The following is a tribute to my favourite Australian movie Mad Max. A great movie that spawned 2 sequels and a soon to be 4th installment. Its heroes, villains and road battles using classic Aussie muscle cars have ensured Mad Max has a cult like following not only in my homeland, but also in the US, Europe and Japan.
I first saw the original movie at the Hamilton drive-in (a country town in Victoria, Australia) in 1979/80. The funny thing about this first viewing was that the movie was R rated and you had to be 18+ to see it, I was only about 8 years old at the time! My Uncle Rob snuck me into the drive-in by hiding me beneath his legs under a blanket on the passenger side floor of the car (thanks Rob, I will never forget that)! The R Rating back then seems a bit over the top today, as the movie although violent was not really that extreme. A more sensitive time I guess?
Since 1979 I have watched the movies many times, visited many of the filming locations (in 3 states) and even met some of the actors from the first 2 movies. I love it! Please be warned if you have not seen these movies (shame on you!) the following contains a lot of spoilers. I have included a lot of video links which provide a good chance for you to get hooked on Max!
WHEN THE GANGS TAKE OVER THE HIGHWAY….
Mad Max released in 1979 is set in a near future where law and order is breaking down. The key elements of the movie were the characters, Aussie muscle cars and Kawasaki motorbikes melded together into a classic storyline of outlaws, love, death and revenge. The title character Max Rockatansky, a Main Force Patrol (MFP) interceptor officer (a highway patrol police force) was played by the then unknown actor Mel Gibson (he apparently turned up to the casting call battered and bruised after a fight the night before – perfect for the character!).
The film opens with a classic car chase scene where yellow MFP pursuit vehicle “Big Bopper” (driven by Roop and Charlie) and interceptors “March Hare” (driven by Sarse and Scuttle) and “Max” are chasing an escaped and crazed cop killer the “Night Rider” (the “fuel injected suicide machine”!) who is driving a stolen black MFP “pursuit special”. It doesn’t end too well for the “Night Rider” who dies in a fiery crash!
The cars: “Big Bopper” was a 1974 ex-police Ford Falcon XB sedan (the actual car was a write off after this opening scene was filmed), “March Hare” was a 1972 ex-taxi Ford Falcon XA sedan and “Max” was another 1974 ex-police Ford Falcon XB sedan. “Night Rider” was driving a 1972 Holden Monaro HQ. These were all classic Aussie muscle cars (thanks www.madmaxmovies.com for this info, this is an excellent site on all things relating to Mad Max)!
The “Night Rider” was part of a motor cycle gang led by Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti that are terrorizing the local area. Toecutter is a violent, ruthless and probably insane leader who was played to his maniacle best by the great English actor Hugh Keays-Byrne who appeared in many Australian movies in the 1970/80′s and later he appeared in a number of TV programs including Farscape.
Max and officer Jim “Goose” Rains (played by well known Australian actor Steve Bisley) arrest gang member Johnny “The Boy” Boyle for raping a young couple, but due to no witnesses appearing in court he is set free. “Goose” is enraged and attacks “The Boy“, they are separated and both vow revenge. Alas for poor old “Goose” his bike is sabotaged by the gang, resulting in a crash and a later attack that leaves his body burnt to a crisp.
Max has had enough and quits the MFP, but while holidaying with his family by the beachside the Toecutter Gang strike again. They terrorise them, ultimately resulting in the death of both his wife and child (run over by the gang). This is the turning point where Max returns to the MFP but he is now a very different man with only revenge on his mind.
At the MFP headquarters Max is shown the ”the last of the V8′s“. This is a black “pursuit special” interceptor (a 1973 Ford Falcon XB Coupe). After seeing the power of the cars engine Max is suitably impressed. He gets into the interceptor and heads out onto the highway to unleash his anger on the Toecutter Gang. The time has come and Max has gone “Mad“!
The final result is his ultimate revenge killing of the gang members one by one in a number of memorable scenes, including the demise of the Toecutter! The film ends with one last act of revenge on “The Boy” and then Max driving off into the unknown.
Australian film maker George Miller made this movie on a relatively shoe string budget of about $400,000 (according to IMDB.com Gibson was only paid $15,000, a far cry from the $25,000,000 he would earn in later Hollywood movies!) but it grossed over $5,000,000 at the Australian box office alone (it went on to make $100,000,000 world-wide - not bad for a small investment)! The budget was so low that Gibson was the only actor actually wearing leather clothes, the rest were wearing vinyl! All the car chase scenes where a crash occurred were pretty much done in one take as there were no spare vehicles etc to replace them! The majority of the scenes were filmed in Melbourne, Little River and Clunes in Victoria, Australia.
