Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the story of a burnt-out, desolate man who learns to live again. Sort of. It’s more the story of a burnt-out, desolate man who finds himself babysitting sixty feral children who think he’s a messiah. But not really that story either, because Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome doesn’t put much thought into story. Once writers Terry Hayes and co-director Miller, get Mad Max (Mel Gibson) beyond the Thunderdome portion of the film, it’s just a variety on nonsense until the grand action finale.
Only that grand action finale isn’t particularly grand. There’s impressive stunt work and practical car effects, but there’s no animosity between the pursuers and the pursued. While Tina Turner is mad at Gibson, it’s a general anger without much intensity. Directors Miller and Ogilvie, along with Hayes, do nothing to emphasize any of the character relationships in the film. There are always adorable feral kids cloying at Gibson and none make much of an impression. Even Helen Buday, who should be Gibson’s sidekick or dramatic foil, just ends up in the background. Making the feral kids either non-verbal or blathering nonsense means Thunderdome just gets to imply character development without ever having to commit time or energy to it.
Gibson does better with the implied character development than anyone else. Even though the film’s indifferent to his character’s presence, Gibson’s not. He’s kind of blah with hair extensions growl-bantering with Turner, but he does get in a couple good moments with the kids. A lot of the other scenes with the kids are terrible, but there are a couple of good ones.
In addition to the troubled script and direction, Beyond Thunderdome is always lacking in some technical department at some time or another. Half of Dean Semler’s photography is subpar. Even though there’s clearly this elaboration exterior set for Turner’s “Bartertown,” the nighttime scenes in specific locations are always obvious on a soundstage. The film’s got the right grain, but not the right light.
Robert Francis-Bruce’s editing never impresses. Maurice Jarre’s score is overly melodramatic, trying to buy into the film’s goofy feral kid logic.
As far as the acting goes, it’s all fine. The stuff with the kids–the Disney version of a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies–is a complete misfire (though it does feature some of Semler and Jarre’s best work in the film, when Ogilvie shoots white sands like a resort commercial). So when the kids are annoying, it’s not their fault. It’s Ogilvie, Miller, and Hayes’s fault. And Buday is fine. It’s too bad she doesn’t get better material.
But all through Beyond Thunderdome, Ogilvie and Miller never let the film get too long or too unpleasant or too precious. It’s tedious, but there’s a building intensity. That intensity fizzles out completely in the third act and stops Thunderdome fast. There’s no attempt to recover, just the transition into a bad epilogue sequence.
The whole thing feels like a forfeit.
Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie; written by Terry Hayes and Miller; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Miller; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Mel Gibson (Mad Max Rockatansky), Tina Turner (Aunty Entity), Angelo Rossitto (The Master), Helen Buday (Savannah Nix), Robert Grubb (Pig Killer), Angry Anderson (Ironbar), Tom Jennings (Slake), Paul Larsson (The Blaster), Frank Thring (The Collector), and Bruce Spence (Jedediah the Pilot).