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Mad Max

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Mad Max
Mad max 1 dvd
Director
George Miller
Producer
Byron Kennedy
Bob Miller
Writer
George Miller
Byron Kennedy
James McCausland
Studio
Kennedy Miller Productions
Distributed By
Village Roadshow Pictures
American International Pictures
Rating
R
Release Date
12 April 1979
On DVD
November 19, 1997
Runtime
93 minutes
Followed by
Mad Max is a 1979 Australian dystopian action film directed by George Miller and written by Miller and Byron Kennedy. The film, starring the then-little-known Mel Gibson, was released internationally in 1980. Its narrative based around the traditional western genre, Mad Max tells a story of breakdown of society, murder and vengeance. It became a top-grossing Australian film and has been credited for further opening up the global market to Australian New Wave films. The movie was also notable for being the first Australian film to be shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens.

It has had a lasting influence on apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction ever since. The film spawned three sequels, Mad Max 2 in 1981, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985 and Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015.

Plot

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow. Reader's discretion advised.

The film opens "a few years from now" in Australia, in a dystopian future where fuel is scarce and law and order has begun to break down. Berserk motorcycle gang member Crawford "Nightrider" Montizano has broken police custody and - with a punk woman by his side - is attempting to flee from the Main Force Patrol, the Federal highway police unit, in a stolen MFP Pursuit Special. Though he manages to elude his initial pursuers, the Nightrider then encounters the MFP's "top pursuit man", leather-clad Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson). Max, the more skilled driver, pursues the Nightrider in a high-speed nerve-wracking chase which results in the death of the Nightrider and the woman in a fiery car crash.

Nightrider's Armalite motorcycle gang - led by the barbaric "Toecutter" (Hugh Keays-Bryne) and his lieutenant Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry) - is running roughshod over a country town, vandalizing property, stealing fuel and terrorising the local population. Max and his fellow officer Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) are able to arrest the Toecutter's young protege, a punk named Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns), when Johnny lingers at the scene of one of the gang’s crimes. However, when no witnesses show for his trial, the courts declare the case "no contest", and Johnny is released. A shocked Goose attacks Johnny and must be physically restrained; both Goose and Johnny shout threats of revenge at each other. After Bubba drags Johnny away, MFP Captain Fifi Macaffee frees his officers to pursue the gangs as they want, "so long as the paperwork's clean".

Shortly thereafter, Johnny sabotages The Goose's MFP motorcycle; the motorcycle locks up at high speed the next day, throwing Goose from the bike. He borrows a ute to haul his bike back to civilization. However, Johnny The Boy and the Toe Cutters Gang are waiting further up the highway in ambush. Johnny throws a drum brake at the Gooses windshield and causes him to run off the road and then - upon the Toecutter's insistence, and perhaps as a gang initiation - is instructed to throw a match at the Gooses ute which is leaking petrol from its ruptured fuel line. Johnny the Boy refuses and the Toe Cutter starts to abuse him and in the ensuing arguement the lit match is thrown at the wreckage of the ute.

The Goose survives, but after seeing his charred body in the hospital's burn ward, Max becomes angry and disillusioned with the police force. Worried of what may happen if he stays in the job, and fearing he may become as savage and brutal as the gang members, Max announces to Fifi that he is resigning from the MFP with no intention of returning. Fifi convinces him to take a holiday first before making his final decision about leaving.

While on holiday at the coast, Max's wife, Jessie, (Joanne Samuel) and their son run into Toecutter's gang, who attempt to molest her. She flees, and returns to Max (who is getting their tire fixed) but the gang later manages to track them to the remote farm near the beach where she and Max are staying. While attempting to escape, Jessie and her son are run down and run over by the gang; their crushed bodies are left in the middle of the road. Max arrives too late to intervene.

