Mad Max (1979)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-Canyon
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Trailer-Mad Max 2; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Notes-To The Max-Behind The Scenes Of A Cult Classic (8)
|Year Of Production||1979|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (59:11)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||George Miller|
Roadshow Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, if you count the visible motorbike gear logos|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Mad Max is quite an influential film in a number of ways, especially to those who want to do filmmaking on the cheap. In fact, it has been listed in the Guinness Book Of Records for about twenty years as having the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any film (Blair Witch doesn't count as far as I am concerned because it is a collection of footage taken with a camera tied to an epileptic seal's head, not a film). Kevin Costner tried to do his own version on water, and ended up making one of the most over-expensive flops in cinematic history (did it look like it cost over a hundred million?). I'm certain that every film featuring car crashes that has been made since 1980 has been in some way influenced by Mad Max, and you don't need to be a racecar driver to see why.
For such a celebrated film, however, the plot is exceedingly simple. The story is set, as the subtitle states, a few years from now. Society is falling apart at the seams for reasons that are never adequately explained until a prologue in the sequel, and a police force called the Main Force Patrol is attempting to maintain some sort of order. One member of this police force is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), an average man with a wife named Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and a son they call Sprog (Brendan Heath). The story begins as some of Max's comrades, including a man called Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), are chasing a fugitive by the name of Crawford Montizano, or the Nightrider (Vincent Gil) as he is better known. The chase ends with several serious injuries for the MFP, and the Nightrider going up in a ball of flames.
The Nightrider had some rather despicable friends, a gang of street thugs including the likes of Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns), Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry), and a leader called The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Naturally, they come calling in order to pick up their fallen comrade's corpse, an event which ends with some of the local citizenry being assaulted for no readily apparent reason. Johnny is arrested by the MFP after this, but legal technicalities force them to release him, which results in an exchange of some rather hostile words. Soon, an all-out war breaks out between the MFP and The Toecutter's gang, which results in Max deciding that he wants out of the force, but as he goes and takes some leave on the advice of MFP boss Fifi Macaffee (Roger Ward), The Toecutter and his mob come searching for him.
Big fans of Mad Max and its sequels will know how the rest of the story goes, so I will stop the synopsis there in case anyone hasn't seen this film yet. It has been described by Mel Gibson as "the classiest B-grade trash ever made", and the series as a whole made him a major star. The real question, of course, is why Australians should pay thirty-five dollars to own this classic on DVD, and boy have I got a lot of answers to that question following shortly...
VHS is dead. Long live DVD-Video.
Having seen this film on VHS back in the mid-1990s, I was pretty much expecting to see a washed-out, faded transfer that, while acceptable, didn't match the film at its full glory. What I got instead was a surprise of such magnitude that it rudely shoves The Fellowship Of The Ring and pretty much everything else I've seen this year off the perch for best transfer of 2002.
Mad Max was shot using the Todd-AO anamorphic process, and shown theatrically at 2.35:1, just like the cover states. This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. There are literally hundreds of shots in this film that don't make sense unless they are presented this way, but two of my favourite examples are when the gang pull into town on their motorcycles at 19:16, and when Bubba Zanetti is conversing with one of the locals at 20:03. These are shots that the great Sergio Leone would have been proud of, and exhibits of why Pan And Scan should be outlawed.
There isn't a word in English to describe how much sharper this transfer is than any other version of the film I have seen. Subtle details such as specks of dirt on roads or scratches in the paint on cars leap out with amazing clarity, and the only clue to the twenty-three year age of this film, other than the film artefacts, is the set design. The shadow detail is good, although not as good as we expect from more recent films, and there is no low-level noise.
The colours in the film also provide a subtle clue as to the age of the film, but they are rendered so beautifully in this transfer that few people are going to notice. This is one transfer where every blue, green, and red is so vibrant that even those of us who are still using CRTs for viewing DVDs will be wondering if someone didn't drop something in our drinks. There are no composite artefacts to report.
MPEG artefacts are not present in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of a few minor instances of aliasing on such things as a fence at 59:15, some windows at 68:56, and the white line on the road at 82:16. While there are some more examples of edges being rendered in a jagged fashion, these are the most objectionable, and they are pretty minor at that. Film artefacts are more of a nuisance, with frequent patches of small black and white marks on the picture that are very small in size, but very frequent. However, when one bears in mind the age of this film and the amount of grief the source materials have been put through, the quality of this transfer is simply mind-blowing.
There are English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles on this disc. There are some minor variations on the spoken dialogue, but they are generally easy to ignore.
This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 12 and 13, as Max and his family arrive at the farm at 59:11. There is a noticeable interruption to one of the musical cues, but this is definitely one of the better places for a layer change.
Another reason why VHS is dead in the water is simply because it cannot take advantage of a DTS 5.1 soundtrack, and this one will kick the viewer in the butt until their spleen comes out of their nose. It makes The Phantom Menace and RoboCop: Special Edition sound like Disney On Ice.
There are two soundtracks on this DVD, both of them in the original Australian English: a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack at 448 kilobits per second, and a DTS 5.1 soundtrack at 1536 kilobits per second. While some people with a sick sense of humour will want to hear the American dub, which is present on the Region 1 DVD along with the original monaural Australian track, nobody is going to care once they hear the DTS soundtrack. Most of the comments I am making here refer to the DTS soundtrack.
One of the major problems I had with the old mid-1990s VHS pressing of this film was that the dialogue was frequently unintelligible. One good example is when Max interrogates the mechanic about The Toecutter's gang at 72:54. There is even one line from the mechanic ("never heard of him") that cannot be heard at all on the VHS version. Thankfully, every syllable of this conversation is intelligible on this DVD.
