Film Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Also known as: Mad Max 3 (working title), Mad Max III (Philippines)
Release Date: June 29th, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.” – Dr. Dealgood

I always thought of this as the worst of the original Mad Max trilogy. However, revisiting it now, just after watching the first two, I think I enjoyed it more than the original. In fact, I have a lot more appreciation for this film after watching it this time. Plus, it was the first time I had seen it since before Mad Max: Fury Road came out four years ago.

Now this doesn’t have the hard edge of the other films and it does feel like a Hollywood recreation of the franchise with a bigger budget, the addition of Tina Turner (a huge star at the time) and the larger scope of the movie. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, though, and I think that Hollywood sort of legitimizing this film series with a larger, more polished production, is probably what gave it the cultural longevity it’s had.

You also have to keep in mind that these films are really all that Mel Gibson was known for in 1985. Lethal Weapon and a much more lucrative, mainstream career didn’t come until 1987.

What makes this work so well, is the fact that Mel Gibson is so comfortable in this role by this point. Even though we got to know him in the first film, everything changes when his family dies and then in the second picture, he was sort of an unemotional husk with just a glimmer of humanity shining through. Here, that hard, outer husk is torn away and we’re left with a man that has found a way to live again. At least, he’s found a surrogate family and something that he must fight for. While that’s similar to the second film, it’s a much more fluid and human journey here. You don’t feel like he’s just playing the hero because it’s something to do and he hates scumbags, you actually sense love growing inside of him.

However, as much as I love Tina Turner in this, her being the primary villain also tames this movie when compared to the others. She kind of likes Max throughout the picture and she’s just a tough woman trying to maintain order in a town full of shady degenerates. She’s not pure evil like Lord Humongous, Toecutter or Immortan Joe and that kind of makes the threat in this film feel like a minor one.

Granted, the big finale which sees vehicle mayhem and the inclusion of a train car is still quite good. I don’t enjoy it as much as the finale from The Road Warrior but it is very close in quality to that one. In fact, this finale is better shot, looks crisper and has some stellar stunts. However, it is less gritty and thus, not as badass as the finale from the previous film. But it is fun seeing the kids in the film get in on the action during this big chase.

Speaking of the kids, there are a lot of them in this movie. But all the ones that have lines and are key characters are really good. This movie could have gone south really quickly with its overabundance of child actors but they certainly add more to the film than they take away.

This is definitely a film with three acts and each act has a very distinct feeling and tone to it. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best structured film and tells the best story out of all four Mad Max pictures.

Beyond Thunderdome gets a bad rap from some and while I wish it had been more of an R rated film than a PG-13 one, I’m still pretty satisfied with it and I think it’s aged pretty darn well.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: The Road Warrior (1981)

Also known as: Mad Max 2 (original title), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (US)
Release Date: December 24th, 1981 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Mike Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Emil Minty, Kjell Nilsson, Virginia Hey

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” – Max

The Road Warrior is a good example of a sequel being better than its predecessor. Some people might disagree but this was the best version of a Mad Max film until 2015’s Fury Road was released. But this is, in my opinion, the best of the original trilogy that starred Mel Gibson.

The world is pretty much destroyed in this film. While we saw a world on the brink of collapse in the first picture, by the time we get to this one, the world has been reduced to nothing but desert, as least as far as we know.

With that, the two most sought after commodities are water and oil. But here, oil is basically gold as those who can still run their machines, have a strong advantage over those who can’t.

The story sees Max discover a community that has a good amount of oil but they are being threatened by a vicious gang that looks more like barbarians than normal, well meaning people. The evil gang, led by Lord Humungus, keeps the community trapped behind their walls as they use their vehicles to run down anyone who comes outside. Max strikes a deal with the nice people being terrorized and we see him have to take on these vile villains in the most high octane way possible.

The Road Warrior is both barbaric and fantastical but still grounded in a sort of gritty reality. It came out just before the ’80s sword and sorcery trend took hold and while it has strong similarities to the genre, it doesn’t rely on magic and monsters but instead, machines and human monsters.

The movie feels otherworldly but not in a way that it doesn’t seem plausible or reflective of a possible future for humanity. Coming out during the Cold War, regardless of this being an Australian film, adds a natural heightened sense of fear. George Miller made something that effectively tapped into those societal and political concerns while also making just a badass action movie that has aged well, despite its weird fashion sense. But that ’80s punk meets new wave look also gives the film some of its charm.

