Home > Reviews > MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME – Maurice Jarre

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME – Maurice Jarre

madmaxbeyondthunderdome-expandedTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The third in director George Miller’s series of Mad Max movies, Beyond Thunderdome once again starred Mel Gibson and continued the adventures of the former Australian Highway Patrol officer Max Rockatansky, as he tries to survive in a post-apocalyptic society. Fifteen years after the events of Mad Max II, Max finds himself in Bartertown, a vicious society of scavengers and opportunists overseen by the ruthless Aunty Entity, played by Tina Turner. In exchange for returning to him his vehicle – which she has scavenged – she forces him in to conflict with Master Blaster, a dwarf and his hulking masked bodyguard, who control Bartertown’s fuel supply; to resolve the conflict, Max finds himself taking part in gladiatorial games inside the ‘thunderdome’, an enormous metal arena where people duel to the death. The film was an enormous success – the highest grossing film of the original trilogy – and further cemented Mel Gibson’s box office bankability as a leading man; his next film would be the smash hit buddy-cop action movie Lethal Weapon, two years later.

The score for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was composed, somewhat surprisingly, by French Oscar-winner Maurice Jarre. The first two Mad Max films were scored by Aussie composer Brian May, who was only 51 years old in 1985 and still very active, and it remains unclear what led to Miller making the switch on this film – the prevailing thinking is that the studio wanted a bigger name. Whatever the reason, Miller certainly got a superb replacement in the form of Jarre, who of course knows a thing or two about scoring films set in the desert. Brian May’s scores were surprisingly traditional and classical, albeit imbued with a certain sense of 1970s anarchy, and Jarre’s score follows in their footsteps, making use of the massed ranks of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and augmenting it with a vast array of percussion items and specialty instruments, including three anvils, six pianos, a didgeridoo, a wailing Ondes Martenot, and even a saxophone-heavy jazz section to capture the roaring mayhem of Bartertown itself.

Jarre’s score is built around several recurring themes – most notably for Max himself, for Bartertown and Aunty Entity, and for the community of children Max encounters in the film’s second half. After the explosive opening “Main Title,” which pits all manner of percussive ideas against a lonely saxophone and a cooing children’s choir, Max’s theme opens the second cue, a dissonant, eerie piece for Ondes Martenot and didgeridoo that speaks both to the protagonist’s isolation and desperation, and to the arid landscape of the Australian outback where the film is set. Steel drums, anvils, and a plethora of additional metallic percussion come together to illustrate Bartertown’s primal, animalistic society where dog eats dog and survival of the fittest is literally the only way to live. A throbbing, dirty jazz theme for Aunty Entity herself appears in the second half of “Heartbeat/Pigrock,” a sordid saxophone melody with a light rock undercurrent and an Ondes Martenot interlude which – like Aunty herself – would be sort of sexy if is wasn’t for all the grime and grease.

The Bartertown theme and Aunty’s theme dominate much of the score’s first half, with cues like “Accents 2 Suspense,” “Tragic Saxophone,” “The Discovery,” and “Master in Underworld/Desert Hallucinating” providing variations and developments. The themes are often offset against Jarre’s wholly unique personal suspense and drama style, which often makes use of unusual, jarring rhythmic ideas, unexpected instrumental textures, and shifts in tone which keep the listener off balance. There are even some stylistic echoes of other Jarre scores of the period, including Enemy Mine and The Bride, as well as a few subtle allusions to the music he would later write for projects like A Walk in the Clouds.

The impressive “Thunderdome” cue is one of the score’s most impressive constructs; a rich, but slightly damaged-sounding fanfare flourish that heralds the arrivals of the combatants to the arena like Miklós Rózsa introducing the charioteers into the coliseum in Ben-Hur. The fanfare itself is actually introduced several cues earlier, in the first few moments of “Master Blaster/The Manipulator/Embargo/Entity Humiliated,” cleverly planting the subliminal seed of how the Blaster is the undefeated king of the Thunderdome, and considers it to be his domain. The second half of the cue is an astonishing piece, part action theme, part twisted circus, in which Jarre’s orchestra performs a gyrating, almost obscenely upbeat melodic idea – gleeful death and dismemberment as entertainment for the unwashed masses.

Once the action shifts away from Bartertown and into the community of children that lives just beyond its borders, the theme for Max and the theme for the Children begin to take over. After an initial statement for unexpectedly lovely oboes in “Darkness/Gulag,” and a more ominous choral interlude at the beginning of “Magical,” the innocent and child-like theme for Savannah Nix and the survivors of a crashed Boeing 747, who rescue Max and believe him to be the flight captain who will lead them to freedom, begins to assert itself. The theme has a carefree, playful style, making use of various gentle and lyrical woodwinds, as well as very a different application of the ‘desert’ orchestrations from earlier in the score. Its subsequent performance in “Ceremony” has a gentle spirituality to it, while its performance transposed to Ondes Martenot and accompanied by the children’s choir in “The Telling” is very pretty. Later, the way the theme combines with the threatening Bartertown percussion in “Tyrant” reminds the listener that danger is never far from your door in Mad Max’s world, while the unexpectedly joyous performance at the end of “Max and Savannah Escape” is a moment of lightheartedness in an otherwise perilous situation.