The movie only had a limited release in the US in 1980 (making $8,000,000), but because it was “too hard” for the American audience to understand the Australian accents, the movie was redubbed with American voices. The following are the US trailers and they sound really weird to me: Mad Max (trailer 1), Mad Max (trailer 2). It just doesn’t seem right without Aussie accents! Apparently one of the more recent US DVD versions has both the original and dubbed dialogue, if you have that, please watch the original version.
In October 2008, myself and my mates Jerome and Scotty attended the 30th anniversary Back 2 The Max celebration of the movie in Little River. This was a great event where we got to meet some of the original stunt men including Murray Smith who built the original XB Interceptor and Steve Millichamp who played “Roop“, plus see pursuit and interceptor vehicles and motorbikes as seen in the movie and visit key movie scene sites.
Some of the guys who owned the replica vehicles recreated scenes on the actual roads from the movie which was really cool to watch. Not long after this event, Scotty and I made a trip to Clunes to have a look at where a number of key movie scenes were also filmed. The town had changed a bit, but it was still easy to find the right places.
In 2009 my friend Scotty and I visited Clunes where a number of scenes with the Toecutters Gang were filmed. This was the little town they were terrorising. Not much has changed there since other than a fresh coat of paint and that the old train station where the Night Riders remains were returned is now unfortunately shut down.
In 2010 Popcorn Taxi hosted a 31 year reunion Q&A with a number of cast members (excluding Mel Gibson) and stuntman Grant Page (who was prolific in Australian movies of the 1970′s/80′s). The event provided an interesting insight into the making of the movie and it provided a very humorous look back at the movie. To view the video (please note it contains explicit language) of this event please click here.
NOW THE HIGHWAY IS ONLY FOR WARRIORS….
Mad Max 2 released in 1981 was known as The Road Warrior in the US simply because the original was not so well-known there (mercifully it was not redubbed with US accents!). The movie was set a few years on from the original and is now in a post apocalyptic lawless world where fuel is a rare and precious commodity.
The opening scene is a car chase with Max and his dog in the black V8 interceptor (the car is now more beaten up than in Mad Max and has long-range fuel tanks added ). Max is low of fuel but fends of the gang chasing him and in the aftermath he recovers some fuel from crashed vehicles to hit the road again. Max is back!
The basic plot is based around a battle for fuel between a group of settlers (who have an operational oil refinery) and another wild gang who want the fuel for their vehicles and motorbikes. The gang is led by 2 great arch villians: the muscular but disfigured “Humungus“ and his chief henchmen “Wez“ (played by Australian actor Vernon Wells who is probably best known for his role as Bennett in Schwarzenegger’s Commando). “Wez” is like a crazed wild animal and can only be restrained by the strength of ”Humungus“.
“Humungus” promises the settlers safety if they leave the refinery to him, but he soon goes against his word and kills some of them who try to leave. Max watches these events and helps save one of the settlers in return for fuel, the guy dies and the deal is reneged. Later Max agrees to recover an abandoned fuel truck (in return for fuel and his freedom) so the settlers can escape with their fuel. They agree but keep his beloved V8 interceptor until he returns.
Max outwits the gang and brings the truck back (with the assistance of a gyrocopter – flown by the “The Gyro Captain” played by famous Australian actor Bruce Spence). The settlers ask him to join them in their escape, but Max chooses to leave on his own with his fuel reward.
Unfortunately for Max during his escape from the gang, his V8 interceptor is destroyed, the dog is killed and Max is badly injured. Max is rescued by the “The Gyro Captain“. Upon his return to the settlement he starts to discover some of his humanity again by siding with the settlers and agrees to help them escape the wastelands and get to the coast where they can live in peace.
This leads to the big escape in the fuel truck where Max with the help of some settlers and a feral kid (who earlier attacks the gang with a metal boomerang!) fends off the gang (in typical brutal fashion) at a great cost of life and the loss of the truck. But Max has been deceived and the truck is full of sand!
The rest of the settlers who went a separate way escaped with the real fuel! The movie ends once again with an injured Max left to drift off into the unknown of the desert wastelands.
