The Road Warrior (1981)

the road warrior

“Look at yourself. You couldn’t drive a wheelchair.”

The Scoop: 1981 R, directed by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, and Michael Preston

Tagline: In the future, cities will become deserts, roads will become battlefields and the hope of mankind will appear as a stranger.

Summary Capsule: A car-driving anti-hero defends a small community in post-apocalyptic Australia

Sue’s rating: Amoco Ultimate gasoline contains no polynuclear aromatics

Sue’s review: I never wanted to become OPEC’s first line of defense, but when gas prices start to rise, that seems to be my lot in life. There’s nothing quite so disheartening than being screamed at by Joe Commuter for the shenanigans of various sheiks, diplomats and corporate honchos I’m sure I’ll never meet. (My idea of traveling to the middle-east is a trip to Baltimore, for criminy’s sake!) So when the prices skyrocket and road rage spills over into frothing obscenity aimed at yours truly, there’s no better remedy that going home and popping The Road Warrior into the VCR.

Ahhh, now THERE’S some expensive gasoline!

This is a movie that has something for everyone: violence, car chases, crossbows, coveted fossil fuels for fellow mutant Lissa and a young leather-clad Mel Gibson for me. What’s not to love?

The crux of the story is that in the wake of the latest war to end all wars, the most valued commodity in the Australian Outback is fuel. (Shotgun shells seem to trail in at a distant second, although I’d have maybe opted for water and food myself.) After all, without a means of transportation, what are you but just another dehydrated pedestrian in not-so-happy valley? So there are two sets of people. The ones who have the gas behind some really creative barricades and the ones who intend to take the gas whilst leaving a swath of mangled corpses in their wake. Kind of makes you wonder if they’ve lost sight of the bigger gene-pool related picture, doesn’t it?

And then there’s Lone Wolf… er… Dingo… Mad Max (Pre-Religion Mel Gibson) with his souped up V8 Interceptor, a faithful dog aptly named Dog and an acquired sidekick, the Gyro Captain, (Bruce Spence) who flies the friendly skies in something resembling an industrial sized eggbeater and gets all the good lines. Oh yes, and there would seem to be the token feral male child in the mix too. Named, if I understand this correctly, Boy, who grows up to be Narrator. The austerity of those names is offset by the leader of the villains known affectionately as “The Humungus” (not my spelling). Pro-Wrestling is apparently forecasted to survive the apocalypse. Just like cockroaches!

In any case, not entirely comfortable with the prey or predator ethos of the locals, Max opts to sub-contract to the gas owners who’ve decided to relocate to a quieter neighborhood (they have brochures!) by offering to drive their tanker truck past the slavering hordes… all for the low low price of a tank full of unleaded. What a deal!

A pretty nifty chase sequence ensues, which makes up for all the “good of humanity” drivel that immediately precedes it. (Having listened to the longer chunks of dialogue, I’m almost positive that George Lucas was used as a script consultant.) As to the rest of the movie, you’ll just have to watch and see.

While this isn’t a movie for the squeamish, or my Mom, I was struck by how mild the language and gore factors really were in comparison to modern day films. At the time I first watched this, (1982, I think) it had just been released on cable (heck, cable had just been released on cable!) and innocent little me was left aghast, but not undelighted, at the carnage. Funny how time changes your perspective, isn’t it? These days, I can’t help but watch this movie with a little tug of nostalgia. I mean, I haven’t seen live human beings intentionally used as a first line of defense in a head-on collision since Volkswagen stopped production on those little minibuses so prevalent in the 70’s.

Road Warrior isn’t ever going to be remembered for sparkling dialogue or breathtakingly beautiful cinematography, but it does unabashedly examine many ways in which sharp projectiles, barbed wire and moving vehicles can ruin your whole day. All in all, not a bad way to educate yourself for a few hours.

Kaleb’s rating: Why The Road Warrior works, and the other two kind of don’t. An essay.

Kaleb’s review: I should clarify: Why The Road Warrior works better. Because Mad Max and Beyond Thunderdome are fine films, they just don’t quite got that zing. Road Warrior does got that zing, so much so that I feel justified in more or less abandoning it during what is supposed to be its review, and focusing more on its partner movies.

Mad Max is hamstrung somewhat from the get-go by the fact that it’s a normal-prequel, but to the likely majority of its American audience, it was received under the auspices of being a sequel-prequel. Why is this bad for it? Well, ya see, when a movie is released as a sequel-prequel — that is, a movie that appears later in the franchise, but chronicles events that happened earlier — rule number one, understood by all fans and by any production staffers who would like to continue living indoors, is that the characters have to be cooler and do cooler things, despite being younger and less experienced. I call it the Street Fighter Alpha Principle.

The Max Rockatansky portrayed in Mad Max — with his loving family and happiness and whatnot — just isn’t quite as cool as the dead-eyed wither-souled desert drifter most viewers will have already come to know and love. And while MM has plenty of the series’ signature vehicular carnage, you won’t see anything that isn’t done ten times bigger and louder in RW.

Thunderdome suffers from an entirely different ailment. Namely, being the obvious result of someone leaping hands outstretched toward a swollen cash udder, having evidently passed through a field of poppies beforehand-itis.

Oh yes: there was much highness in the writer’s room. Big silly plaster heads! Lost boys-esque jungle kids! Midgets riding massive dorks! We gonna be rich!

What you end up with is an odd little supplement to the coda, a movie that exists as the answer to a question nobody asked. This, as a result of the fact that the Max mythos was brought to an open-ended but largely satisfactory conclusion in RW, and that T-dome brings no additional closure to the table, seeing as how it ends in more or less the same fashion.

