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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Miller|
|Produced by||Byron Kennedy
|Written by||George Miller
|Music by||Brian May|
|Editing by||Cliff Hayes
|Studio||Kennedy Miller Productions|
|Distributed by||Village Roadshow Pictures
American International Pictures
|Release date(s)||12 April 1979|
|Running time||88 minutes|
|Budget||New evidence suggests around $650,000 (est)|
Mad Max is a 1979 Australian post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller and revised by Miller and Byron Kennedy over the original script by James McCausland, starring Mel Gibson, who was unknown at the time. Its narrative based on the traditional western genre, Mad Max tells a story of breakdown of society, love and revenge. It became a top-grossing Australian film and has been credited for further opening up the global market to Australian New Wave films. It was also the first Australian film to be shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens. The first film in the series, Mad Max spawned sequels Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior in 1981 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985.
In a dystopian future Australia, law & order has begun to break down. Berserk motorcycle gang member Crawford "Nightrider" Montizano has escaped police custody and is attempting to outrun the Main Force Patrol (MFP) in a stolen Pursuit Special (Holden Monaro). Though he manages to elude his initial pursuers, the MFP's top pursuit man, Max Rockatansky, then engages the less-skilled Nightrider in a high-speed chase, resulting in the death of Nightrider in a fiery crash.
Nightrider's motorcycle gang, led by Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti, is running roughshod over a town, vandalising property, stealing fuel and terrorising the populace. Max and officer Jim "Goose" Rains arrest Toecutter's young protege, Johnny "the Boy" Boyle, when Johnny, too high to ride, stays behind after the gang rapes a young couple. When no witnesses appear for his trial, the courts throw the case out and Johnny is released. An angry Goose attacks Johnny and must be held back; both men shout threats of revenge. After his lawyer drags Johnny away, MFP Captain Fred "Fifi" McPhee tells his officers to do whatever it takes to apprehend the gangs, "so long as the paperwork's clean."
A short time later, Johnny sabotages Goose's motorcycle; it locks up at high speed, throwing Goose from the bike. Goose is unharmed, though his bike is badly damaged; he borrows a ute to haul his bike back. However, Johnny and Toecutter's gang are waiting in ambush. Johnny throws a brake drum at Goose's windscreen, which shatters and causes Goose to crash the ute; Toecutter then instructs Johnny to throw a match into the gasoline leaking from Goose's wrecked ute, while Goose is trapped inside. Johnny refuses; Toecutter first cajoles, then verbally and physically abuses him. Johnny eventually throws the lit match into the wreckage, which erupts in flames.
Goose is severely burned. After seeing his charred body in the hospital, Max becomes disillusioned with the Police Force. Worried of what may happen if he continues working for the MFP - and that he is beginning to enjoy the insanity - Max announces to Fifi that he is resigning from the MFP. Fifi convinces him to take a holiday first before making his final decision.
While at the coast, Max's wife, Jessie and their infant son run into Toecutter's gang, who attempt to rape her. She flees, but the gang later finds them again at the remote farm where she and Max are staying. The gang runs over Jessie and Max's son as they try to escape, leaving their crushed bodies in the middle of the road. Max arrives too late to save them.
Filled with rage, Max dons his police leathers and takes a supercharged black Pursuit Special (Ford XB Falcon) to pursue the gang. After torturing a mechanic for information, Max methodically hunts down the gang members: he forces several of them off a bridge at high speed, shoots Bubba at point blank range with his shotgun, and forces Toecutter into the path of a semi-trailer truck. Max finally finds Johnny, who is looting a car crash victim he presumably murdered for a pair of boots. In a cold, suppressed rage, Max handcuffs Johnny's ankle to the wrecked vehicle whilst Johnny begs for his life. Max ignores his begging and sets a crude time-delay fuse with a slow fuel leak and a lighter. Throwing Johnny a hacksaw, Max leaves him the choice of sawing through either the handcuffs (which will take ten minutes) or his ankle (which will take five minutes). Max casually drives away; as he clears the bridge, Johnny's vehicle explodes. Max continues driving into the darkness.
George Miller was a medical doctor in Victoria, Australia, working in a hospital emergency room, where he saw many injuries and deaths of the types depicted in the film. While in residency at a Melbourne hospital, he met amateur filmmaker Byron Kennedy at a summer film school in 1971. The duo produced a short film, Violence in the Cinema, Part 1, which was screened at a number of film festivals and won several awards. Eight years later, the duo produced Mad Max, working with first-time screenwriter James McCausland (who appears in the film as the bearded man in an apron in front of the diner).