The feral kid was played by Australian child actor Emil Minty. I got to meet him at the Back 2 The Max event in 2008, he still owns that metal boomerang from the movie and had it there to show it (awesome)!
The budget for the film was approximately ten times larger than the one for its predecessor (but it made more than double the first movie at the Australian box office and over $25,000,000 in the US). Apparently it was the most expensive movie made in Australia at that time. For a short video on the making of the movie please click here.
More than 80 vehicles were used, including the original black V8 interceptor from Mad Max. There were actually 2 cars put together for this film, the duplicate was destroyed in the movie, and the original from Mad Max was meant to be scrapped after the movie was finished. Luckily it was saved and eventually restored (at great expense) after sitting in a scrap yard for a few years in South Australia.
Eventually the restored interceptor was sold to the Cars of the Stars Museum in the UK of all places! Apparently this museum had to sell their entire collection in 2011 and according to www.madmaxmovies.com the vehicles is now in Florida. Hopefully one day the interceptor can return to a museum in Australia, its rightful home.
There are plenty of replicas of the interceptor in Australia and around the world though (built from original Ford Falcon XB’s). When I paid a visit in 2006 to Silverton and the Mundi Mundi Plains (where the car chase scenes were filmed) a replica vehicle was displayed at the local pub along with lots of behind the scenes photos and memorabilia. There is also one on display at the ACMI Screen Worlds exhibition in Federation Square, Melbourne along with other production memorabilia.
Since my visit to Silverton a new Mad Max Museum opened in 2010. The museum is owned by Adrian Bennett from the UK who was so obsessed with Mad Max 2 he moved across the world to set it up! The Age newspaper wrote an interesting article on the museum in December 2010. They now have two interceptor replica vehicles and other original/replica vehicles from the movie on display. Well done Adrian the museum looks great! I hope some day to return there and check it out (shame it is so far away! To give those not from Australia some idea it would take about 10 hours non stop to drive the 861 km/535 miles from Melbourne to Silverton! ).
For some reason in 2000 a toy company bought out some action figures for The Road Warrior. Seemed a bit late (9 years after the movies release, they should have taken a lead from George Lucas and the almost immediate release of Star Wars figures), but they looked pretty cool and ultimately became a collector’s item (I have all 6 figures from the Series 1 release…unopened of course!).
There are also numerous plastic and die-cast metal models that have been released of the various cars used in both Mad Max and The Road Warrior. The popularity of such items still remains today and they regularly appear for sale online.
HE’S JUST A RAGGEDY MAN!
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome released in 1985 was set about 15 years after Mad Max 2. The movie opens with Max now relegated to a camel drawn vehicle (no fuel) crossing the desert, when he is attacked from the air by pilot Jebediah and his son Jebediah Junior and has his “wagon” stolen. Strangely Jebediah is played by Bruce Spence who was “The Gyro Captain” in Mad Max 2, but he is a totally different character in this movie!
Max crosses the wastelands on foot and comes across a settlement known as Bartertown. The world is still a lawless place and people have grouped together for safety in settlements under tyrannical rule such as Bartertown, which is run by its founder Aunty Entity (played by American singer Tina Turner) and her key henchmen Iron Bar head of security (played by Rose Tattoo lead singer Angry Anderson) and The Collector who was in charge of trade and exchange (played by famous Australian actor Frank Thring).
- Bartertown is powered by methane gas fuelled by pigs. The methane refinery is run by the tiny Master who is protected by the massive Blaster, who carries Master on his back. Together they become Master Blaster and through their control of the power source they are the arch rival of Aunty Entity. Master uses this power to manipulate her and he inflicts power embargoes to get his way.
To change the balance of power Aunty Entity gets Max to challenge Master who is now in possession of his stolen vehicle. This results in one of the most epic scenes of the movie, the Thunderdome battle between Max and Blaster (so many great quotes: “dying times here“, “I know you wont break the rules, there aren’t any!”, “Death is listening and will take the first man that screams“). Max defeats Blaster, but discovers that he is mentally handicapped and he will not kill him.
Iron Bar kills Blaster instead, and as Max tries to leave he is blocked from exiting the Thunderdome, this causes the crowd to chant “two men enter, one man leaves” (the law of the Thunderdome). But Aunty Entity says Max broke the law, resulting in “bust a deal, face the wheel“. The wheel of fate is spun, and Max is sentenced to the Gulag and banished to the deserts of the wastelands strapped on the back of a horse which is chasing a bottle of water dangling in front of its face!
