Oh, what a disc! What a lovely disc!
It had been 30 years since Max last strolled the wastelands, and his return in Mad Max: Fury Road brings arguably the best action film to come along in years—some would argue ever—and features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that is about as subtle as a brick being hurled through a plate glass window. The entire film is practically a CrossFit workout for your subwoofer, with deep, tight, massive soul-pounding bass in nearly every scene, yet it never dissolves into a massive, flabby, mindless rumble, but rather has constant nuance and layered texture to convey every rumble and explosion. From drums, to huge V8 engine, to explosions, to collisions, to gun blasts, all of it is detailed and clear while pounding and pulsing through the room.
From the opening seconds of the film, the soundtrack instantly immerses you in the world of Mad Max, with voices that swirl, echo, and shift around the room and deep-throated engine revs that pulse, throb, and roar throughout the room. There is more intensity and mayhem and just suck-you-into-the-action in the opening moments before the title even comes up on the screen than most other films can muster in their entire duration!
Beyond the terrific soundtrack, one of the things that I most appreciated about the film – aside from its frenetic pace, incredibly staged action scenes, engaging story, and refusal to dumb the story down through mindless exposition – is the camera work. The image is incredibly clean and detailed and the director eschews the horrible “shaky cam” filming technique that seems to be the preferred method of so many in Hollywood today to presumably blur and de-emphasize the fact that the majority of what you’re seeing on screen didn’t exist anywhere outside of a computer processor. No matter how insane or intense the action gets in Fury Road, you can clearly see exactly what’s going on because this film relies mostly on practical, in-camera effect instead of CGI, and the director clearly wants you to see and appreciate every glorious detail. And, oh, does it look so shiny, so chrome!
Occasionally (like four times) the screen fades to black, which, I believe, is director George Miller’s way of letting you know that it is OK to momentarily take a much needed breather; to let your pulse die down a bit, and enjoy a brief lull in the film’s relentless, non-stop action while the plot is moved forward through a bit of storytelling. While the entire film is a testament to amazing audio, I’ve managed to winnow down the top five top moments from the movie in chronological order, but, honestly, ignore my list, pop some corn, dim the lights, and enjoy this epic ride eternal to the gates of Valhalla!
1) War Boys Chase the War Rig
Near the 17-minute mark, the War Boys leave the Citadel in pursuit of Furiosa and her War Rig. The chase begins with a truck racing up from the back of the room and launching over the viewer’s head and they race after her amidst a throbbing guitar and drum driven soundtrack that reminded me of a Blue Man Group show, including the war party being spurred on by the Coma-Doof Warrior, a flame throwing guitar player strapped to a rig that has a speaker array that would be the envy of any coliseum’s PA. Vehicles are constantly exploding, with machines and people cartwheeling overhead through the ceiling speakers, or whipping past along the sides of the room, or racing up from behind. And the sound mixer, God bless him, never misses a single chance to convey every scrape, collision, or flaming moment of the glorious destruction. The vehicles and weapons have an insane amount of fabrication and creativity with nitrous boosters, exploding lances, circular saw blades attached to hydraulic arms, vehicles covered in porcupine-like spikes, fire grenades, and sawed-off shotguns, and all impart their own color to the majestic sonic tapestry.
At 21:45 a War Boy lancer throws a spear that passes right through the room and whistling past your head, and then at 27 minutes the party races into a massive sand and lightning cyclone storm that whistles and roars around the room. A vehicle gets swept up into one of the swirling vortexes and spins around the room before being thrown over your head and into the back wall behind you. The scene ends as Max is thrown from his vehicle and blacks out.
2) Max Battles Furiosa
At 36 minutes after meeting the Five Wives, Max and Furiosa battle in the desert, trading punches and kicks and grappling all around. Max is still tethered to his Hannibal Lector mask and chain and as they fight his chain is grabbed, whipping and clanking around the room and overhead. The scene culminates with Max shooting several pistol rounds into the ground right next to Furiosa’s head, making a huge sonic concussion that a good subwoofer will have you feeling in your legs.
Max attempts to drive off in the War Rig but is foiled by Furiosa’s kill switch sequence, and at 41 minutes we get a nice subtle sense of the mix as the group goes into the War Rig. Furiosa’s voice takes on a different sonic quality inside the Rig’s cab and you hear all the little clicks and flips as Furiosa starts the big truck. There are tons of subtle ambient sounds from inside the rig, from metal jangling to Max using the metal file, to the Wives whispering to Furiosa driving. As the Rig is rumbling along, you feel its immense weight in the LFE channel.
3) Rock Riders’ Canyon
At the start of Chapter 6, the War Rig rumbles into the canyon pass and Furiosa climbs out shouting to the Rock Riders. Her voice echoes and bounces off the canyon walls, turning the listening space into a massive outdoor canyon. The Rock Riders cruise up and shout down to Furiosa from on high, their engines rumbling overhead. The inevitable battle kicks off at 51 minutes as bikes start racing around the room, cruising up the side, through, in back, and over the listening position. As they blow the rock pass boulders rain down from overhead, smashing and crashing all around the room. The battle continues with the Rock Riders’ motorcycles jumping around the room, while Max and Furiosa shoot at them causing massive explosions and fireballs and the sounds of engines racing and darting all about. The scene ends when Immortan Joe’s Gigahorse flips over and crashes as he swerves to avoid hitting The Splendid Angharad.
4) Bullet Farmer’s Pursuit
With the War Rig stuck in the mud, the Bullet Farmer’s tracked vehicle approaches with his pistols blasting and the reports echoing along the sides and back of the room. When Furiosa braces the sniper rifle on Max’s shoulder and fires the round, it booms through the room, temporarily blowing out Max’s hearing resulting in a high pitched whistle. As the Bullet Farmer blindly blasts away with his duel machine guns, bullets hit and strike all around the room, with the position of gunfire changing perfectly to track the onscreen POV. Max runs back to take care of business and a massive explosion in the distance sends a flock of crows flying overhead and across the top of the room.
5) Return to The Citadel
Chapter 10 begins at 1:30 as the War Rig drives straight through the room as the group races back toward The Citadel to capture it from Immortan Joe. However, Joe and his War Boys race after them in pursuit, and Keeper of the Seeds blasts away with high-powered shots that boom out of the sub. As a group of War Boy’s tries to race up to spike the War Rig—steadily spitting fuel into the engines that belch fire and roar as RPM’s race into the redline—bits of the spiking whip past your head as the War Rig races on. There’s an insane amount of things happening on screen and pouring out of all speakers as the War Boy’s shoot harpoons into the Rig, the ropes whistling past your head and across the room and then snapping and flying past as Max cuts the cabling. Engines rev and rumble, guns fire, explosions erupt, people are shouting…it’s magnificent mayhem!
This scene is 17 minutes of non-stop action culminating in a fight that happens between two racing vehicles, with Furiosa leaving the War Rig and jumping onto Joe’s Gigahorse to battle. Ultimately Nux rolls the War Rig on its side, sealing the pass and bringing the movie’s penultimate fade to black.
Mad Max is a sumptuous feast for the senses and deserves to be enjoyed in any home theater, but preferably one Atmos-enabled to fully appreciate the hemispheric, object-based audio. Epic!