Friday, August 22, 2014

#1,467. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: George Miller, George Ogilvie

Starring: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Tag line: "Two men enter. One man leaves"

Trivia: The sandstorm at the end of the film was real, and a camera plane actually did fly into it for some shots"

The third entry in the Mad Max series (after Mad Max and The Road Warrior), 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome feels like two movies in one: the first good, and the second…

Well, not “bad”, really. Just… strange!

When his camel-train is hijacked by pilot Jedediah (Bruce Spence, who played the Gyro Captain in The Road Warrior) and his son, Jedediah Jr., (Adam Cockburn), Max (Mel Gibson) is forced to wander the desert.

Eventually, he arrives at the settlement of Bartertown, a community that specializes in commerce. While there, Max is approached by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), the self-appointed ruler of Bartertown, who wants Max to help her eliminate “Master-Blaster”, a highly intelligent little person (“Master”, played by Angelo Rossitto) and his hulking brute of a servant (“Blaster”, portrayed by Paul Larsson), both of whom have become far too cocky.

But when Max has a change of heart, Aunty banishes him to the desert, where, after roaming for days, he is miraculously rescued by a group of children, the last survivors of a plane crash that occurred years earlier. These kids believe Max is the “savior” they have been waiting for, and want him to lead them all to the fabled “Tomorrow-Morrow Land”, aka civilization.

Seeing as he’s the only one who knows what the world outside is really like, Max refuses. But some of the kids won’t take “no” for an answer.

The opening scene of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, where Max’s caravan is stolen, gets the movie off to a great start. I also enjoyed the early sequences set in Bartertown, a place filled with the kind of crooks and lowlifes you would expect to find in dystopian society. Tina Turner is solid as Aunty, but the most interesting character is Rossitto's Master, a little person and an engineering genius. Arrogant at first because he’s the only one who knows how to keep the town’s power flowing (he designed a system by which pig shit is converted into electricity), Master is eventually put in his place, at which point he starts becoming a much more sympathetic character.

Throw in a kick-ass fight between Max and Master’s friend Blaster, set in a caged arena known as the “Thunderdome”, and you have a first half brimming with promise.

That promise fades a bit when Max, back on the move, finds himself surrounded by dozens of kids, living on their own in a tropical oasis. Ignoring for a moment the obvious questions (like "What happened to all the adults?"), this entire sequence comes across as too “cutesy”. Along with asking Max to lead them to “Tomorrow-morrow land”, the children refer to their own oral history as the “Tell”. Now, these scenes are beautifully shot, and the paradise these kids call home makes for a nice change from all that went before, in pretty much the entire series up to that point.  But the whole thing is just so damn... bizarre!

Later, when the obligatory showdown between Max (who, while tracking some kids that went looking for “Tomorrow-Morrow land” on their own, ends up back at Bartertown) and Aunty occurs, the children are tucked neatly into the background, rarely offering Max and his pals any assistance. So, aside from being goofy, the kids, despite having survived on their own in the wild, are also useless when the chips are down. It had me wondering, especially in a Mad Max film, why they were even necessary.

This movie is worth checking out. There are great action scenes and fascinating characters. But when ranked against the series’ first two films, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome finishes a distant third.

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