While the film certainly doesn’t need to rely on Mel Gibson, his inclusion here adds and extra level of gravitas and personality to the picture. But I also have to give some credit to bad guy character actor Vernon Wells, as the mohawked savage Wez.

The Road Warrior is capped off by a twenty minute action finale that sees the greatest vehicular chase scene in cinematic history for its time. And frankly, it’s only really been upstaged by it’s later sequel Fury Road. I could say that maybe some movies have had better car chases but what gives this movie something special is how there is a variety of weird vehicles from cars, trucks, motorcycles and even a gyrocopter.

I love this movie. It’s one of the top action films of the ’80s and arguably, all-time. It’s simple, it’s tough and it gets the job done while surprising you along the way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Pet Sematary (1989)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (full title)
Release Date: April 21st, 1989
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Stephen King (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes, dead is better.” – Jud Crandall

With a Pet Sematary remake just a few months away, I wanted to revisit the original 1989 film, as it has been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched it.

I wasn’t a big fan of it, back in the day, but I did remember that it was legitimately eerie. I wanted to see how it aged and if maybe I missed something when I was younger.

One thing that this movie does really well is suspense. It has a very slow build and it takes time to get to the good stuff but there really isn’t a wasted moment in the movie and it wasn’t too slow or boring. It just crawled forward, scratching away at the surface as it crept closer and closer.

The payoff isn’t fantastic but it isn’t bad either. I’d say that this hasn’t aged well. Even though Miko Hughes made a great creepy kid, the way that his more vicious attacks are shot and edited is pretty shoddy. The moment where he lunges out of the hole in the attic onto his father is pretty cringe even for 1989 standards. I always liked Miko Hughes though and he would go on to be in a lot of stuff in the early ’90s. He was damn good on Full House and he was a pretty capable child actor in things like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

The big positive of the film is Fred Gwynne, most famous for playing Herman Munster. It’s hard to really peg him and who he is but the film slowly reveals more and more about his past and what he knows about the strange proceedings. Seeing him die in a horrific way was pretty effective, as you do feel pretty bad for the guy.

I also liked that Denise Crosby was in this just coming off of her short stint as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I haven’t seen her in much outside of Star Trek related stuff but she did a good job here, as she tried to transition into film from television.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film. I enjoyed coming back to it all these years later and I certainly have more of an appreciation for it now but it isn’t in the top tier of Stephen King adaptations for me.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Hangar 18 (1980)

Also known as: Space Connection (France), Columbia 3 (Greece), Invasion Force (Germany)
Release Date: July, 1980 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Written by: Ken Pettus, Thomas C. Chapman, James L. Conway
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Pamela Bellwood

Sunn Classic Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“This is a Department of Defense operation. You guys couldn’t get outta here with a coffee cup.” – George Turner

This film probably has a worse wrap than it deserves because it was featured in a very early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before it was even on national television. But if I’m being honest, this is a better movie than what one is accustomed to seeing on MST3K.

I’m not saying this is a good picture, it really isn’t. But it did have some actual ambition driving it.

My biggest gripe about it is that it’s pretty boring overall. Also, the quality isn’t great, as it feels more like a late ’70s television movie than a motion picture that got released in actual theaters.

The story is about a just launched satellite colliding with a UFO. The government tries to cover this up due to a presidential election being on the horizon. An astronaut is killed by the collision and the blame for the accident is put on the two surviving astronauts. So this is basically a political thriller with a UFO cover up at its center.

The film just doesn’t play out as cool as it sounds. It’s drab and slow and the action you do see, isn’t that great.

Some of the little tidbits about this film are actually more interesting than the film itself.

It was one of the few American films released during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Due to Soviet films lacking action and science fiction, it was hugely popular there, at the time. There was also a version of this with an alternate ending. It was released as Invasion Force but according to super film critic Leonard Maltin, the new ending undermined the whole film.

This could have probably been a better picture in more capable hands or with a better budget but it’s really just kind of an uneventful dud.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s to early ’80s low budget sci-fi films.

Film Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey, Maia Brewton, Courtney Gains, Huey Lewis (cameo)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Dr. Emmett Brown

Back to the Future is a classic, which makes it kind of hard to review. It’s a film I’ve put off reviewing for awhile because I can’t really come up with anything other than paragraphs of praise. It’s perfect.

