Mad Max (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jan 05, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Mad Max (4K UHD Review)

Director

George Miller

Release Date(s)

1979 (November 24, 2020)

Studio(s)

Roadshow Film Distributors/Warner Bros. (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B

Mad Max (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

In the not-too-distant future, Australia has become a dystopia. Motorcycle gangs roam the land, terrorizing good, law-abiding citizens. The only thing stopping them are the fearless enforcers of the Main Force Patrol (MFP). But when one of the gang’s members is killed in a high-speed chase with the MFP, their leader, the infamous “Toecutter” (Hugh Keays-Byrne) decides to take revenge on the rookie officer he believes is responsible… Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson). First, the gang goes after one of his fellow patrol officers, causing Max to quit the MFP. But then, they go after Max’s family. So Max, at the wheel of the MFP’s latest supercharged Pursuit Special, goes mad in search of vengeance.

The film that pushed the Ozploitation genre into the American mainstream, and launched Gibson’s Hollywood career in the process, George Miller’s Mad Max is a surprisingly modest affair, but one that packs a genuine punch. Its villains feel manic and dangerous, and its anti-hero is unlikely yet charismatic. Having grown up in rural Australia, and later worked as an emergency room doctor, Miller was familiar with both the good and bad sides of car culture. He’d also developed a love of film by attending his local Saturday afternoon cinema as a child. What’s interesting about Mad Max is that its dystopian landscape wasn’t actually intentional and it’s certainly not post-apocalyptic, as it became in the sequels—the setting evolved instead from the need to find run-down and abandoned locations in which Miller and his team could shoot for free. But there’s no arguing that Miller’s first feature was energetic and gritty, with dynamic action quite unlike most other films of the time. And it soon attracted a cult following, eventually leading to bigger things.

Mad Max was shot photochemically on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras with Todd-AO anamorphic lenses. It was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Mad Max here on Ultra HD mastered from a new (or recent) native 4K scan of the original camera negative (unlike their recent Blu-ray release reviewed here—indeed the same Blu-ray included in this 4K package—which seems to have been mastered from the same source as the 2015 Scream BD release). Overall detail is notably cleaner and tighter looking than it appears in any previous Blu-ray presentation, though the improvement isn’t dramatic. You’ll notice this in the texturing on the graffitied cement wall that appears early in the film, on the Highway 9 Sector 26 road sign, and in the roadside grass beside Rockatansky’s parked yellow and black Interceptor. Grain levels are medium to moderately strong, yet remain organic and are never excessive, retaining the film’s intentionally gritty look. Kino’s new high dynamic range grade (available here in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision) is restrained in that it modestly expands the contrast resulting in slightly brighter highlights and slightly blacker shadows, while retaining a bit more detail at both ends. The colors are vibrant and natural, but note that the overall palette is a bit cooler than in the previous Blu-ray presentations. For example, the clouds (seen behind Roop as he spies on the couple having sex through his rifle scope) are much more gray here, whereas they’ve appeared slightly pink on Blu-ray before. While I wouldn’t call this a reference-grade image—and again I don’t think it’s a dramatic improvement over past BDs—it is a definite upgrade. There’s no doubt that this film has never looked better on disc before on any home format.

[Editor’s Note: To make this image assessment, I directly compared the new Kino Lorber Studio Classics 4K disc, the new KLSC Blu-ray, the 2015 Scream Factory Blu-ray, and the original 2010 MGM Blu-ray, examining each across multiple image parameters—detail, image processing, compression, color, digital clean-up, etc.]

Sound is included in lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and it’s the original Australian version. You also get that original Australian in 2.0 mono as originally released and the cheesy 2.0 mono U.S. dub for completion’s sake, each in DTS-HD MA. Both Australian mixes are solid. And even though many of us first experienced Mad Max via the dubbed audio, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to experience it that way again. It’s really a curiosity more than anything else. It’s also strange to see Mel Gibson talking with someone else’s voice. Sonically, all the mixes are of roughly similar quality—solid, but nothing to write home about. The 5.1 soundstage is medium wide, with a bit of light panning and effects extended into the rear channels. Dialogue is mostly clean and the Brian May score isn’t half bad either. Optional subtitles are also included in English only.

In terms of special features, Kino’s 4K disc includes none beyond the following:

  • Audio Commentary with Jon Dowling, David Eggby, and Chris Murray, moderated by Tim Ridge

However, the package also includes their recent Blu-ray edition which also boasts the commentary and adds a nice mix of new and old content, as follows:

  • Road Rage: An Interview with Director George Miller (HD – 30:06)
  • Interviews with Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, and David Eggby (HD – 26:28)
  • Mel Gibson: Birth of a Superstar (SD – 16:43)
  • Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon (SD – 25:35)
  • Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson (HD – 2:12)
  • Radio Spots (HD – 3 spots – 2:05 in all)
  • TV Spots (HD & SD – 5 spots – 1:27 in all)
  • Trailer 1 (HD – 1:56)
  • Trailer 2 (HD – 2:10)
  • Stryker trailer (HD – 2:04)

The Road Rage interview is brand new and absolutely fantastic. It features Miller discussing this film and how it connects to the others in the series, how he got started in the movie business, how Gibson was cast, the conditions under which this particular film was made, etc. It was produced in the time of COVID, so Miller’s component is presented via low-quality webcam footage, intercut with clips from the new remastered HD presentation. But don’t let that deter you; this interview is terrific. It’s 30 minutes well spent. Though brief, the Trailers from Hell piece is also new, and the Stryker trailer is a new inclusion too. The latter is a schlock film from 1983 (produced and directed by Cirio H. Santiago in the Philippines) that’s of roughly the same lawless, post-apocalyptic genre. Call it a Mad Max knock-off, and not a good one, but it’s interesting to see the trailer nonetheless. The rest of this set’s content is carried over from Scream Factory’s excellent (and now out-of-print) 2015 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release, as well as a couple of EPK-style pieces produced back in the day by MGM and Warner Bros. for past DVD releases. That’s basically everything that’s been released previously for this film, though the Scream Blu-ray did include a photo gallery (with production stills, lobby cards, and international poster art) that’s not here.

While Mad Max lacks polish, the seeds that eventually gave rise to Miller’s recent Mad Max: Fury Road (see our review here) are all present in its 93-minute running time. Kino’s done a nice job with this 4K remaster—this is definitely the version of Mad Max to buy on disc for sheer image quality, especially if you’ve already made the leap to Ultra HD. Just don’t expect the upgrade to be massive, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Plus the included Blu-ray (though it boasts an older film scan) offers the great new Miller interview too. Overall, this is a nice package.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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