THERE'S NO POINT revisiting the past unless it has something to tell us about the present. Fortunately, the latest anniversary-inspired re-release of an old movie turns out to be remarkably relevant to our current landscape. Twenty years down the road, Mad Max--the car-chase movie that launched Mel Gibson into stardom and announced former medical doctor George Miller as perhaps the most talented and kinetic of Australia's new wave directors--still offers some nice thrills and spills, but time has revealed it as an oddly prescient indictment of I-695 sponsor Tim Eyman.

The opening title card places the story "a few years from now," and in this near-future, social spending will be so brutally slashed that the very Hall of Justice (police headquarters) will be a decrepit, rundown warehouse, and cities will be abandoned for dusty ghost towns and the open road. The proliferation of private auto ownership at the expense of public funding, encouraged by I-695, points us right toward this breakdown of urban centers and social services. One would hope that at least the nation's highways would remain a beacon of freedom, but no! Obviously motivated by the minimal licensing tab, roving gangs of filthy, violent, and sexually ambivalent hooligans think nothing of roaring along in souped-up hotrods and motorcycles, whose annual fees they couldn't even dream of paying before.

In this near-future, compassion for others has become outmoded and irresponsible; your own bottom dollar has become the brutal benchmark. "Speed is just a matter of money," advises a sign at a junkyard. "How fast can you go?" With community a thing of the past, and the world reduced to a wasteland marked only by endless strips of asphalt, is it any wonder the cops have degenerated into leather-clad action junkies prone to vigilante behavior?

Eyman has already set his sights on opening up the HOV lanes, and then it's on to property taxes. One recalls with a shudder that, in the Mad Max sequels, not only has gasoline become scarce and ultra-valuable, but even the few private residences have vanished, replaced by desert enclaves whose inhabitants must fend off nomadic invaders. We have been warned.

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