Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is crossing the desert in post-apocalyptic Australia in his camel-drawn V8 wagon, when he is attacked by a Transavia PL-12 single-engine plane piloted by Jedediah (Bruce Spence) and his son (Adam Cockburn). They steal his wagon and Max follows on foot to Bartertown, where a methane refinery running on pig feces provides electricity. Max is not allowed in because he has nothing to trade, but he is brought before the town’s ruler Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). She offers to resupply his vehicle if he does a little job for her.

It seems the refinery is run by a dwarf named Master (Angelo Rossitto), who rides around on his giant bodyguard Blaster (Paul Larsson), and Master is constantly challenging Aunty’s authority. If Max confronts Master-Blaster, he will have to defeat the latter in a duel to the death in Thunderdome. Reconnoitering, Max goes to the underground refinery and meets Pig Killer (Robert Grubb), who is forced to work there as punishment for killing a pig to feed his family. Master-Blaster has Max’s wagon and Max is forced to disarm his booby-traps. He discovers that Blaster, though powerful, is sensitive to high-pitched noises.

Max accuses Master of stealing his wagon and Master demands justice in Thunderdome. Blaster wipes up the place with Max for a while, until Max takes out his bosun’s whistle and incapacitates Blaster. Max knocks off Blaster’s helmet, realizes that Blaster has the mind of a child, and cannot bring himself to kill him. He confronts Aunty, Master is angry and shuts down the refinery. Aunty has Blaster killed, Master imprisoned, and Max exiled, tied to a horse and sent out into the wasteland to die. His horse vanishes in a sinkhole and Max struggles on.

He is found by Savannah Nix (Helen Buday) and taken to Planet Erf, a primitive community of children and teenagers in an oasis. They are survivors of a crashed Boeing747, left by their parents, who never came back from a search for help. They believe Max is Captain Walker, who promised to come back for them. He tries to disabuse them of this notion and stay safe in their oasis, because the nearest civilization is Bartertown. Savannah and some other children leave anyway. Max can only go after them with some other children. One of them dies in a sinkhole and they can only go to Bartertown unless they want to die in the desert.

With Pig Killer’s help, they sneak in, free Master, and escape in a train-truck, destroying the refinery in the process. Aunty takes off after them with her Imperial Guards. Max slows them down while Scrooloose (Rod Zuanic) hijacks one of Aunty’s vehicles. They come across Jedediah and his son, who help them escape with his plane. Max helps them but has to stay behind and face Aunty, who has come to respect him and spares his life. Jedediah flies the children to the ruins of Sydney. Years later, they have a little civilization. Savannah tells the children about the heroic Max who is still wandering about the desert somewhere.

The film was directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie, written by Miller and Terry Hayes. Byron Kennedy, supposed to produce the movie, was killed scouting locations in a helicopter, and the movie was dedicated to him. The score was written by Maurice Jarre and included two songs by Tina Turner. “We Don’t Need Another Hero” was a Grammy-winning hit. Having trouble finding someone to play Jedediah, they decided to hire Bruce Spence, who had played the Gyro Captain in The Road Warrior, which confused some in the audience.

Critical reaction was generally positive, though some compared it unfavorably to The Road Warrior. Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars and called the Thunderdome scene one of the great fights in movies. The role of Aunty Entity was written for Tina Turner even though she had not signed on yet. She shaved her head so her wig would fit properly. Her steel mail dress weighed more than 120 pounds. The 600 pigs in the movie were rented. The sandstorm at the end was real, and unexpected. A Mad Max TV show was planned, but the actor supposed to play Max was severely injured in an accident and nothing ever came of it.

I really love this movie, though it often gets short shrift from Mad Max fans. It has three distinct acts. Act One is Bartertown, as inventive and exotic as Tatooine. Act Two is the Oasis of Lost Children, a post-apocalyptic pocket civilization with its own mythology and its own language. Act Three is what Roger Ebert once said about action movies—Act Three: Car-chase. But this car-chase is a small Mad Max movie, just in case you were pining for that. If you take The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road, you have that rare thing--a great SF trilogy-- and the pieces fit together, yet contrast, like the three movements of a concerto.

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