If I had to sum up RW‘s winningness in one word, it would have to be “balance”. If you place it next to the other two movies, you might notice that it’s kind of a happy hybrid of the best elements of both. Mad Max relies too heavily on babies being run over by motorcycles and such, whereas Thunderdome has obviously been hitting the sauce too hard. Road Warrior splits the difference by blending atrocities and weirdness in the correct measure.

Also, note Max’s activities in each film. In Thunderdome, he primarily frolics with children; in Mad Max, he primarily kills thugs. But in Road Warrior, he frolics with children AND kills thugs. Well, okay, he doesn’t actually frolic, and it’s just one child, and not so much a child as some sort of wolf/monkey/thing, but close enough.

The trichotomy is further demonstrated by the films’ respective villains. Ironbar is just a bit too much of a cartoon character, whereas Toecutter is too much vaguely-homosexual meanness. Wez, on the other hand, is the perfect balance of both, and somehow lends respectability to an ensemble featuring feathers and assless chaps.

And you want to talk Overlords? Mad Max doesn’t really have one, so that leaves Auntie Entity and Humungus. And that isn’t even a contest. Humungus wins in my book by a landslide, and to demonstrate just how big of a landslide, I’m going to have to share something I’d like to keep confidential, if I could. Just between you and me and anyone else who reads this review, deal? Okay then:

I have never cosplayed. This is due in large part to cosplaying and ‘con attendance both being skills limited to the top tier of nerddom, as opposed to the next-to-top tier of nerddom — a realm where concepts like social functionality and a normal sex life, while still alien, are not totally unattainable — where I live and am quite comfortable, thank you.

However, were I to break the glass ceiling and lose myself to the Nerd entirely, at the very tippy-top of my potential cosplay characters list, you would find Lord Humungus. Because I think I would look hot in gimp gear and a steel hockey mask. Plus, I can do the voice pretty well if I do say so, and certain of his lines would come in handy at the autograph tables and merchandise booths. “Just walk away, and there will be an end to the horror.” The translation being, “Let me cut, and I’ll put some pants on.”

Despite my mild pooping-on of the non-Road Warrior films, I really do like them all. And I ought to, considering that the last three pieces I’ve submitted to the site have all made some reference thereto (I’m including this review, because it makes a lot of references). In my opinion, however, Road Warrior stands just a little bit taller, drives just a little bit faster, and explodes just a little bit explodier than the others.

Stylish and hicky-resistant!
Stylish and hicky-resistant!

Intermission! [some sources: IMDb]

  • The Road Warrior is the second film in the Mad Max trilogy, bookended by Mad Max and Mad Max – Beyond Thunderdome.
  • The dog used in the film, named simply “Dog”, was obtained from a local dog pound and trained to perform in the film. Because the sound of the engines upset him (and in one incident, caused him to relieve himself in the car), he was fitted with special earplugs.
  • Because he was relatively unknown in the US, the trailers did not feature Mel Gibson, but instead focused on the chases and action scenes.
  • The original V8 Interceptor car is now in the ‘Cars of the Stars Motor Museum’ in England with other famous cars such as the Magnum PI Ferrari and the Knight Rider KITT – all vehicles that Sue remembers fondly from her younger days.
  • Snakes make excellent pets… and have several essential vitamins and minerals!
  • Hair dye and styling gel should be a part of anyone’s pre-apocalyptic stockpile.
  • Lawn darts take on a whole new meaning in this flick.
  • Feral children are every bit as articulate and hygienic as the domestic variety.
  • Why is it that every wannabe despot has to have a sniveling, rat faced maniac as a sidekick? Is it in the Union rules or what?
  • Hey, why isn’t anyone worried about oil, spark plugs or transmission fluid?
  • Bungee Mechanic!
  • Is it just me or does the Gyro Captain seem like a prototype for Murdock from the A-Team?
  • When Humungus runs into the back of the big rig, the prisoners he’s using as hood ornaments both get their heads knocked off. Eeww!!
  • Stranger still, I think they might have their heads back on again in later scenes.
  • The rig has at least two tires blown out during the course of the final chase sequence, but at the end, all of its tires appear to be intact.

Groovy Quotes

The Gyro Captain: Lingerie. Oh, remember lingerie?

[Max starts to pull a concealed knife from under his car. The Captain puts a loaded crossbow to his neck from behind}
The Gyro Captain: A fellah, a QUICK fellah, might have a weapon under there. I’d have to pin his head to the panel…

The Gyro Captain: Don’t touch please, that’s a precision instrument

[Max loads his shotgun with a shell found on a dead body]
The Gyro Captain: How do we know that one’s not a dud?
[Max aims at the Captain’s face]
Max: Find out.

Curmudgeon: Ya have to come, sonny. This is where we’re going. [Unfolds a multi-panel scenic postcard] Paradise! Two thousand miles from here. Fresh water. Plenty of sunshine. Nothing to do but breed!

Max: I want to drive that truck.
Zetta: And how do you plan to do that? Look at yourself. You couldn’t drive a wheelchair.

The Gyro Captain: They’ve got you wrong. You’re not a coward. STUPID, maybe. But not a coward.

Mechanic: The last of the V8 Interceptors. [Picks up the booby trap he just removed] Would’ve been a shame to blow it up.

Toadie: Greetings from the Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland. . .The Ayatollah, of Rock n’ Rollah!!

Humungus: You disobey me. You puppy.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Six-String Samurai
  • Mad Max
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdrome


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