Filled with obsessive rage, Max dons his police leathers and takes a supercharged black Pursuit Special to pursue the gang. After torturing a mechanic for information on the gang, Max methodically hunts down and kills the gang members: several gang members are forced off a bridge at high speed; Max shoots and kills Bubba at point blank range with his shotgun; the Toecutter is forced into the path of a speeding semi-trailer truck and crushed. In the road battles Max has his arm crushed when it is run over by a motorbike, and receives a gunshot to his knee which he fixes with a makeshift splint to his leg. Driven further mad by the pain, and becoming even more relentless and ruthless, he searches for the final members of the gang. When Max finds Johnny the Boy taking the boots off a dead driver at the scene of a crash, he handcuffs Johnny's ankle to the wrecked vehicle and sets a crude time-delay fuse. Throwing Johnny a hacksaw, Max leaves him the choice of sawing through either the handcuffs (which will take 10 minutes) or his ankle (which will take 5 minutes). As Max drives away, the vehicle explodes; Max drives on further into the outback without turning back, his face emotionless.

Spoilers end here.

Vehicles

Max's Yellow Interceptor
Max's yellow Interceptor was a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan (previously, a Melbourne police car) with a 351ci Cleveland V8 engine and many other modifications.[1]
Big Bopper
The Big Bopper, driven by Roop and Charlie, was also a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan and former Victorian Police car, but was powered by a 302ci Cleveland V8.[2]
March Hare
The March Hare, driven by Sarse and Scuttle, was an in-line-six-powered 1972 Ford Falcon XA sedan (this car was formerly a Melbourne taxi cab).[3]
Pursuit Special
The most memorable car, Max's black Pursuit Special - More commonly known as "The Last of the V8 Interceptors" based on a mechanic's quote in Mad Max 2 - was a limited GT351 version of a 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop (sold in Australia from December 1973 to August 1976) which was primarily modified by Murray Smith, Peter Arcadipane and Ray Beckerley.[4] After filming of the first movie was completed, the car was handed over to Murray Smith. When production of Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) began the car was again purchased back by George Miller for use in the sequel. Once filming was over the car was left at a wrecking yard and was bought and restored by Bob Forsenko, and is currently on display in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Cumbria, England.[5]
Nightrider Special
The Nightrider's vehicle, another Pursuit Special, was a 1972 Holden HQ LS Monaro coupe.[6]
Civilian Chevrolet
The car driven by the civilian couple that is destroyed by the bikers is a 1959 Chevrolet Impala sedan.[7]
Motorcycles & Other vehicles
Of the motorcycles that appear in the film, 14 were donated by Kawasaki and were driven by a local Victorian motorcycle gang, the Vigilantes, who appeared as members of Toecutter's gang.[8] By the end of filming, fourteen vehicles had been destroyed in the chase and crash scenes, including the director's personal Mazda Bongo (the small, blue van that spins uncontrollably after being struck by the Big Bopper in the film's opening chase).

Soundtrack

Main article: Mad Max (soundtrack)

The soundtrack was composed by the Australian composer Brian May who went on to compose Mad Max 2.

Conception and production

Original idea

George Miller was a medical doctor in Victoria, Austrlia, working in a hospital emergency room, where he saw many injuries and deaths of the types depicted in the movie. While in residency at a Melbourne hospital, he met amateur film maker Byron Kennedy at a summer film school in 1971. The duo produced the short film Violence in the Cinema, Part 1, which was screened at a number of film festivals and won several awards. That movie was taken up and distributed by Greater Union. The exposure the short movie had encouraged Byron Kennedy to convince George Miller about making a full feature film. This was about 1973-74. At that time increasing road casualties had become more and more prevalent and noticeable in Australia. George being a doctor and Byron as his driver had experienced this road carnage during long weekends where they would work three days straight going into remote parts of Australia to deal with all sorts of road injuries and casualties. They were quite disturbed by those occurrences but at the same time they had to grow accustomed to it. This cultural acceptance and desensitization to road violence entered Australian consciousness and it became some sort of basis for a feature film.

The original idea for Mad Max started out in tone of a documentary. One day George Miller had been hearing about a radio journalist that would follow around into places of car accidents to interview people about them. This resonated deeply with George Miller and his desensitization towards road accidents as a doctor. He then asked himself "what if that happened to you?". Max started as a journalist in contemporary Melbourne, someone who would be a little desensitized and brutalized by crime stories, violence and so on. The idea of Max as a journalist did not work out so Byron and George turned Max into a cop. Then the idea came to make Max experience the violence he'd seen on the roads by killing his family and friends. It took Miller and Kennedy about 5 years to change the story from the very fist idea into what ultimately became Mad Max.[9] It took about 8 months to turn the contemporary version of Mad Max into a dystopian version set 'A few years from now'.