Miller believed that audiences would find his violent story to be more believable if set in a bleak, dystopic future. The film was shot over a period of 12 weeks in Australia, between December 1978 and February 1979, in and around Melbourne. Many of the car chase scenes for Mad Max were filmed near the town of Little River, just north of Geelong. The movie was shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens, the first Australian film to use one.
Screenplay writer James McCausland drew heavily from his observations of the 1973 oil crisis' effects on Australian motorists:
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 [Mad Max] 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.
Mel Gibson, a complete unknown at this point, went to auditions with his friend and classmate, Steve Bisley (who would later land the part of Jim Goose). Gibson went to auditions in poor shape, as the night before he had got into a drunken brawl with three men at a party, resulting in a swollen nose, a broken jawline, and various other bruises. Gibson showed up at the audition the next day looking like a "black and blue pumpkin" (his own words). He did not expect to get the role and only went to accompany his friend. However, the casting agent liked the look and told Gibson to come back in two weeks, telling him "we need freaks." When Gibson returned, the filmmakers did not recognise him because his wounds had healed almost completely; he received the part anyway.
Due to the film's low budget (A$380,000), only Gibson was given a jacket and pants made from real leather. All the other actors playing police officers wore vinyl outfits.
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.
The Big Bopper, driven by Roop and Charlie, was also a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan and also a former Victorian Police car, but was powered by a 302 c.i.d. V8. 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).
The most memorable car, Max's black Pursuit Special 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. After filming of the first movie was completed, the car went up for sale but no buyers were found; eventually it was handed over to Murray Smith (film mechanic).
When production of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior began, the car was purchased back by George Miller for use in the sequel. Once filming was over the car was left at a wrecking yard in Adelaide and was bought and restored by Bob Forsenko. Eventually it was sold again and is currently on display in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Cumbria, England.The museum recently closed and the Black on Black car is currently in a collection in the Dezer museum in the US, Miami.
The car driven by the young couple that is destroyed by the bikers is a 1959 Chevrolet Impala sedan.
Of the motorcycles that appear in the film, 14 were KZ1000s donated by Kawasaki. All were modified in appearance by Melbourne business La Parisienne - one as the MFP bike ridden by 'The Goose' and the balance for members of the Toecutter's gang, played in the film by members of a local Victorian motorcycle club, the Vigilantes.
By the end of filming, 14 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).
When shown in the U.S. during 1980, the original Australian dialogue was revoiced by an American crew. American International Pictures distributed this dub after it underwent a management re-organisation. Much of the Australian slang and terminology was also replaced with American usages (examples: "Oi!" became "Hey!", "See looks!" became "See what I see?", "windscreen" became "windshield", "very toey" became "super hot", and "proby" -probationary officer- 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 (Steve Bisley), singing as he drives a truck before being ambushed. Since Mel Gibson was not well known to American audiences at the time, trailers and TV spots in the USA emphasised the film's action content.
The original Australian dialogue track was finally released in North America 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.
Both New Zealand and Sweden initially banned the film, the former due to the scene where Goose is burned alive inside his vehicle. It mirrored an incident with a real gang shortly before the film's release. It was later shown in New Zealand in 1983 after the success of the sequel, with an 18 certificate. The ban in Sweden was removed in 2005 and it has been shown on TV and is also available in video stores.
The film initially polarised critics. In a 1979 review, the Australian social commentator and film producer Phillip Adams condemned Mad Max, saying that it had "all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampf" and would be "a special favourite of rapists, sadists, child murderers and incipient [Charles] Mansons." After the initial US release, Tom Buckley of The New York Times called it "ugly and incoherent". However, Variety magazine praised the directorial debut by Miller. As of June 2012, the film had a 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is widely considered as one of the best films of 1979. In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.
Though the film had a limited run in North America and earned only $8 million there, it did very well elsewhere around the world and went on to earn $100 million worldwide. Since it was independently financed with a reported budget of just A$400,000, it was a major financial success. For 20 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 1999 to The Blair Witch Project. The film was awarded three Australian Film Institute Awards in 1979 (for editing, sound, and musical score). It was also nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Keays-Byrne) by the American Film Institute. The film also won the Special Jury Award at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival.
Mad Max grossed $5,355,490 at the box office in Australia, which is equivalent to $20,939,966 in 2009 dollars.
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