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: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: Dark City (1998)

Release Date: February 27th, 1998
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, William Hurt, Bruce Spence, Melissa George, David Wenham

Mystery Clock Cinema, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes, 112 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability “Tuning”. But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for.” – Dr. Schreber

Dark City wasn’t a very successful film, upon its release. However, it has gone on to have a large cult following and deservedly so.

It is directed by Alex Proyas, the man who gave cinematic life to 1994’s The Crow, which is still the best film in its franchise. With this film, he teamed up with David S. Goyer, who penned the scripts for The Crow‘s first sequel, as well as Blade, which wasn’t yet made by the time that Proyas read it and decided to bring Goyer on to help write this project. It was a pretty good marriage, as Dark City is an incredible experience, overall.

This is a sci-fi neo-noir in a similar vein to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but it is almost dark enough to be a horror picture. Plus, it has some pretty cool monsters in the alien race that serves as this villains of this story, the “Strangers”.

Dariusz Wolski handled the cinematography. He also worked on The Crow with Proyas and also had Romeo Is BleedingCrimson Tide and The Fan under his belt. His visual style was pretty consistent with what he did in The Crow but it was even darker and had a vivid richness with his use of neon and colorful lighting to accent the scenes.

The story follows a man (Rufus Sewell) who wakes up, not knowing who he is. We soon discover that he is wanted for the murders of several prostitutes in the city. Nothing is what it seems though, as the man has run-ins with the “Strangers” and discovers that he essentially has superpowers. He is assisted in solving his own mystery by his wife (Jennifer Connelly), a detective (William Hurt) and a strange scientist (Kiefer Sutherland). There is a big conspiracy that drives the film and it is uncovering the mysteries of the strange city they live in that leads to a fantastic narrative payoff and a great finale.

Dark City is visually stunning and impressive from a technical standpoint. It didn’t have a hefty budget but the effects of a moving city, more than a decade before Christopher Nolan did it in Inception, are well orchestrated and executed. All the other visual effects may look a bit dated now but they still work well within the context of the film. It’s a strange universe where Dark City takes us but it looks magnificent and has held up pretty well.

This is one of my favorite films of the late 1990s. It is effective emotionally and it sticks with you. In fact, it has stuck with me in a way that I’ve always hoped for a sequel, even if it’s a literary one. Proyas created an interesting world that needs further exploration. I’m surprised it hasn’t been revisited, actually.

I love Dark City. It’s dark, it’s bizarre, it’s unique and it’s my cup of tea. Plus, it is a real throwback to film-noir even if it is set in a futuristic sci-fi universe: a place that is hard to explain without spoiling important plot details.

Rating: 9.25/10