The reasons for setting Mad Max in near future were both low budget which would allow for filming in abandoned locations as well as the story that became increasingly exagerated to the point it could not take place in a contemporary setting. Miller also did not like the contemporary look of the Melbourne police uniforms and cars. Setting Mad Max in the near future would give the authors a lot of creative freedom in making the cars and uniforms look more interesting.[10]

Script

In order to fund the film Miller and Kennedy took up very intensive emergency medical services for three months. They had collected a lot of stories from that time as well as a portion of funds for the movie. Miller would have been working on the script, sometimes in the back of his Bongo van, but he would need help with the script. He teamed up with James McCausland who at the time was the finance editor for The Australian, based out of Melbourne (who appears in the film as the bearded man in an apron in front of the diner). James had the amazing ability to quote any movie, so Miller called him up and offered him a job on writing the movie. James and George would discuss the fact that they would remember specific parts of movies, pieces of dialogue which would stick after watching the movie and using those bits to make a complete movie. They decided to start the movie with a crescendo and build up to a crescendo at the end of the movie. James would write all of the dialogue, stories told by characters and he would check it with Miller's main beats in the movie. All the takes were meticulously described in the script because the budget would not allow for any kind of flexibility in that regard.

In a 2006 newspaper commentary on peak oil, James McCausland wrote the following in relation to Mad Max:

"In 1973, the Arab oil-producing nations convulsed most of the world by tightening the spigots on their wells and sharply reducing production. Corporations, and nations including Japan, went into crisis mode and many started to think of ways to lessen their reliance on petroleum products. As the after-shock waves began to subside and black gold started to flow again, most enterprises kicked petroleum replacement well down the agenda. Yet there were further signs of the desperate measures individuals would take to ensure mobility. A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol – and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence.

George and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late."[11]

The script turned out to have 214 pages.

Budget

Miller would realize that raising funds for the movie from the government was not possible because most movies at that time were period pieces. In 1976 the movie was put up to Hexagon but Alan Finney (head of marketing) rejected the movie. This prompted the authors to raise the movie themselves, spreading the cost among a lot of different people, mainly Miller's and Kennedy's friends in Melbourne and Sydney. The movie turned out to be entirely privately financed. Ultimately it took Miller and Kennedy 18 months to raise AUD $350,000. The fact that the movie was privately financed gave the authors total control, and they were not accountable to anybody except for investors, who did not intervene with the production whatsoever.

Filming

Miller The film was shot over a period of twelve weeks in Australia, between October and December 1977, in and around Melbourne. Many of the car-chase scenes for the original Mad Max were filmed near the town of Lara, just north of Geelong. Most shots were filmed within 10 or 20 miles from Melbourne, and according to George Miller, it was very difficult to avoid trees because they needed to have a very stark landscape. In order to capture that on film, they had to find caps in the horizon where there were no trees and then they could only shoot in that direction[12]. The movie was shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens, the first Australian film to use one.

Casting

Miller and Kennedy wanted complete unknowns for the main roles and even the people who were somewhat known had to change their appearance completely. Mitch Mathews was in charge of casting for the movie. She found three really good graduating actors in the National Institute of Dramatic Art, two of them would be very good for the role and she specifically mentioned Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley.

According to Byron Kennedy:[13].

I remember when we started the casting sessions, casting agents would want us to look at this actor or that for Max, and they all would be so wrong. We were getting depressed because we couldn't find anyone in Australia that looked like what we had envisioned Max to be, someone who had the charisma of a Clint Eastwood or a Steve McQueen. Then one day another casting agent who was a friend of our director, George Miller took him to see a play that was being put on by students of the National Institute for the Dramatic Arts, a school which offered a three or four year acting course. Amazingly enough, both the Jim Goose character and the Mad Max character were right there in that play. The moment George saw them, he said, "That's it. They're perfect". They were good friends in real life and he just knew they'd be absolutely perfect for the parts. George took a videotape of the play and showed it to us. We thought it was tremendous, but there was one major problem. The play wasn't going to finish until two weeks into our shoot. I quickly rescheduled the whole first two weeks so that the minute these two guys finished with the play they were flown straight to Melbourne. And they were acting the very next morning.

