The Road Warrior (1981) – Retro Showcase

Cinema — the great escape. Throughout the ages moviegoers have lined up to see the next great thing, some films have the distinct honor of being labeled “timeless”. That was my thinking when deciding to write reviews on movies of the past, some more well known than others. I want to give these classic films a chance to be recognized by a new audience or act as a reminder to an old demographic who has not experienced a certain film in some time. I like to call this “Retro Showcase”; this brings us to one of my favorite films — The Road Warrior.

A sequel to the 1979 Australian exploitation flick “Mad Max”, Director George Miller shows Hollywood how to make a follow up that improves on the original in everyway imaginable. A modern misconception is that this is simply a testosterone driven action film, filled with fast cars and explosions. This is all true — but at the same is so much more. 29 years later and this film still influences and even helped create and entirely new genre of entertainment — the “post-apocalyptic thriller”.

Mel Gibson stars as Max Rockatansky, a flawed anti-hero who acts as a vagrant. Wondering throughout and surviving each day in a war torn wasteland where gasoline is a rarity. The badlands are split into three groups, the savages who will do anything to get their hands on the gasoline — even if they have to rape or kill for it. Then there are the survivors, a group of people held up in a gasoline refinery just trying to live a somewhat civilized life while fending for themselves and protecting what’s theirs. Then — there’s Max.

“Mad Max” was at its core a revenge tale, a good cop who avenges the death of his family. This is carried over into the sequel; Gibson portrays Max as an absolute wreck. Living day to day, caring about nothing but himself and his dog. He doesn’t interfere in others business and expects the same from everyone else. In my opinion this is Mel Gibson’s best character, in terms of range and emotion.

The society inside the refinery enlists the help from Max to drive a tanker truck of gas to an outpost somewhere on the coast, but they have to get past the savages waiting for them beyond the walls. The reluctant hero decides to help, what follows is the most incredible and exhilarating car chase in the history of cinema. Nearly 15 minutes of non-stop smashing and crashing, an absolute must see. Australians really have an eye for action; Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot / BMX Bandits / Dead End Drive-In) comes to mind.

When Miller places the camera only inches from the careening pavement below, chills run through my body. Just thinking that every stunt, explosion and crash is done in camera — it makes me wish that they made movies like that now. Without every big stunt and effect done on the computer with expensive CGI. The heart of “The Road Warrior” is the emphasis on the human condition; this is what causes this film to stand out from the crowd.

What makes George Miller brilliant is the subtleness of his characters and careful placement of details make sure you watch this film more than once. One scene in particular stands out in my mind; Gibson and The Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) are sitting atop a cliff watching the savages circle the refinery. Gibson is eating dog food out of the can and shares it with his dog, the remains are tossed aside and Spence digs out the rest. After he eats it, he politely wipes his mouth with linen. The fact that he remembers his manners while in a post-apocalyptic nightmare shows a depth in the characters, even though times are rough — does not mean we have to reform to savage and cruel behavior.

The entire film is laced with very subtly hints like this that add to the overall experience, depth like this is absent in modern action films. The ending is perfect and completely shatters your senses, SPOILERS! The tanker Max is driving is actually a diversion to draw the savages away from the school bus where the gas is actually hidden; Max is unaware of this and only increases his distrust for the human race. Just goes to show that during times of desperation, even the good guys are devious.

Despite the symbolism and ethereal meanings to life and society, The Road Warrior is a great time at the movies. Not only is it the best sequels of all time, but one of the greatest stand-alone pictures of the century. For those who have not had the pleasure of seeing this, do yourself a favor. I own this film on every format (VHS / DVD / Laserdisc / Blu-ray) and the best I have found so far is the Blu-ray version. The 1080p transfer is crystal clear and gives the proper scope to the big action set pieces, especially the end highway chase. Add this to you collection today! 10/10