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.

Extreme Cinema! A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

Extreme Cinema episodes are released once-per-month. This is because when we record, we usually wind up spending two to three hours discussing these movies. We have to watch the movies first, that takes about two weeks. We’re busy guys and Andrew and his wife just had a baby. After we record, I listen to the episode twice to figure out edit-points, sound effects, and where to put the clips. After that I start cutting for dialogue. I run the episode again to place clips and sound effects. I put the clips in and find the right spot for the intermission. I go through the episode again to take out the “uhs” and “ers” and gaps in the audio for piss breaks and diaper changes, and then I add in the intro and outro music and voila! A brand new episode of Extreme Cinema! So it’s a three-week process for me from recording to editing; add in an extra week for Bronwyn’s art and there you have it. I pride the show on having Bronwyn’s episode-specific artwork.

Tonight, we’re talking about John Boorman, an excellent often underrated filmmaker with a phenomenal body of work, again an eclectic mix of different genres, everything from cop movies to science fiction and fantasy. We have two movies we’re looking at in-depth directed by Boorman and starring the great Lee Marvin. Lee Marvin was an early champion of Boorman. He used his star power to get Boorman hired.

In Point Blank, a desperate John Vernon has a plan to get some loot.  He gets buddy Lee Marvin in on the heist, and the idea is to tell the story in a modified flashback, or at least to get the back-story.  He remembers Vernon’s words in a great out-of-context kind of way, but five minutes in, it’s obvious Vernon double-crossed him.  He told Marvin they weren’t going to kill anybody, but when they see their marks, he fires his gun and kills everybody.  Vernon shoots Marvin and leaves him for dead.  Marvin wants his cut, and he also wants a little revenge!

I watched Payback again to compare it with Point Blank; I wasn’t aware that Point Blank was an early adaptation of Richard Stark’s book, The Hunter, or that Payback was also an adaptation of the same source material. Bronwyn and I saw Payback back when it came out. It was unusual for us, in that it was a movie we were both very interested in seeing, even though it’s kind of a down and dirty action exploitation movie with the familiar beats of a revenge fantasy. This was Mel Gibson at his best, before he got all loopy. His Icon Productions made the movie, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for his L.A. Confidential script). It follows the same story as Point Blank, but executed differently – a kind of a straight line narrative, we start with a flashback and then go to the beginning.

We move on to Hell in the Pacific – great title and again directed by John Boorman, shot in beautiful Panavision, photographed by Connie Hall, who photographed Marathon Man among other classics.  We have the quiet, contemplative Toshiro Mifune meditating on an island, I surmise Guadalcanal with the breaking of water on the shore.  He searches with binoculars – perhaps he’s looking for a rescue boat, who knows?  We don’t know yet.  We’re not supposed to know.  We see Lee Marvin under a lean-to, some kind of a shelter, talking to himself.  Toshiro stalks the jungle.  I don’t know if Toshiro knows Marvin is near.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:33:15

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