Running on Empty Review

Mike (Terry Serio) is a member of a Sydney gang dedicated to the sport of illegal road-racing. He falls for Julie (Deborah Conway) but finds a rival for her affections in Fox (Richard Moir). Fox challenges Mike to a best of three road race. Winner takes all – if he doesn't get killed.

Running on Empty (which has nothing to do with the Sidney Lumet-directed film starring River Phoenix, from 1989) is a routine piece of Ozploitation, with a plot prefiguring The Fast & The Furious by some twenty years. A film like this is illustrative of the difference a director can make. In the first Mad Max, George Miller took an often weak script and made a film with several exciting sequences, helped along by stuntwork which was sometimes as dangerous as it looked. Running on Empty has some impressive stunts, but the film between them is bland and dull. The three leads are non-entities, leaving Max Cullen the not-difficult task of stealing the film as a blind 60s rebel called Rebel. Other actors are less fortunate. Grahame Bond and Penne Hackforth-Jones make little impression as a pair of comedy cops. Given their position in the credits, I suspect much of their roles was left on the cutting-room floor. Primarily a theatre director (and bestowed with Membership of the Order of Australia for his services there), John Clark has to date not made another feature film.

The Disc: Running on Empty is released in the UK by Britfilms TV, on a single-layered DVD encoded for all regions. There was a DVD release in Australia in 2004 from Magna Pacific, but I do not have a copy to compare that with, and online reviews are lacking.

The film was shot in Scope, which is something that escapes every reference book I have available. The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 2.40:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The results are a little soft and grainy, but that tends to be the way with Scope films from the time, due to to the filmstock and the anamorphic lenses used. Skin tones tend to the reddish, but again that's not atypical.

According to the end credits, Running on Empty was released with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, which would make it one of the earliest Australian films so endowed. (The very first Australian Dolby film would have to precede Mad Max 2, released in cinemas earlier the same year, 1982.) This would normally transfer to DVD as a 2.0 soundtrack, which would play as Dolby Surround through an amp set up for Dolby ProLogic. But what we have here is actually a 2.0 mono sound mix, what was most likely used for the majority of cinema prints on this film's release. (The film bypassed British cinemas entirely and does not appear to have had a TV showing either.) In ProLogic mode, everything comes out of the centre speaker, including the music score and a couple of large explosions, one near the beginning and at the very end.

The only extras are the same four trailers for other Australian films released by Britfilms TV: Doing Time for Patsy Cline, The Survivor, Storm Boy and Malcolm.

Category Capsule Review

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