Director: George Miller
Welcome to 1979. A time where one could look to the future of Australian cinema (and Mel Gibson) with great anticipation. A time before I was born. Being an Australian myself, I am proud to begin my Top 100 with an Australian film. Ranking at #100…George Miller’s Mad Max.
I’m the kind of movie goer who watches to escape, to experience worlds and situations that are alien to me. In other words I have a hard-on for ‘genre’ films, i.e. sci-fi, horror, action, western, noir. Mad Max has all the ingredients for a rockin’ genre movie, it’s set in a dystopian future, it has cops and biker gangs, it has car chases, it’s violent and ultimately it’s about bloody vengeance! Then again you can help yourself to bucket loads of that shit in the thousands of bad exploitation films and b-movies that are out there, but like most ‘good’ genre movies Mad Max has a great sophistication which dulls the bad taste that a lot of its ‘genre qualities’ may leave. Slick cinematography, stand-out performances and ‘phat’ car chase sequences aside, the best thing about Mad Max is its ability to establish a world (dystopian outback Australia of all places) and display such vivid genre characteristics with a simple plot and a budget of under $400,000. Sure, there are some great action set pieces but they are few which makes them all the more riveting. The baron Australian outback location seemed to have been unaltered for the film and the things that were altered in the production design were as simple as car paint jobs and leather police outfits. The movie works because of its style and atmosphere which boils down to the direction. The melodramatic 60’s-esque score, composed by Brian May (NOT the guy from Queen) and the over-the-top acting style make the bleak atmosphere and world all the more unsettling, like telling a joke to someone on death row. George Miller managed to create a thrilling iconic action out of what could have ended up being a forgettable Ozploitation movie.
Mad Max is probably the first Aussie genre film to hit the mainstream and even to this day the country’s “talent” struggles to release genre product that is both critically and commercially successful. I first saw Mad Max as a teenager in the early 00’s, by that stage the film was over 20 years old (now it’s over 30) and Australian cinema hadn’t seen any commercial and critical successes since the 90’s (Wolf Creek came close in 2005). Watching the film then was like peering into a window of time and witnessing an alternate reality where Australia had style and talent. I guess that is, after all, what films really are “alternate realities frozen in time”, windows through which our minds escape for a short period. In a way Mad Max is Australia’s window.