DirectorGeorge Miller/George Ogilvie
Release Date(s)1985 (June 4, 2013)
Studio(s)Warner Home Video
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: F
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the second sequel to the original Australian hit Mad Max. Although the previous two films were known for their independent flair, Beyond Thunderdome was a studio-funded project, marking a change of the overall feeling of the film’s execution. This was also the final entry in the series to star Mel Gibson, and the first to not have the involvement of producer Byron Kennedy, who sadly passed away during the film’s development period.
Despite how successful and critically acclaimed Beyond Thunderdome was at the time of its release, it was also the most controversial film in the series, and is still seen today as an awkward film. Besides fans complaining that the film had been “Hollywood-ized”, it also took a step in a new direction. During the first hour of the film, Max wanders into Bartertown after his vehicle is stolen in the desert. There he meets Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), the corrupt leader of Bartertown. In exchange for her help, she charges Max with fighting one of her adversaries in Thunderdome, a cage in which “two men enter, one man leaves.” Dissatisfied with his lack of loyalty to her, she banishes Max to the desert, tied up on horseback. The second hour finds Max waking up, having been discovered by a group of lost boys (*wink) and girls, who are waiting for their leader to come back to them and take them away to a better place.
In actual fact, Beyond Thunderdome is two movies rolled into one: a Mad Max sequel, and Peter Pan, sort of. Once Max is exiled into the desert, a completely different film takes over, one that sticks out and doesn’t seem to fit in the series as a whole. Max becomes a hero for the children, which is a stark difference from a revenge-seeking policeman hunting down members of road gangs and killing them one by one. You can’t even say that Max is mad this time around. He just feels aimless, which in an odd way, is sort of right for the character. The only problem is that you never get a sense of desperation. He is, after all, a scavenger, out for himself in the name of survival. Suddenly he has a group of lost children in front of him and he just suddenly becomes their leader with almost no hesitation at all. It’s been duly noted, but it just feels off.
While the first act of the film embedded itself into popular culture, as well as influencing other films like it, the second and third acts lose pace. Besides Tina Turner singing the opening and closing songs, it certainly does feel more mainstream than the other films in the series. It still has a lot of Mad Max trademarks: vast desert landscapes, despicable characters, big chase scenes, and disfigured and unusual-looking characters, but perhaps a better second half would improve it as a whole. Why not just go the Clint Eastwood route and have Max make his way back to Bartertown for revenge after his exile instead of side-stepping into Neverland? I would think that it would be more befitting of his character in the long run. Thankfully the following sequel managed to right these wrongs in a spectacular way, leaving Beyond Thunderdome in the dust. That’s one fellow’s opinion anyway.
The Blu-ray of the film features a very strong presentation. There is healthy grain structure, this time without overburdening the darker portions, as in the previous film. A fine amount of detail can now be seen, especially in the backgrounds and wide shots. The color palette is also quite good, with skin tones looking very good as well. There are lot of strong tans and browns on display, as well as some nice greens in the second half. Black levels are very satisfying, as well as contrast and brightness levels. I didn’t notice any signs of digital tampering of any kind, nor were there any compression issues. Being that this is a region-free release, there are a multitude of soundtrack and subtitle options to choose from in different languages, but I’ll stick to the primary option, which is an English 5.1 DTS-HD track. Like the video presentation, it’s very strong. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand (that is, if you can understand the accents and made-up words of the children), and both sound effects and score benefit greatly from a larger soundstage to play in. The score is especially punchy in the rear speakers, and there are plenty of ambient noises and sound effects from speaker to speaker. There’s also some nice LFE from time to time. It’s a very nice presentation, overall. The aforementioned subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish, among many others.
This is also a nearly bare-bones release, with only the film’s original theatrical trailer included (a memorable one from my childhood, I might add). Even Tina Turner’s music videos aren’t present. It’s a shame that we don’t at least get an audio commentary from George Miller, who purportedly liked Beyond Thunderdome best amongst the two sequels (something said prior to Fury Road, I might add, but I have no idea how he feels now as of this writing). You can certainly count on the film getting a re-release sometime down the road with some more additional extra material.
The shift in a radically different direction certainly got a lot of conversations going about Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when it was released. All these years later, I still feel that it sticks out like a sore thumb. Personal enjoyment of it will always vary from person to person, of course, so if you do enjoy the film, then this Blu-ray release should be satisfactory until a better edition comes along.
- Tim Salmons