Near death Max is rescued by a group of kids living wild out in the wastelands in a hidden oasis. They are descendants of survivors of a nearby 747 passenger jet crash and believe Max to be the legendary “Captain Walker” who they have been told stories of who will lead them to “Tomorrow-morrow Land” a dreamt of civilisation. After being nursed back to health Max basically tells the kids to stay where they are and there is no place like what they seek.
Regardless of this advice, some of the kids leave to find “Tomorrow-morrow Land“. Max the man who went “mad” and became a solitary figure finds his humanity once again and goes after them, and they end up in Bartertown. Where they find Master is now a virtual prisoner of Aunty Entity. This leads to an escape on a train from Bartertown and the long-awaited big car chase and battle finale that Mad Max fans love!
They get away to where Jebediah and Jebediah Junior live (the train line runs out), but Aunty Entity and her gang are still in hot pursuit. Max coerced Jebediah to fly them to safety in his plane, but it’s too heavy to take off in such a short distance with so many people on board. So Max uses a captured vehicle to clear a path through the pursuers by crashing into the vehicle driven by Iron Bar. They take off and get away.
Max is confronted by Aunty Entity who finds the situation highly amusing, she laughs and drives away. The movie ends with Max once again left alone in the desert and the kids starting a new life in the city of Sydney in ruins.
The budget for this movie was once again significantly increased to $12,000,000 due to the popularity of Mad Max 2. This was obviously spent on the bigger and more elaborate sets, higher paid actors etc. The box office in Australia according to www.imdb.com was only $4,500,000 (which is strange as it is less than what the other two made), but it made significant takings overseas i.e. $36,000,000 in the US and £4,000,000 in the UK. Perhaps it wasn’t as popular in Australia due to the lack of the Aussie muscle cars?
It is interesting to note that the soundtrack for this movie included a massive hit for Tina Turner “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” (the video features her dressed as Aunty Entity and is interspersed with scenes from the movie). The track hit number 1 in Australian music charts (along with other countries), number 2 in the US and number 3 in the UK. Apparently she still performs the song in live concerts today.
Back in 1985 as a young teenager I travelled for hours on a country train to see this movie in Melbourne, Australia, otherwise it would have taken months for it to be shown in my then home town of Horsham. It was great and I was happy to be the first person I knew to see it!
Flash forward to early 2011 and I finally got to pay a visit to some of the areas where this movie was filmed near Coober Pedy (the opal capital of the world) in the South Australian outback. Crocodile Harry’s was used as the underground home of Jebediah the Pilot. The bedroom was shown in the movie and a tunnel with an old car at the top was were Jebediah Junior escaped. It is located less than 10 kilometres out of town.
Crocodile Harry passed away in 2006 but he lived a pretty interesting life and was one of the true outback characters of Australia. Originally from Latvia, as a younger man he spent many years in Northern Australia hunting crocodiles (Paul Hogan’s 1986 movie character Crocodile Dundee was partially based off his life), then he went to Coober Pedy to become an opal miner. Most people live underground there as it gets so hot in summer, the cave homes keep a comfortable temperature all year round. The interior of Harry’s underground home is covered in his own artwork and with the connection to Mad Max became a major tourist attraction. Women who were willing to get into bed with Harry were permitted to write their name on the walls/ceiling of the cave - there are a lot of names and messages written there plus plenty of bra’s hanging from the ceiling!
The Breakaways (33 kilometres north of town) was where Max was sentenced to the Gulag by “Aunty Entity“and the Moon Plain was used as a backdrop for the chase scenes in the wastelands. Unfortunately it was flooded out on the Moon Plain there at the time (yes it floods in the outback every now and then!), so I couldn’t explore that particular spot as much as I wanted to.
THE APOCALYPTIC FUTURE….
Now they are working on making Mad Max 4: Fury Road, which is scheduled for release in 2014 (also reported in an Australian TV news story from 2009). The new “Mad” Max Rockatansky will be British actor Tom Hardy who has starred in movies such as Star Trek Nemesis (2002), Inception (2010), Warrior (2011) and features as the villain Bane in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.
Tom Hardy is a pretty physical and gritty guy, so he should fit the role pretty well (I wonder if Sam Worthington was considered for the role. He would have been a great choice too!). It will be interesting to see if he plays Max with an Australian accent or not (he better!)?
