Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) **1/2

Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie
Starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner
Written by Terry Hayes and George Miller

I hadn't seen this film in years, so I recorded it on the DVR from Encore Action last week.  I was struck by the design and look of the film.  When I saw it the first time, I had not seen Mad Max or The Road Warrior, so I didn't really know what was going on (I was also about 6 and only watched it because Tina Turner was in it).  Now having seen the first two films in the series, I can look at this in a new light.  Bartertown, the opening set-piece is pretty spectacular.  We are still in the post-apocalyptic future where mutually assured destruction (MAD, get it?  Mad Max?)  has occurred probably about 15-20 years previously.  Max is car-less and driving a herd of camel to sell.  He's robbed and decides to try to get his car back in Bartertown.  He is quickly recruited by Auntie Entity (Turner) to do some dirty work.  She wants him to kill Blaster, the other half of the symbiotic Master Blaster who runs the power station (the town is powered by methane produced by lots and lots of pigs). She wishes to keep Master, a little person who is "the brains" and defeat Blaster, the brawn.  Without Blaster, Master has no power and must do Auntie's bidding.  This leads us to the titular Thunderdome.

Thunderdome is the cage where the people of Bartertown settle their disputes.  "Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves" is what is chanted all throughout the match between Max and Blaster.  There are weapons hidden in the upper rafters of the cage (where the townspeople are on the outside, perched on the sides, all the way up to the top) and the combatants are placed in harnesses that allow for springing around.  This makes it a bit more interesting than just a hand-to-hand fight.  What struck me most about Thunderdome is not how it is done in the film.  It was that, if a network executive should happen to dust off their VHS copy of the film and put it in, part way through the fight he would be on the phone saying "Yeah, Thunderdome!  Two men enter, one man leaves.  Can we get this done for Fall '11?"  I thought of this during the film, when Auntie says before the combat "Are you ready for another edition of Thunderdome?" as though it was only entertainment, not demanded by law that this occur when a fight ensues.  In fact, the reason for this Thunderdome Law is to prevent war.  Two people have a grievance and those two people solve it, instead of it escalating to war.  This law is of course broken later, but I'll get to that.

After Max fails to kill Blaster because he is a mentally disabled man and Max apparently still has some heart (which shocked me, having been made in '85...but it was made in Australia), he is banished from Bartertown in conjunction with another law, "Break a deal, spin the wheel".  The wheel is simply a roulette wheel with punishments on it.  Sort of a Wheel of Misfortune.  It lands on Gulag (it is '85 and the Russians were still scary) and Max is sent out into the desert.

He is found by some kind of scout and taken back to a colony of children, mostly between the ages of 9 and 18 (no, it's not a castle and it's not just girls).  They are believers in a pseudo-Messiah in the form of a jet pilot who said "he'd come back to fly them all away".  It's kind of eerie.  This is where the plot gives out and kind of runs on fumes for the rest of the film.  Unfortunately, we're only about 1/3-1/2 of the way through the film.  The eldest girl (aged between 16-19) relates the tale of their Messiah through cave paintings.  This is when we find out that after the "pockyplics" this pilot makes his pledge.  Thing is, they think Max is this pilot.  He pretty much tries to shatter their beliefs, but because these kids are so innocent their faith is not easily shaken.  Some believe him and decide to strike out and look for the pilot (who is likely long dead) and other stay behind.  Max has to go rescue them and they end up back in:

Bartertown.  Here, they work to get Max's car back (the reason he went to Bartertown in the first place) and free Master in the process (Blaster was killed in Thunderdome, just not by Max).  Confused yet?  Well I sort of was too.  But anyway...after they get Master, they get out of town, and then Auntie breaks her whole "no war" law (told you this would come up again).  She gathers a posse and goes after Max and the gang.  They find a man who flies an airplane (incidentally it's the same actor who played the guy who flew the gyro-copter in The Road Warrior, but not the same character...though nothing is actually stated to differentiate between the two).  He ends up helping and this leads to a very unsatisfactory ending.

This isn't really a bad movie, and for the opening third alone, I'd say check it out.  It's a bit confusing, because it seems the writers didn't really know what they wanted to do with this.  Still, the set design is pretty spectacular, giving the world a truly lived-in, desperate feeling.  There is some clever action and the end chase is very exciting...but like I said, the ending is very flat.  I understand George Miller is trying to make a fourth Mad Max film.  With the trouble Mel Gibson is having lately, and the fact that Miller cannot get any funding for it, I wouldn't hold my breath.  It could work, but Max would probably be so tired by now.

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