Memory is a strange thing. If you have asked me last year if I’d seen all of the Mad Max movies I would have told you that I had. I might have hesitated for a moment before I answered and admitted that I wasn’t real sure about Mad Max (1979), but I had almost certainly seen Mad Max 2 (1981) and had 100% watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I have real memories of watching that one several times on cable TV as a kid.
The thing is while watching Beyond Thunderdome I remembered absolutely nothing of what appeared on the screen, and the few memories I did have of the film didn’t actually happen. So, have I watched this movie before? Or did I just dream it? Or maybe I was so young my memories of it have been supplanted. Who knows? But after watching this and Mad Max 2 recently I definitely need to watch the first one and then I’ll probably hit up Fury Road before long as well.
Beyond Thunderdome takes place sometime after the events of Mad Max 2. Max (Mel Gibson) now rides in a camel-driven vehicle. It is stolen by an airborne bandit (who is played by Bruce Spence who played a pilot in the previous film, but is apparently a different character in this one). Max follows the thief to Bartertown, which is run by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). She’s attempting to recreate a civilized society but it is a long, difficult process.
Bartertown is fueled by pig poop burned into methane in a series of underground caverns. This area is run by a resourceful dwarf called Master (Angelo Rossitto) who rides around on top of a giant called Blaster (Paul Larsson). Master Blaster had designs to run Bartertown himself. Aunty Entity fixes things so that Max has to take him down so Aunty can stay on top. This concludes in a battle inside the Thunderdome (a big, circular cage where our two opponents jump around on bungee cords and try to kill each other).
Things don’t go as planned and Max finds himself exiled from Bartertown. Soon enough he stumbles upon some kids who have formed their own Lost Boys-esque community. Wouldn’t you know it Max and these lost kids eventually have to go to Bartertown and battle it out with Aunty and her minions. It all concludes with a big action scene with our heroes on a train being followed by the villains in various autos.
The general consensus is that Beyond Thunderdome is a lesser film than Mad Max 2 and that the scenes with the kids are an out-of-left-field oddity that takes the film down a notch. I get that, but also I kind of dug it. It isn’t nearly as exciting as Mad Max 2, but it isn’t trying to be. I do love the world-building in these films and this one really attempts to dig a little into how the people would try to rebuild their society after absolute devastation.
At the time Tina Turner was a huge star. She’s fine but she definitely dates this film within a very specific time frame. I actually like the kids, too. More or less. They created a goofy language for them which is kind of fun and kind of annoying. But their story is interesting. They basically don’t understand what happened to the world and have invented a myth about a pilot returning (they are the survivors of a crashed plane) and saving everybody. I dig the idea of people building new myths in the aftermath of an apocalypse.
The final chase sequence is good, but it is hard not to feel a little let down after watching the much better sequence in Mad Max 2. It makes sense to me that Fury Road is essentially one long, epic chase sequence. I mean why not take the best parts of all these movies and turn that into your new film?