Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mad Max (George Miller)

Max is...quite mad.

It has been widely believed that ever since "Mad Max" was released, action films have never been the same again. It has introduced a more frenetically-paced action style and also a purer form of utter machismo and brutality that has since been the staple themes of almost all of the action pictures that have followed after it. In a way, the whole '80s to mid '90s action film scene is highly indebted to "Mad Max" because without it, there wouldn't be a need for such red-blooded films. And also, without this seminal George Miller classic, the world of bullet-spraying, revenge-driven heroes inhabited by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone would be devoid of another equally important action icon: Mel Gibson. 

But then more importantly, this film has significantly done something that can be compared to what "Jaws" has done to the beaches or what "A Nightmare on Elm Street" has done to dreams: "Mad Max" has made us fear the open highways. 

Judging from its narrative, "Mad Max" has nothing remotely surprising going on. It also does not help that the film has some irritating side characters and a lazy dubbing. With that, "Mad Max" is nothing more than a B-grade little film that, despite of its overly rough edges, has managed to unconsciously revolutionize a whole genre. 

Made in 1979, the film has aged quite badly both in editing, sounds and script. Even the performances are quite cheesy and cartoonish. The plot, for the lack of a better word, is almost non-existent. The car chases are quite new at the time but are nowhere near of being unique and truly fresh. 

But then, after all of these overbearing cons, there's "Mad Max's" universe. Making it appear as if the empty expanse of the speedways are the final frontiers of an apocalyptic Australia, the film's imaginative vision of a world gone way, way awry is a thing of peculiar beauty and originality. 

Oh, and there's an attempt of being prophetic too. Labeling "Mad Max's" time frame as 'few years from now', the film is also quite successful in creating an illusion of plausibility that I can surmise is quite alarming and frightening at the time of its release.

With an intention to create an insane, 'anything goes' world devoid of swift justice, George Miller and company have created a surrealistic neo-western world with an atmosphere reminiscent of "High Noon". Only this time, Frank Miller and company are now mentally unstable bikers and Gary Cooper's Will Kane is now in the guise of a gutsy highway patrol officer named Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson).

"Mad Max", amid the immensity of its negative aspects, is a finely realized hybrid of a film that's armed with whatever's left of the cinematic sensibilities of the western genre yet heightened by a newer, more energetic style of action. 

Watching "Mad Max", after all these years of seeing action films with the same revenge-driven story, is like watching something new set in a more than familiar narrative landscape. Rooted in the film's use of clich├ęd storytelling, an aspect that has been one of the main reasons why action movie-goers has since been transformed into jaded ones, the film seem to render the plot secondary and the visuals as the main priority. And with that, I believe the film has succeeded not as a truly compelling action film but as a highly kinetic action fare fueled mainly by the spectacle and not the story. 

What resulted is an action-packed tale of revenge and justice that has given birth to a new breed of action films, and also to edgier protagonists bent not just on setting things right but also on pure, red-blooded retribution. 

Watching "Mad Max" today, I can confidently say that I've seen better action films. "Mad Max" is the Wright Brothers' prototype plane to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis' Boeing 747. The films by the latter action stars may be bigger in terms of scope, budget and larger than life characters, but nothing beats classic novelty. An interesting look back to where it all started.


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