Several cues of standout action music feature strongly in the score’s second half, notably the dramatically potent “I Ain’t Captain Walker,” which features an especially bold sequence for undulating trumpets and several lavish fanfares that sound like the flip side of the less-than-heroic Thunderdome motif. Elsewhere, the second half of “The Leaving” and parts of “Underworld Takeover” re-work both the Children’s theme and Max’s theme for more punchy brass, while “Arrival” does some astounding things with descending scales that slither around the woodwind section. The final four cues, comprising the thrilling and propulsive “Boarding the Train,” “Bartertown Destruction,” the 12-minute “The Big Chase!,” and “Epilogue,” stand as some of the most powerful action music Jarre has written this side of Lawrence of Arabia. Portentous organ chords give “Bartertown Destruction” a sense of epic finality, while the relentlessly throbbing percussion in “The Big Chase!” clearly provided Junkie XL with some inspiration for his score for Mad Max Fury Road. Not only that, the monumental crashing pianos in that cue give James Horner a run for his money!

madmaxbeyondthunderdomeThe original soundtrack album, which was released several times in different formats between 1985 and the early 2000s, programmed Jarre’s score into three extended suites, and presented them alongside what, for many, is the film’s more notable musical element: the Tina Turner song “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle. The song was, of course, a massive hit for Turner, peaking at number 2 on the United States Billboard Hot 100, and going on to be nominated for a Golden Globe and a Grammy, and it remains powerful and enjoyable to this day. However, the complete score remained unreleased until 2010, when producer James Fitzpatrick released this 2-CD set of the complete score, featuring almost an hour of additional music re-mixed and re-mastered from the original 24 track tapes, broken down into appropriate chronological order, and including several bonus cues (although, unfortunately, not the Tina Turner songs, due to a licensing issue).

If you’re new to Maurice Jarre, or only know him through classics like Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago, I would recommend checking out Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as one of his more accessible 1980s scores, many of which tended to get bogged down in too much electronic experimentalism. The thematic ideas are intellectually applied, the orchestral sound is generous and bombastic, and the percussion ideas are very distinctive. Although the album is long – over two hours if you include all the alternates and the original album presentation – I nevertheless recommend this version to collectors, mainly for its much-improved sound, more logical presentation, and for the way it reveals the depth and interplay between Jarre’s themes better than the original album did.

Buy the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • ORIGINAL 1985 SOUNDTRACK ALBUM
  • We Don’t Need Another Hero (written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, performed by Tina Turner) (6:05)
  • One of the Living (written by Holly Knight, performed by Tina Turner) (5:59)
  • We Don’t Need Another Hero – Instrumental (written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle) (6:30)
  • Bartertown (8:28)
  • The Children (2:11)
  • Coming Home (15:10)
  • EXPANDED 2010 ALBUM
  • Original Main Title Music (2:00)
  • Max’s Theme/The Desert (2:41)
  • Bartertown Theme (1:55)
  • Accents 2 Suspense (3:48)
  • Tragic Saxophone (0:40)
  • Heartbeat/Pigrock (3:48)
  • Master Blaster/The Manipulator/Embargo/Entity Humiliated (2:29)
  • The Discovery (2:01)
  • Conspiracy (0:35)
  • Thunderdome (4:52)
  • Darkness/Gulag (3:48)
  • Master in Underworld/Desert Hallucinating (5:21)
  • Magical (3:02)
  • Children’s Theme (2:13)
  • Ceremony (1:12)
  • Confusion (1:14)
  • The Telling/I Ain’t Captain Walker (4:01)
  • Compassion (3:18)
  • Tyrant (2:45)
  • The Leaving (5:05)
  • Underworld Takeover (2:19)
  • Arrival (2:59)
  • Max and Savannah Escape (3:05)
  • Boarding the Train (2:22)
  • Bartertown Destruction (4:03)
  • The Big Chase! (11:44)
  • Epilogue (3:18)
  • Bartertown (Original Album Presentation) [BONUS] (8:27)
  • The Children (Original Album Presentation) [BONUS] (2:12)
  • Coming Home (Original Album Presentation) [BONUS] (15:15)
  • Piano Overdubs for The Big Chase! [BONUS] (2:37)
  • Organ Effects [BONUS] (0:39)
  • Plastic Tube Effects [BONUS] (0:47)
  • Wild Chords [BONUS] (0:25)
  • I Ain’t Captain Walker (Alternate) [BONUS] (5:02)

Running Time: 44 minutes 27 seconds (Original Soundtrack)
Running Time: 122 minutes 02 seconds (Expanded Release)

Festival Records D-19755 (1985)
Tadlow Music TADLOW-009 (1985/2010)

Music composed and conducted by Maurice Jarre. Performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Christopher Palmer and Nic Raine. Featured musical soloists Charles MacMahon, Jeanne Loriod, Cynthia Millar and Dominique Kim. Recorded and mixed by Dick Lewzey. Score produced by Maurice Jarre. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.

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  1. July 16, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    So, presumably having heard them all, how would you rank the four Mad Max scores in relation to one another?

  2. Jacek
    September 27, 2015 at 4:11 am

    It’s from 1995, not 1985.

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