Mad Max 4: Fury Road will be a relaunch of the world in which the original Mad Max trilogy was set. The budget, special effects etc will be much bigger (probably $100,000,000+), but that doesn’t always make for a better film. Part of the appeal of the original Mad Max movie was its low-budget and one take car chase scenes, but it is going to be really interesting to see what they come up with!
Peter Jackson’s multi Oscar award-winning Weta Workshop in New Zealand will be involved in make up, costumes etc for Mad Max 4: Fury Road which is excellent news as they were responsible for the excellent Lord of the Rings Trilogy and many other great movies. I visited their small but very cool “Weta Cave” museum in Wellington, New Zealand in 2009 – they had numerous props, statues and merchandise from their movies which was great to see.
At the 2011 International Motor Show in Melbourne, Australia the Ford Motor Company in conjunction with TV program Top Gear Australia displayed 2 quarter scale model concept interceptor cars that people could vote for, to pick which one would be used in the new movie. They look pretty cool but I still like the old 1973 Ford Falcon XB Coupe interceptor better. Now that was a classic Aussie muscle car!
It is a shame that Mel Gibson will not be part of this new movie, it would have been great to have seen him reprise the role and continue on from where Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome left off (who knows, hopefully he will make a cameo appearance). But I guess they want to find a new audience and have a modern take on the movie.
The good news is that George Miller who directed the 3 earlier films is still in charge. This is his baby and he will treat this classic franchise with the respect it deserves.
After long delays the filming of Mad Max 4 was shifted from the Australian Outback near Broken Hill to Southern Africa. This was due to the long drought finally being broken and so much water being on the ground up there that the land was too green to represent the environment from Mad Max 2 and 3!
The filming for the road chases etc. has been mostly occurring in the desert in Namibia with additional scenes being filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. The numerous vehicles have been shipped over there from Australia. Certain scenes and post production will be completed in Australia and an Australian film crew is in Namibia which is good for the local Aussie film industry.
George Miller released a press statement in August 2012 that detailed the basic plot and the key characters in Mad Max 4:
“Mad Max is caught up with a group of people fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by the Imperator Furiosa. This movie is an account of the Road War which follows. It is based on the Word Burgers of the History Men and eyewitness accounts of those who survived.”
Imperator Furiosa is being played by Charlize Theron. Other key characters include: Nux – Nicholas Hoult; Immortan Joe - Hugh Keays-Byrne (yes it’s the Toecutter from Mad Max!) and Rictus Erectus - Nathan Jones. A collective known as the Five Wives will be played by Zoe Kravitz (Lenny’s daughter) as Toast, Riley Keough (the granddaughter of Elvis) as Capable, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Splendid, Abbey Lee Kershaw as The Dag (model) and Courtney Eaton (an Aussie model) as Fragile.
Other characters include: Slit - Josh Helman, Miss Giddy - Jennifer Hagan and Coma-Doof Warrior will be played by iOTA the singer/songwriter. Australians will also recognise the following people who will also feature in Mad Max 4: John Howard (the actor not the ex-Prime Minister!), Richard Carter, Megan Gale (model – yeah!!!), Angus Sampson, Joy Smithers, Gillian Jones, Melissa Jaffer and Melita Jurisic.
Despite the concept cars pictured above, there have been images coming out of a new version of the old Mad Max 2 era Ford Falcon XB interceptor (apparently 2 have been built) that was displayed at an event in Swakopmund, Namibia in October 2012. Can Max be taking to the road in the old Aussie classic once again? I hope so!
Photos and videos are surfacing from the movie production set in Namibia that give an insight into what is happening with Fury Road, including costumes, very white skinned mutant like characters and a lot of heavily armed vehicles. These include a silver XB with jacked up rear tyres, a big engine and weaponry. With the appearance of all these cars and the old XB Interceptor it seems the movie is set in a time somewhere between Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome (rather than a more futuristic rebooted world indicated by the concept cars).
The long-awaited first glimpse of how Max will look in Fury Road was finally leaked in December 2012. It is a photo signed by Tom Hardy for a crew member. He appears to have a suitable post apocalyptic look about him (whats with the motorbike behind him though?).
There is also some speculation that while in Southern Africa, Mad Max 4 is being filmed back to back with an additional movie titled Mad Max 5: Furiosa (with plans for a possible sixth installment)! Although there is no official word, this is very interesting news indeed. The original movie is still my favourite, but 25+ years is too long and I for one cannot wait to hit the fury road again!