by Brek the David
The Road Warrior (1981) Director: George Miller Screenplay: George Miller, Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps OSCAR COUNT (0)
The first thing that stands out while watching The Road Warrior is its harsh realism. What’s sold, and sold expertly by my reckoning, is a post apocalyptic wasteland told as a Western. Max is the epitome of the reluctant hero, a man battered by the world, but regains his humanity by helping out those in dire need of aid, sacrificing himself so that they may live on. But let’s not get ahead ourselves…
A sure fire cult classic, The Road Warrior immerses us in a scary, dismal vision of the future. The film opens to narration, explaining how civilization has collapsed under its own weight, the aftermath then exploding into a “war between two great tribes”. The implication here is that the US and Soviet Union’s Cold War turned hot, and we all know if that had happened the world would be a very bad place in which to live. After the War, humanity tried to continue on with the old way, but the damage had been done. The post-apocalypse was reality.
The Road Warrior is the sequel to Mad Max, a tale about a highway patrolman whose family is brutally murdered by a biker gang. Losing everything, just like the world had lost all due to the apocalypse, Max ventures into the wastes driving his “last of the V-8s”. Armed with guns that have quickly vanishing ammunition, his only companion his dog; a desperate man in a desperate world. Soon after Max dispatches some thugs, he comes across the Gyro Captain, an odd, emaciated shadow of a WWI fighter ace. He seems like a coward but time and time again he proves to be one of the most courageous heroes of the film.
So the Gyro Captain tells Max about the refinery and they “team” up (he’s basically Max’s prisoner) and scout it out. Enter Lord Humungous. Powerfully muscled and wearing a hockey mask like some radioactive Jason, Humungous oddly enough is a level headed, cunning, charismatic, articulate man. He looks like a brute, but acts like a diplomat as he promises the survivors fortified in the refinery safe passage through the wastes if they give him the precious oil. He really plans to kill them all. At some point we’re also introduced to Max’s mirror image nemesis, Wez, a psychopathic loose cannon who also loses someone he loves, or in Wez’s case, since he’s a dark Mad Max, he loses someone he lusts. Wez maniacally counters Max every stop of the way until the end…his end.
The Road Warrior is told in true Western fashion, with the drifter, the town, and the bandits. The drifter reluctantly protects the town against the bandits, ultimately saving them from certain death at the hands of the bandits which allows the town to settle elsewhere. It also looks somewhat like the old spaghetti Westerns, though the score with ominous strings, heroic horns, and powerful drums helps create the fury of the dynamic unforgettable action sequences. And there is some unforgettable action in The Road Warrior, some of the best ever filmed, from the frenetic assaults on the compound, to the thrilling iconic tanker chase. The cinematography is impressive, especially during that climatic chase. Matched by the aforementioned perfectly crafted score, The Road Warrior remains a fantastic film to experience. The minimal dialogue works to perfection, the characters are defined far more by their actions than what they say. The cast is just good enough to keep us engaged in this bleak futurescape. No one here is stellar, but they were good enough for us to keep Max, Gyro Captain, Humungous, and Wez emblazoned in our memory. George Miller, cast, and crew pulled off an amazing film for its day…and any day, creating one of the best films of all time.
DID YOU KNOW? Apparently the budget for this sequel was ten times that of the original making it the most expensive Australian film ever up to that point.