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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

“Me order!  Me Master!  Me run Bartertown!” exclaims Master.  Max Rockatansky says, “Sure, that’s why you live in shit.”  Master yells, “Not shit!  Energy!”  Max responds, “Call it what you like.  It still smells like shit to me.”

1979 saw the birth of one of cinema’s greatest action icons, Mad Max.  George Miller’s Mad Max featured a breakthrough performance by a young Mel Gibson and became one of Australia’s highest-grossing films ever.  A sequel, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (released in the U.S. as The Road Warrior) was released in 1981 and was an bigger hit, bringing international fame to Gibson (whose career really took off afterward).  Soon, a third Mad Max adventure would go into production (with American financing; a series first).  The death of producer Byron Kennedy during re-production (he was killed in a helicopter crash in 1983 while location scouting) was a huge blow to Miller, who became hesitant in proceeding with the film.  Miller eventually recruited his friend George Ogilvie to co-direct with him.  I recently had a chance to see Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome on the big screen, and it was a thrilling experience despite the somewhat lighter tone (when compared to the first two films; most likely the result of the American financing).

1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome follows former cop Max in an Australian dystopian future as he stumbles upon Bartertown while searching for his stolen things.  After being exiled by its leader Aunty Entity (for backing out of a deal Beyond Thunderdome 3that involved killing a man in the Thunderdome arena), Max is found by a lost tribe of children and teenagers who’ve mistaken him for the captain from their plane crash years before.  Miller and Ogilvie gathered together an impressive ensemble that includes Gibson (as Max Rockatansky), Tina Turner (as Aunty Entity), Bruce Spence (as Jebediah the Pilot), Adam Cockburn (as Jebediah Jr.), Frank Thring (as the Collector), Angelo Rossitto (as Master), Paul Larsson (as Blaster), Angry Anderson (as Ironbar Bassey), Robert Grubb (as Pig Killer), Helen Buday (as Savannah Nix), Tom Jennings (as Slake M’Thirst), Edwin Hodgeman (as Dr. Dealgood), and Rod Zuanic (as Scrooloos).  Gibson is excellent in his final outing as Max, displaying courage, resiliency, and ultimately heart as Max rediscovers his humanity during the course of the film.  Turner displays strength and independence as Aunty Entity, who hopes to rebuild society to what it used to be, proving to be a worthy adversary for Max (although not necessarily a traditional villain).

Miller stages some incredible action sequences, including the very creative Thunderdome sequence as well as the train chase sequence in the third act (which is filled with spectacular stuntwork).  The screenplay by Miller and Terry Hayes explores Max’s humanity since the events of the previous film, specifically the loss of it as well as its rediscovery through children (first with Blaster and then with the tribe).  Dean Semler’s cinematography is gorgeous, making Beyond Thunderdome the best-looking of the first three Mad Max films.  Graham “Grace” Walker’s production design is just remarkable, with incredible sets ranging from Bartertown (including Aunty Entity’s pad and, my favoraite, the Thunderdome arena) to the oasis that the children live in.  Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing moves the film at a good pace and keeps the action sequences exciting.  Maurice Jarre delivers a memorable score that is as thrilling as it is dramatic.  Although fans are still split in regards to the inclusion of the children and the film’s somewhat lighter tone, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is still a worthy entry in the franchise and a perfect swan song for Gibson portraying Max (had this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road been made 12 years ago like it was originally going to be, we could’ve seen Gibson return once more as Max).

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