Max (Mel Gibson) arrives in the desert settlement of Bartertown, which is ruled by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). Max is persuaded to take part in a duel to the death inside Thunderdome, as Aunty's candidate against the formidable Blaster (Paul Larson), so that she can wrest control from the dwarf Master (Angelo Rossitto). But when Max refuses to kill Blaster, he is exiled. At the point of death in the desert, he is found by a group of children led by Savannah (Helen Buday). They think he's the messiah destined to lead them to Tomorrow-morrowland...
Back in 1985, there was a lot of expectation attached to this, the third and so far last in the Mad Max trilogy. And that expectation turned to disappointment. While Mad Max 2 continued its rise to classic status – it's the most recent of the BFI's year-long cycle of 360 masterpieces of cinema – Thunderdome has been underrated ever since. Granted, it's certainly flawed: the storyline is much less focused than its predecessor's, tending to fall into three distinct episodes. And for some, the middle section with the children slows the film down and takes it dangerously close to Spielberg territory.
But Thunderdome still has plenty going for it. Tina Turner gives a flamboyant performance and is an effective foil to Max in the first and last sections. The remainder of the cast is well chosen. (Bruce Spence is, apart from Gibson, the only holdover from Mad Max 2, but he's not playing the same role.) Dean Semler's Scope camerawork – likely to be wrecked by TV panning and scanning – and Graham "Grace" Walker's production design are terrific. An action movie like this needs a big propulsive score, and that's exactly what Maurice Jarre (taking over from Brian May, not the Queen guitarist, who scored the first two of the trilogy) delivers here. The fight between Max and Blaster is very well staged, and the final section features an edge-of-seat vehicle chase that's the equal of anything in the earlier two films.
Even the much-criticised middle section is of interest. As science fiction, it's a bit more sophisticated than most. It's a rare film that bothers to take account of linguistic changes: note the "degraded" English the children speak (something akin to that in Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker, though less extreme).
George Miller on this film had a co-director. George Ogilvie had stage and TV experience (he worked on the Miller-produced TV miniseries The Dismissal), but this was his cinematic debut. He has since gone on to direct some notable films on his own, such as The Crossing, which featured an early role for a young New Zealander called Russell Crowe.
Warner's DVD is in the correct ratio of 2.35:1, and is anamorphic. It shows off Semler's dusty-looking camerawork to good effect, sharp and colourful with strong blacks. The only problem is some noticeable artefacting – just watch the curtains shimmer as Turner makes her entrance. In fact her entire costume and earrings cause frequent aliasing.
In its showcase venues on its cinema release, Thunderdome was shown in a 70mm blow-up with six-track Dolby Stereo sound. That's the presumed origin of this DVD's English soundtrack, which is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is if nothing else VERY LOUD. You'll know from "One of the Living", the Turner song over the opening credits (the hit single "We Don't Need Another Hero" plays over the end credits) how much you're liable to annoy your neighbours. The rears and the subwoofer get a thorough workout. The disc also features French- and Italian-dubbed Dolby Surround tracks, which needless to say have much less impact. (The packaging claims that the Italian track is mono, but that's incorrect.)
This being a Warners back-catalogue disc, extras are minimal. There's the effective trailer, in 1.85:1 anamorphic, running 1:34. The production notes include standard biographies of Gibson, Turner, co-writer Terry Hayes and the two directors. Oddly, biographies of Frank Thring and Angelo Rossitto get their own section, "Collector and Master". The remainder is standard text stuff about the film's making. Finally, there are Warner's recommendations if you like this film: for the record, they are Blade Runner, Demolition Man, Lethal Weapon and of course The Road Warrior.
A somewhat undervalued film gets a typical Warner DVD release: good picture and very good sound, but basic extras. As the first Mad Max has just been released in a special edition, maybe its two sequels will follow in due course.
Max (Mel Gibson) arrives in the desert settlement of Bartertown, which is ruled by Aunty Entity (Tin...