– Byron Kennedy

Mel Gibson was found perfect for the main role, Steve Bisley love the role of Goose because he loved bikes already and because the character had a short fuse. There is a popular rumor on how Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley were cast for the movie. According to Mel Gibson, he dropped off his friend Bisley to an audition for the part of Max. Gibson was reportedly in poor shape as the night before he had got into a drunken brawl with "half a rugby team" (his own words) which caught interest of the casting agents. They took pictures of Gibson saying that they "need freaks for this film, when you heal up, come see us". Gibson was desperate for a job so two weeks later he came back to the casting agency and initially they did not recognize him. Once he pointed at his less than flattering pictures on the wall, the casting agents recognized him and met him with George Miller who gave him the part of Max on the spot.[14]

The character of Fifi Macaffee was played by Roger Ward. George Miller required Roger to shave his head, despite having a full head of hair. Roger always wanted to do that and that's what won him over for the role of Fifi. Roop was played by Steve Millichamp and Charlie was played by John Ley. Both of those actors were dramatically different actors which made both of those actors play off each other really well. Essentially they were just looking for reasons to annoy themselves and play as such on camera.

Hugh Keays-Byrne was cast as Toecutter. He proved himself to be a very charismatic actor whose presence was very strong. He was an accomplished actor, very seasoned and a fabulous performer. Bubba Zanetti was played by Geoff Parry, who at first could not work out if Bubba Zanetti were two different characters. He locked down the character after he was given a woman's black top and a necklace. Tim Burns was cast as Johnny the Boy - a character whose mind is a mangled mess. Howard Eynon was playing Diabando, who mostly made animal noises despite having only a few actual lines. Paul Johnstone was cast as Cundalini, David Bracks as Mudguts. Both of their performances were mainly improvised.

Due to the film's low budget, only Mel Gibson was given a jacket and pants made from real leather. All the other actors playing police officers wore vinyl outfits. The police cars were repeatedly repainted to give the illusion that more cars were used; often they were driven with the paint still wet.

The film's post-production was done at Kennedy's house, with Wilson and Kennedy editing the film in Kennedy's bedroom on a home-built editing machine that Kennedy's father, an engineer, had designed for them. Wilson and Kennedy also edited the sound there.

Critical reception

The film initially received a mixed reaction from critics. Tom Buckley of the New York Times called it "ugly and incoherent",[15] though Variety magazine praised the directorial debut by Miller.[16] The film currently has a 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[17]

Though the film had a limited run in the United States and earned only $8 million there, it did very well elsewhere around the world and went on to earn $100 million worldwide.[18] Since it was independently financed with a reported budget of just $400,000 AUD, it was a major financial success. For twenty years, the movie held a record in Guinness Book of Records as the highest profit-to-cost ratio of a motion picture, conceding the record only in 2000 to Blair Witch Project.[19] The film was awarded three Australian Film Institute Awards in 1979 (for editing, sound, and musical score).[20]

Release

When the film was first released in the United States, all the voices, including that of Mel Gibson's character, were dubbed by U.S. performers at the behest of the distributor, American International Pictures, for fear that audiences would not take warmly to actors speaking entirely with Australian accents. Much of the Australian slang and terminology was also replaced with American usages (examples: "See looks!" became "See what I see?", "windscreen" became "windshield", "very toey" became "super hot", and "premmie" became "rookie"). AIP also altered the operator's duty call on Jim Goose's bike in the beginning of the movie (it ended with "Come on, Goose, where are you?"). The only dubbing exceptions were the voice of the singer in the Sugartown Cabaret (played by Robina Chaffey), the voice of Charlie (played by John Ley) through the mechanical voice box, and Officer Jim Goose (played by Steve Bisley), singing as he drives a truck before being ambushed.

The original Australian dialogue track was finally released in the U.S. in 2000 in a limited theatrical reissue by MGM, the film's current rights holders (it has since been released in the U.S. on DVD with both the US and Australian soundtracks on separate tracks).

Since Mel Gibson was not well known to American audiences, trailers and TV spots in the USA emphasized the film's action content.

Both New Zealand and Sweden initially banned the film.

Trivia & Notes

  • Budget: AU$ 400,000 (estimated)

References

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