it is so sharp and detailed that only the film artefacts truly give away the age of the feature. But there are lapses, such as the shot in which The Toecutter is seen from behind standing over the coffin, where the image is washed out. Given the dramatic contrasts in the sharpness of these shots and the rest of the film, it would not surprise me to learn that they are this diffuse because something went wrong during principal photography. Speaking of which, the same appear-to-be-missing frame effect in the previous DVD is visible at 05:03 on this disc.
The few night and dark shots have limited shadow detail, but are well-lit enough that this never gets in the way of the shots making sense. Even in 1979 dollars, three hundred grand does not buy you a lot of shadow detail, so we will just have to accept this. There is no low-level noise in the transfer. The colours of the transfer are bright and vivid. The set decoration, cars and costumes give away the age of the film both with their style and colour arrangement, but the colours themselves look like they could have been shot yesterday.
Grain is occasionally evident in the backgrounds, mostly as another clue to the age of the film. Compression artefacts were not evident in the picture on a 50" screen. The transfer is compressed in the AVCHD codec, and even with a single layer there appears to have been plenty of space to fit this feature and the extras. Some wobble is evident in the picture from time to time, but almost always in POV car/bike-chase scenes making this an artefact of the principal photography stage. Film artefacts were evident from time to time, but well within acceptable limits for a 32-year-old independent production.
The previous DVD release of Mad Max was at the time only one of two that had a full-bitrate DTS soundtrack. As previously stated, DTS claimed that the difference between full-bitrate DTS and an uncompressed master was invisible to the human ear. I can say that this is actually pretty close to the truth. I can detect some subtle differences between this track and the DVD's, but this might have more to do with the fact that this lossless soundtrack is 24-bit as opposed to 16-bit.
Three soundtracks are on this disc. The disc's menu claims to have a monaural version of the American dubbed soundtrack. Selecting that and the third soundtrack on the disc, however, only seem to bring a Dolby Digital stereo version of the original Australian audio.
The first, and default, soundtrack is the original Australian dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, with the other tracks being in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Sadly, no audio commentary or isolated score is in evidence. Dialogue quality is a little on the variable side. Most of the time the dialogue is clear and high in fidelity. John Ley’s lines through the artificial voice box are a little difficult to make out, and some whispered lines are difficult too. Again, this is a 32-year-old film with a budget that, adjusted for inflation, even Ed Wood would have turned his nose up at. Allowances need to be made. However, nothing can excuse the distortion evident in the mechanic's and Johnny The Boy's voices in the last third of the film. In the former case especially, serious clipping is evident, making him sound like he is auditioning to be the new Napalm Death vocalist. Distortion threatens every time an actor yells, such as the scene on the beach, but fortunately the dialogue most necessary for the plot to make sense is quite clear. No audio sync problems were evident other than the aforementioned John Ley lines, where the slight delay furthers the illusion anyway. No clicks, pops, or dropouts were noted.
The music in this film is credited to Brian May. No, not that Brian May. The music is extremely bold and as low-budget as the rest of the film. That said, it enhances the mood of the scenes it is in very well. I do not know if it qualifies as music, but there is also a dubbed-in effect that sounds a bit like a rattlesnake through a Commodore Amiga that I consider part of the music. It appears when The Nightrider's coffin is first seen and when Jim Goose hears Johnny The Boy call out The Nightrider's name in a drugged haze.
The surround channels are sparingly used for the echo on Steve Bisley’s voice ("hey fella, you're a turkey, you know that?"), music, bird calls, and other environment effects. The best use is probably when the motorcycles pass the ute in which The Toecutter is carrying the coffin. They are not worked terribly hard, but the encoding keeps things nicely clear and directional. Considering the age and budget of the film, not to mention how it was taken care of during the interim (almost not at all), I think this is as good as it is going to get with this film. The subwoofer is used very occasionally supporting cars, gunshots, and the very occasional low-frequency reflex from the music. You could probably turn it off with this soundtrack and not miss too much.
|Surround Channel Use|
Unfortunately, these extras are all recyclings from the previous DVD release. No commentary tracks or insightful featurettes are offered. Something showing Mel Gibson and Hugh Keays-Byrne as they are nowadays would have been especially effective. Oh well.
You can buy the Region B Australian edition without having to buy a DVD with it. Enough said.
I make no secret of the fact that I find some things that proudly proclaim how Australian they are to be loathsome, even beneath contempt. Magda Suzbanski and Darryl Somers being two of my favourite examples. Mad Max is a polar opposite of those things, and one look at the story being told reveals why. If, like me, you saw Mad Max 2 before the original and want to see the actual transition from family man/policeman to burned out shell, this disc is the best way we are ever likely to have of doing that.
The video transfer is good, especially within the limitations of the source material. The audio transfer is good, but suffers a lot of problems with distortion in the dialogue. There may as well be no extras.
|DVD||Panasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-P50U20A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer|