Composer: Maurice Jarre
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
When MAD MAX hit American theaters in 1979, its exhilarating vehicular carnage announced the arrival of Aussie exploitation cinema in this country (despite the atrocious dubbing that attempted to Americanize Max). It was stylized, brunt force entertainment, abetted by a brassily roaring symphonic score by Brian May- music that spoke the international language of heroic revenge. When Rocketansky returned for 1981’s THE ROAD WARRIOR, his V8 Interceptor was even more banged up- though director George Miller’s demolition derby thrills were more polished in every department, especially as May’s score reached exhilarating, Wagnerian heights as Max found himself in the role of kick-ass Moses.
Hollywood knows a good thing when they see it, let alone an Aussie doctor with well-deserved allusions of being a big-time studio director. So after distributing ROAD WARRIOR, Warner Brothers gave George Miller the full-length tinsel town treatment with 1985’s MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME. And the director (who’d make this MAX along with George Ogilvie) took the studio bucks and oversight for better and worse, making Tina Turner the ersatz villain, and turning Max into a kid-friendly messiah who’d appeal to the summer youth market. But the young’uns in THUNDERDOME weren’t exactly a bunch of feral kids throwing boomerangs into S & M bikers’ heads. Needless to say, the softening of the character’s ultra-violence to a PG-13 made many hardcore fans think that Mad Max had sold out, despite most of the technical crew coming back for the third time (with even Bruce Spence’s Gryo Captain showing up as a barely-disguised new character called “Jedediah the Pilot”).
But one important person who wouldn’t enter THUNDERDOME was Brian May, who fell prey to “name” composer syndrome. Yet George Miller could certainly have done worse for his post-apocalypse desert epic than have it scored by the guy who won an Oscar for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. But then, few film composers were trained to make that journey like Maurice Jarre, who majored in ethic music while studying in Paris. Mixing tribal rhythms and exotic instruments with a western symphonic palette, Jarre’s unmistakable sound virtually defined the “desert epic” genre. And he’d continued on that wind-swept path with the likes of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, THE MESSENGER and LION OF THE DESERT. Now given the wasteland’s manliest hero of all, Jarre poured on the strings, brass, choruses and indigenous instruments with one of his biggest hurrahs. For if Mad Max was truly graduating from cult icon to popcorn movie star, then Jarre was going to dress him like a legend for the red carpet.
Jarre’s immediately recognizable, and glorious brand of bombast now gets heard like never before with Tadlow’s complete, two-CD release of MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME- a more than worthy follow-up to their last double-header of THE MESSENGER and LION OF THE DESERT. Before the THUNDERDOME, Jarre’s score had only been heard in a long out-of-print GNP / Crescendo album, which collected its choice cuts into three, well-edited suites that totaled around 25 minutes. While those suites are also presented here for posterity, hearing over 70 minutes of THUNDERDOME is a symphonic blast that’s arrived just in time for the film’s 25th anniversary. While the picture remains enjoyable (though a relative disappointment for what it could have been had the kid gloves been taken off), Jarre’s score will likely win new converts among soundtrack fans given this exhaustive release (with only the Turner songs missing- so be sure to hold onto your old GNP album). Better yet, far more post-nuke primal rudeness among its symphonic gloss.
It’s in the first third of THUNDERDOME that the film shows deceptively savage promise as Max comes upon Bartertown, a gladiatorial Vegas ruled by Tina Turner’s sassy Aunty Entity. With the harsh sound of an Aboriginal Didgeridoo setting up a tribal future (not to mention firmly setting the movie in Australia), Jarre creates this junkyard melting pot with sitars, organ and a metallic, clanking theme. It’s cleverly in key with Miller’s sense of black humor that suffused the series, and downright rocking with Turner’s sass when Jarre launches into a honkytonk jazz theme for Bartertown. The military tension and electronic wind weirdness of Jarre’s favored Ondes Martenot complements Bartertown’s gleefully amoral atmosphere, with Jarre jollily sending in the clowns with the raucous, circus-like orchestral dance that brings us into “Thunderdome” for combat with Master and Blaster.
But when tender strings reveal this masked titan as a “child” that Max refuses to finish off, THUNDERDOME reveals its true, heart-warming intentions, with Jarre’s full, sweeping orchestra leaping into the fray. Where May’s symphonic approach was a throttling bitch slap, Jarre’s is a reassuring stroke to the cheek. Since his esteemed career’s start, Jarre’s melodic nature couldn’t help but bring nearly all of his scores an intrinsically, comforting sense of melody- the kind of approach that made the world sing “Lara’s Theme” from DR. ZHIVAGO. And given Max’s children’s crusade as he proceeds to save a bunch of desert waifs from Bartertown’s vices, it’s a wall of lush sound that brings a gorgeous, religious nobility to this antihero- right from the ghostly chorus that casts him into the desert to the charming, tribal percussion of the sandy ragamuffins. And in the score’s highlight “The Telling / I Ain’t Captain Walker,” Jarre unleashes a biblical aura second only to his JESUS OF NAZARETH score as angelic voices join with a trumpeting, adventurous orchestra as the kids seek to have him become their flyboy savior, only to have a downbeat orchestra slam in Max’s man-alone reluctance. It’s the kind of gigantic, dramatically potent stuff that Jarre does best, music that elevates THUNDERDOME to epically kinder, gentler stuff.
If you strung together all the lines that Max says in the series, you’d probably be lucky to have about thirty of them. And with the hero being his most monosyllabic in THUNDERDOME (not to mention everyone else’s garbled English), Jarre’s is really left to tell the story beyond Miller’s always-striking visuals. That’s probably why there are so many notes here, which is far from a bad thing. Jarre does an especially powerful job of storytelling from this point in the game as he intercuts the sweetness of the dejected kids with Max’s dark baggage, not to mention the inherent heroism that always sees him do the right thing. “The Leaving” has a swirling sense of motion as he saves most of the tribe’s stragglers from quicksand with over-the-top thrills right out of a Saturday matinee- with “Max and Savannah Escape” briefly indulging in music that could befit a silent comedy to boot.
Jarre’s symphonic thrills and spills reach their extended apex with “Bartertown Destruction” and “The Big Chase!” A hair-raising organ and pounding, nearly-out-of-tune brass join together to blow up Entity’s digs rejoicing as if they’d killed some evil monster. With the outraged military percussion of its understandably pissed residents on their tail, THUNDERDOME launches into its humorously bloodless car chase. But leave it to Jarre furious drumming and brassy, Oriental-style percussion to make this sequence feel a lot more relentlessly threatening than it is, the cue reaching its climax with a sweeping statement of Max’s theme as the raggedy man sees the kids to airborne safety. A melancholy “Epilogue” follows for the wistful Martenot and subtle percussion as the kids and Gyro look down upon the ruins of Sidney, with the wind instrument and lush strings ending the score on an upbeat thematic note, music that gushes with Max’s ultimately selfless nobility.
Sure the 1980’s most vaunted genre scores may have belonged to the likes of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. But where Jarre certainly got acclaim for such romantic works as WITNESS and DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, hearing MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME in all of its over-the-top glory reminds you just how good the composer was at conveying cinematic wonders with the likes of this and FIREFOX, DREAMSCAPE, THE BRIDE, ENEMY MINE and heck, even SOLARBABIES. There’s an undeniable, soaring sense of imagination adventure to these usually gigantic scores, even if THUNDERDOME as a film could have benefited from a good dollop of darkness. But then Jarre scored what was on the screen with a rousing, exotic panache. This score might not be the Max us nastier fans knew and loved. But there’s no denying how much fun Jarre’s THUNDERDOME is, sentimentality and all.
It’s Dyin’ Time here
Composer: Maurice Jarre