Vintage Cable Box: “The Road Warrior, 1982”

“You wanna get outta here? You talk to me.”

The Road Warrior, 1982 (Mel Gibson), Warner Bros.

This is the movie that re-invented the wheel. Australia’s post-apocalyptic wasteland depleted of natural resources serves as the perfect backdrop for director George Miller’s dissection of survival and intelligence. The Road Warrior (aka Mad Mad 2) continues the saga of a nomad, his dog, and his kick-ass car. Narrated by, we assume, the Feral Boy who has been stalking Max (Mel Gibson, in his career-making role) and a rag-tag group of survivors living in an improvised fortress with the last bits of gasoline (a form of currency). The Road Warrior is a logical progression from the first Mad Max movie released in 1979.

Mad Max (also directed by Miller, who was inspired by watching car crash victims being wheeled into emergency rooms at his day job) shows the breakdown of structured society. Max’s wife and child are killed, and he takes to the road in search of gasoline. His once noble profession of policeman has been supplanted with that of a scavenger. 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome continues this progression with an attempt to rebuild society and re-introduce religion to the masses.

The fortress survivors are terrorized on a daily (and nightly) basis by the psychotic soldiers of Humongous, who pleads with them to abandon their posts and their gasoline, and then there will be no more war. The stragglers argue amongst themselves until Max provides them with a solution: he will ferry the gasoline in a tanker he spotted down the road for a nominal fee – all the gas he can carry. The deal changes when he is co-opted into driving the tanker to what the survivors call “paradise.” Their idea of paradise is nothing more than a travel brochure.

The rest of the film is taken up with an unparalleled chase, so spectacularly photographed and edited that just about everything else pales by comparison. George Miller, understanding this, takes it a bit too far with his 2015 re-boot, Mad Max: Fury Road. That movie is nothing but spectacular chase scenes and improbable visual effects with very little story to glue the whole enterprise together. Miller knows his audience and because of that, Mad Max: Fury Road was an enormous hit, critically and commercially.

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release in a hideous pan-and-scan format from a remarkably worn-out print. The box sports a distinctive silver/metallic gray color scheme. The movie continued to receive different format releases and is available in Beta, DVD, Laserdisc, and Blu Ray formats. “A lone hero battles for the future of mankind.” The writer of the accompanying essay on the back of the box doesn’t understand the nihilism at the core of The Road Warrior (especially with regard to the film’s bleak ending). Yes, these are honorable people fighting a losing battle, but everything they (and Max) do comes from sheer desperation and pragmatic necessity. “Thanks to Max, the new order is born. Civilization struggles up again from the ashes – and after The Road Warrior goes its way, you’ll never quite forget it.” Wow! What a movie!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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