Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

RIP Tina Turner

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

It's not supposed to happen this way. Sequels are not supposed to be better than the movies that inspired them. The third movie in a series isn't supposed to create a world more complex, more visionary and more entertaining than the first two. Sequels are supposed to be creative voids. But now here is "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," not only the best of the three Mad Max movies, but one of the best films of 1985.

From its opening shot of a bizarre vehicle being pulled by camels through the desert, "Mad Max Three'' places us more firmly within its apocalyptic postnuclear world than ever before. We are some years in the future; how many, it is hard to say, but so few years that the frames and sheet metal of 1985 automobiles are still being salvaged for makeshift new vehicles of bizarre design. And yet enough years that a new society is taking shape. The bombs have fallen, the world's petroleum supplies have been destroyed and, in the deserts of Australia, mankind has found a new set of rules and started on a new game.

The driver of the camels is Mad Max (Mel Gibson), former cop, now sort of a free-lance nomad. After his vehicle is stolen and he is left in the desert to die, he makes his way somehow to Bartertown, a quasi-Casablanca hammered together out of spare parts. Bartertown is where you go to buy, trade or sell any thing -- or anybody. It is supervised by a Sydney Greenstreet-style fat man named the Collector (Frank Thring) and ruled by an imperious queen named Aunty Entity (Tina Turner).

And it is powered by an energy source that is, in its own way, a compelling argument against nuclear war: In chambers beneath Bartertown, countless pigs live and eat and defecate, and from their waste products, Turner's soldiers generate methane gas. This leads to some of the movie's most memorable moments, as Mad Max and others wade knee-deep in piggy-doo.

Tina Turner herself lives far above the masses in a bird-nest throne room perched high overhead. And as Mad Max first visits Turner's sky palace, I began to realize how completely the director, George Miller, had imagined this future world. It has the crowding and the variety of a movie crossroads, but it also has a riot of hairstyles and costume design, as if these desperate creatures could pause from the daily struggle for survival only long enough to invent new punk fashions. After the clothes, the hair, the crowding, the incessant activity, the spendthrift way in which Miller fills his screen with throwaway details, Bartertown becomes much more than a movie set -- it's an astounding address of the imagination, a place as real as Bogart's Casablanca or Orson Welles' Xanadu or the Vienna of "The Third Man".

That was even before the movie introduced me to Thunderdome, the arena for Bartertown's hand-to-hand battles to the death.

— Roger Ebert,

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Sponsored by Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS)

Thu October 19, 7:30 PM, VAC Basement Auditorium (1B20)

Australia, 1985, in English, 107 min

Screenplay: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Director: George Miller, George Ogilvie, Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Helen Buday, Bruce Spence, Angelo Rossitto

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