There is a mild distortion apparent later in this scene when the mechanic is shouting at Max. This is the only scene in the film where I noticed a problem with distortion (the very minor distortion in people's screams and one of the more unusual sound effects used when we see the Nightrider's coffin are inherent to the source material). It is present in both soundtracks, so this can be put down to a source material problem - it was one of the worst sequences in the old master that was used for the VHS cassette, so I did expect a problem here, just not one so minor.
There are no problems with audio sync, although John Ley's voice does sound a little out when he is meant to be speaking with the aid of an artificial voice box. Whether this effect is intentional or not, I couldn't say, but it does look rather funny if you're watching for it.
The music in this film is composed by Brian May, and no, he's not the same Brian May as the one from Queen. Be that as it may, the score in this film gives an excellent sense of creepiness, or any other feel, when required. The sound of the saxophone is particularly haunting, drifting through the channels like the wailing of a ghost. At certain points of the film, such as when we first see The Nightrider and his coffin later in the film, a sound that reminds me of a rat squealing combined with a rattlesnake wagging its tail can be heard. Whether this is meant to be a part of the score or just another sound effect, it is pretty effective in giving viewers the willies.
The surround channels are extremely aggressively utilised during the car chase sequences, with passing cars and explosions making the most use out of the rears. Right off the bat, when the Mad Max logo zooms into view at 0:14, we are told in no uncertain terms that this soundtrack is going to use all six channels with the same sort of aggression that Max uses to introduce his enemies to their maker. My favourite use, however, is at 26:47, for Steve Bisley's voice as he delivers the famous "hey fella, you're a turkey" speech. One other excellent use is when Max's car revs up at 9:05, with the surround channels and the subwoofer working in unison to place the viewer right in the driver's seat.
The subwoofer was aggressively utilised by both soundtracks. Actually, that's understating things by a long way - the subwoofer here was used like a weapon, firing out low-frequency mayhem whenever there was a crash. Shotguns and crashing cars get the best use of the subwoofer, but my two favourite examples are (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) when The Toecutter is hit by a truck at 82:05, and when a certain wrecked car explodes at 86:19. This seriously is a soundtrack that one can use to upset the neighbours and scare the almighty crap out of their pets.
As to whether the Dolby Digital soundtrack is superior to the DTS soundtrack or vice versa, I would call it a very tight win to the DTS soundtrack. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is just as active in the surrounds and subwoofer, but the added transparency of the DTS soundtrack makes those explosions and gunshots just that little bit more real.
|Surround Channel Use|
The extras are a bit light-on. I would pay good money for a commentary featuring Mel Gibson and Hugh Keays-Byrne. In light of the lack of extras here, one can presume that it was Roadshow's intent to make up for the lack of extras with the DTS soundtrack. They have more than succeeded.
The menu is very heavily animated, featuring footage from the film, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack. It is 16x9 Enhanced. The scene selection menus are also animated, featuring perfect 2.35:1 representations of the scenes in question.
Judging from various cosmetic trimmings of this trailer, it appears to be the one used in Australia (the American title for the sequel was The Road Warrior). It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound that seems distinctly monaural. It runs for two minutes and thirty-four seconds.
This trailer begins with the Warner Brothers logo in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, before showing rapid-fire snippets of footage from the film in 1.33:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. The soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 2.0 effort that sounds pretty monaural. Running time is a minute and twenty-two seconds.
A series of production notes, divided into eight groups:
Of these collections, I would definitely rate Max Fax as being the most interesting, as it contains a lot of revelations about how the film was put together. I would have liked some more information on the other stars, such as Hugh Keays-Byrne or Steve Bisley. The other production notes are quite interesting in and of themselves, however, as they reveal tidbits such as what Brian May has done since this film, or what the makers were doing before Mad Max. This is how production notes should be done.
Well, at least it hasn't been recorded at a level ten decibels louder than the rest of the disc.
Subtly understated, this trailer only gives a small hint of the sonic mayhem that the DTS track represents.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
There have been two releases of Mad Max in America. The first was a 2.40:1 transfer without 16x9 Enhancement, which only had the terrible American dub to boot. It has been superseded by a new special edition.
The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;
The Region 1 Special Edition version of this disc misses out on;
This is a very tough call. We are definitely being short-changed on the extras, although the idea of having them on the opposite side of the disc has never appealed to me. I am indifferent to the Pan And Scan version, although I have mentioned scenes in which it could be used to make people who honestly think they prefer this formatting see how much they are missing out on. It is a bit upsetting to miss out on the Audio Commentary, but one thing we miss out on a lot more in Region 4 is the DTS soundtrack, and especially a full bitrate DTS soundtrack. This DTS soundtrack is so awesome that it is not funny - I've already had two comments from neighbours about how it has rattled them. In the end, raving mad fans will probably want both versions, but I would declare both versions to be equally superior to one another for different reasons. Like I said, it is a tough call.
Mad Max, to put it in a nutshell, has been one of the most anticipated Region 4 releases since the very birth of the DVD-Video format. The length of time between the excited whisperings of a release date and the arrival of a review copy in my hands has almost been as long. To give you a good idea, the review allocation of this title was carried out somewhere in the order of twenty-four months ago. It has been worth every bit of the wait.
The video transfer is quite simply stunning. It proves that miracles do happen in film restoration.
The audio transfer is awesome, one of the best that Australia has heard and is likely to hear for some time.
The extras are a little light on for quantity, but still very interesting.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|