Do I need to run through all the regular tidbits about it having a great story, script, director, cast, composer, cinematographer, special effects department and everything else under the sun?

I’m reviewing this right after I reviewed RoboCop, which I also gave a 10 out of 10. But don’t take that score lightly, it is really hard for me to give out 10s but this film certainly deserves it and maybe even a score slightly beyond that. The only other movie from my childhood that can really compete for this as the best film from that era is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While the Roger Eberts, Gene Siskels and Pauline Kaels have their Citizen KaneVertigo and Seven Samurai, I have Raiders of the Lost ArkEmpire Strikes Back and Back to the Future. These are my generation’s classics and even though they are much more modern, their greatness can’t be denied. Well, unless you’re completely devoid of taste.

This film was a perfect storm, even if it had some major production issues early on. But those issues led to this and it’s hard to imagine that a film with a slightly different cast would have been as good as this ended up being.

If you haven’t seen this film already, I don’t understand what you’ve been doing with all of your time on this planet. If you have seen it and don’t like it, we probably won’t be friends.

This is, hands down, one of the absolute best films of the 1980s, regardless of genre or style. There are other movies that one can refer to as “perfect” but how many are actually this fun?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: RoboCop (1987)

Also known as: Robocop: The Future of Law Enforcement (script title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry

Orion Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!” – RoboCop

I put off reviewing RoboCop for a long time on this site because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies and I wanted to save it for a rainy day. Well, the day wasn’t rainy but I was suffering from my almost annual mini cold that all the snowbirds bring down to Florida every January.

It is hard for me to talk about this film and not get overly excited about it, which certainly gives me a strong bias towards it and also taps into nostalgia and the possibility that I can’t be as objective, as I don’t care about a single flaw in the movie. But there really aren’t many, to be honest, and this was absolutely one of the best action movies of the ’80s and really, it’s better than almost every action movie now, 32 years later.

This is a film that just has the right kind of magic. It is lightning in a bottle and even though I like the first sequel, that film doesn’t come close to what director Paul Verhoeven did here. Plus, the script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner was absolutely superb. But the one thing that really brings everything together is the stupendous score by Basil Poledouris. His work on the Conan films and its themes were wonderful. Poledouris worked his musical magic again and gave RoboCop one of the best themes of all-time and the score is pretty incredible, overall. They just don’t quite make movie music this good anymore and without it, I don’t know if the movie has the same sort of energy and spirit.

All of those elements I just mentioned, created a film where the tone was perfect for the story that they needed to tell. And all of these solid pieces coming together so well still doesn’t account for how great the cast was. I mean, RoboCop truly is a perfect storm of badass sci-fi action.

Peter Weller is RoboCop and it will always be the role he is most remembered for but he has such a long and rich career of amazing performances that it isn’t hard to understand how he was so good in this and how he gave a robotic character a real sense of humanity. You feel his emotion, his pain and it is impossible to not root for Alex Murphy a.k.a. RoboCop.

The villains in this were so damn good though. They were kind of terrifying to me, as a kid, but the impact of who and what they are is still strong and it isn’t lost in a film where there is some of that famous ’80s movie cheese. The bad guys are well written with strong dialogue but they were also well cast between Kurtwood Smith, who steals the show, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise and even Miguel Ferrer, who isn’t specifically a villain but he is a reckless yuppie piece of shit.

I love Dan O’Herlihy in just about everything I’ve seen him in. He was creepy as hell as the villain in Halloween III and on the flip side of the coin, he was absolutely lovable as Grig, the alien co-pilot in The Last Starfighter. This is my favorite role he’s ever played, however. He was great as the old man running OCP, the corporation that pretty much owns all of Detroit. I also love that he continued to play the role after this film.

RoboCop birthed a franchise. While no other movie in the series has lived up to this one, which is a really tall order, it still spawned comic books, video games, a cartoon, action figures, sequels, a live action TV show, TV movies and a remake nearly three decades later. In fact, there is another RoboCop film in development now.

Many ’80s films don’t age well and while this is very much an ’80s motion picture, it doesn’t feel dated in quite the same way as other similar films from the time. RoboCop doesn’t have a dull moment and none of it slows down, it’s just balls out action and super violence of the highest caliber. Even critics love it and this is the type of thing that critics loathe.

If you’ve never seen this film, you’ve done yourself a disservice.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the RoboCop sequels and the first two Terminator movies.