Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Friday At the Movies: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

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Video games and movies, you would think the two would go hand-in-hand, but unfortunately given that the film medium is a passive experience and the gaming medium is an active experience, the hybrid of the two usually goes horribly (and laughably) wrong.  This segment will be our weekly realm to appreciate the more “classic” medium of film.


Two men enter, one man leaves.  That phrase has been ingrained in my memory since I first heard it at the tender of age of seven.  The third, and technically final, installment in George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy may initially come off as the oddest but ultimately is par for the course in this interesting series.  Beyond Thunderdome had a massive budget of $12 million, more than six times the size of The Road Warrior‘s (the second film) seemingly large budget and included superstar singer Tina Turner.  In addition it was marketed as a return to the brutal and bloody world of the Australian post-apocalyptic wasteland, but in truth it’s more akin to Peter Pan.  I think that’s why the feedback on this film isn’t as strong as the others, because most fans of Mad Max liken the films to Fury Road.

mad_max_beyond_thunderdome_1It starts off looking like it could have the same themes and concepts as The Road Warrior, but even back in 1985 I knew that the blatant PG-13 rating meant that there was no way this film was going to be particularly violent.  That’s not to say the setup isn’t solid – it’s set in Bartertown, a world where commerce rules supreme, and containing the Thunderdome.  You see, in this town (led by Tina Turner as Auntie) the law is everything and for the most part the law is dictated by arguments getting settled in the Thunderdome.  That’s where the tag line of the movie comes in: two men enter, one man leaves.  As you near the halfway point of the movie there have been guns, assassination attempts, plenty of bad language, and one fantastic fight sequence in the Thunderdome involving a chainsaw.  You begin to think this is just going to be a toned down version of The Road Warrior on foot.  What ensues for the back half is basically Max helping a bunch of kids discover civilization after growing up in the woods.

mad_max_beyond_thunderdome_2None of this is why I’m luke warm on Beyond Thunderdome and easily my least favorite of the trilogy.  My issue is with the lack of cars.  While the first film was a revenge fantasy that took place on the cusp of an upcoming apocalypse and the second film was the story of a strong-willed man fighting for survival, they both had the road in common.  Cars and the different ways people took to the roads as survivalist scavengers, doing terrible things to each other in the interest of food and gas, was always the draw.  In fact, I would argue the first two movies are two hour car chase films that happen to have some plot woven in whereas Beyond Thunderdome has almost none of that.  Even if you count the final scene of the film, which granted does have some cars chasing a train on a track, the events are still slapstick and toned down for a younger audience.  I don’t know if this was Miller’s decision or if he was getting pressure from the studio (I’m betting it’s the former), but Mad Max just doesn’t play as an all ages film.  Couple that with the quite harsh and violent beginning and you start to feel that this movie lacks true identity.  Not to continue my negativity, but these films started off being about the end of society as we know it (hence the apocalypse) whereas this film is all positive.  There’s a happy ending, everyone is smiling, it’s all wrapped up with a bow and far too many plotlines simply fade away instead of being properly closed.  In short, it’s not the fact that the movie isn’t violent enough, but rather that it destroys the roots of its origins.

When you ask people today about Beyond Thunderdome I think like me they remember what they thought this movie was going to be.  I somehow repressed the fact that the back half is like Lord of the Flies meets The Goonies, that Tina Turner has a much smaller part, and that the Thunderdome is almost nonexistent in the film.  Couple that with the fact that the themes, tone, and character development of Miller’s previous two films are forgotten completely and it’s a weak closure for the 80s trilogy.  If you are a big Mad Max fan or just want to see all three from the past after enjoying Fury Road, you won’t be wasting your time to check it out.  On the other hand if you have fond memories of this movie that came rushing back after Fury Road or the recently released video game, I encourage you to check out The Road Warrior instead because Miller’s swan song was definitely his oddest and weakest.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. The Road Warrior is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I absolutely loved Fury Road. Anytime I recommend someone watch the series, I always make it very clear to not watch Beyond Thunderdome.


    October 9, 2015 at 4:01 pm

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