I caught Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome during its initial release back in 1985. In all honesty, I wasn’t all that thrilled. At this point in my life I had seen The Road Warrior half a dozen times or more and Beyond Thunderdome seemed pale in comparison. But it was the first Mad Max film I saw in a theater, so I suppose that has to account for something.
I caught Beyond Thunderdome at the Fourth Avenue Theater in balmy downtown Anchorage, Alaska. The Fourth Avenue Theater is considered an Alaskan landmark, and for good reason. Built between 1941 and 1947, from the outside, the Fourth looks just like any other building; drab and uninspired. The inside, however, was nothing short of spectacular. Gorgeous art deco-inspired architecture – lots of wood and gold leaf murals, with the Big Dipper inlaid in glittering lights on the ceiling. It was glorious.
A few years later, a friend of mine took a graveyard shift with a local television station adjacent to the Fourth. I used to come down to the station and hang out; keeping him company and providing me an outlet for my chronic insomnia. Between commercial breaks we used to sneak into the old theater to explore at our leisure.
Good times. Better memories.
Whether you call it Mad Max 2 or The Road Warrior, the second film in the series was a true masterpiece; the best of the bunch until Fury Road came along. The original Mad Max was pretty good too, but I watched the movies out of order and going from post to near-apocalypse didn’t really do it for me as a kid. I had already been to the mountaintop.
Fury Road is, of course, beyond the beyond. Certainly Beyond Thunderdome.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome an 80% approval rating. I hate to play the Vizzini card here, but, “inconceivable!” It just does not compute.
The most memorable moment of the experience for me was completely unrelated to the movie itself and in fact occurred after I had left the theater altogether. As I was walking to my bus stop to return home, I passed a rather large man in black. The Man in Black (barring Roy Orbison, of course). Johnny Cash. What he was doing in Anchorage, I had no idea, but there was no mistaking him. I took a couple of steps further, stopped and turned around. I just stood there for a few moments and watched him and his companions walk away. Eventually I shook it off and high-tailed it to catch my bus.
After that initial viewing, I wouldn’t see Beyond Thunderdome again for thirty-five years.
Apropos of nothing, I was searching the internet for a mid-eighties female professional wrestler who went by the name, Mad Maxine. (Look her up, she’s awesome.) Mad Maxine led me to Mad Max and the realization that Beyond Thunderdome is rated PG-13, and thus the only Mad Max film I could allow my children to watch in good conscience.
Of course, they loved it. Little turncoats.
I will admit that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was much better the second time around. However, the problems I had in that initial viewing still stand out. For starters, it’s too damn clean. Mel Gibson’s Max is too perfectly blow-dried. The characters are all freshly showered and manicured. I bet they even smelled good. The dirt and the dust, the grit and the grim that made the first two movies (and later, the fourth) such classics, is gone. Scrubbed clean. This was less mad Max than a slightly irritable Max. I worship the ground George Miller walks on, but Babe: Pig in the City has more in common with a Mad Max flick than Beyond Thunderdome.
What I will say is after watching this three decades later, I can see the influence it had upon the world. Is it just me or did JJ Abrams rip off the entirety of the Bartertown scenes for Jakku in The Force Awakens? I mean, like right down to the portions bit?
Wrestling fans may remember the Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal match between Sting and Jake “The Snake” Roberts from Halloween Havoc ’92. How that did not end up in a trademark suit is beyond me.
Tina Turner was a badass though, I’ll certainly fess to that. To quote House of Pain, she gets all of my love.
And the cow print car. Cow print cars get all of my love too.