Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Gave Us The Ultimate Tina Turner Performance

There's a lot that can be said about Tina Turner. The music legend, who passed away on May 24th at the age of 83, had been dubbed the "Queen of Rock n' Roll" thanks to her huge impact on that genre while rising to prominence during the '50s and '60s. Her fit, impressive figure became so famous all by itself that she allegedly had her legs insured for $3.2 million. One of her first and biggest hit songs, "Proud Mary," became a hit that dwarfed the original version by Credence Clearwater Revival. Above all else, Turner was a consummate performer.

Given that, it's a crying shame that she graced the silver screen a mere handful of times, and most of those appearances were as herself. No matter who she was playing, Turner showed up and dug into the performance with as much spirit and professionalism as any of her live shows, but one movie afforded her the opportunity to showcase her considerable chops as a thespian: 1985's "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome."

The third (and, until 2015's "Fury Road," last) "Mad Max" movie from Australian maverick filmmaker George Miller, "Thunderdome" has long been considered the lesser entry in the "Mad Max" quadrilogy for various reasons. Yet the iconography, influence, and, yes, quality it does have are all largely due to Turner's performance as the conflicted and powerful Auntie Entity.

Who runs Bartertown?

The "Mad Max" films, as a franchise, pull off a neat trick of combining the simple with the complex. To wit, each installment involves richly drawn characters seeking to accomplish very simple goals, set within an environment that's rife with world-building and imagination, places where numerous stories could easily be told.

"Beyond Thunderdome" is no exception to this, set as it is largely within the borders of Bartertown, a trading post that seems to double as a last vestige (and/or crude imitation) of civilization within the film's post-apocalypse. Everything has rules in Bartertown, everything comes with a price, and poor nomad Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), having been robbed at the beginning of the movie, arrives empty-handed.

It's Turner's Auntie Entity, the self-made mogul ruler of Bartertown, who offers Max a chance for freedom and supplies if he clandestinely assassinates her rival for control of Bartertown, Master (Angelo Rossitto), a little person who literally rides around on top of his muscle-bound protector, Blaster (Paul Larsson).

Turner not only plays up the inherent dichotomies of the plot, but brings out some deliciously complex dichotomies within her own character as part of her performance. She makes Auntie as regal as a queen, demonstrating how the more fortunate denizens of Bartertown live as opposed to Master Blaster, who wallows in the pig feces that allows the town to have its resources. She portrays the villainous side of Auntie to perfection: witness her first scene meeting Max, in which Turner slinks around Gibson like a classic film noir femme fatale, allowing the sadness within her character to peek out at choice moments ("So much for history") but maintaining dominance the entire time.

'She had to be a positive character'

Yet Turner makes sure not to turn Auntie Entity into merely a greedy have-it-all or an immoral monster. After Max challenges Master Blaster to a duel inside Bartertown's Thunderdome, where all conflicts are resolved with a fight to the death, Max discovers that Blaster is disabled, and decides instead to reveal Auntie's scheme publicly. Auntie kills Blaster anyway, enslaves Master, and banishes Max to the Wasteland for breaking their deal. Even while doing these dastardly deeds, Turner's performance presents a great deal of nuance, portraying a woman who's caught in a bad situation as much as the antihero Max is.

One of the best aspects of "Beyond Thunderdome" is the latent attraction between Max and Auntie, an element that further demonstrates how close their characters are, two people who witnessed the downfall of the old civilized world and are struggling to find their place in the new world. After Max happens upon a band of child survivors who've been living in an oasis since their parents' plane crashed, he's inspired to help lead the children to a new community, crossing paths with Auntie again in the process. Upon her defeat, Auntie demonstrates her true colors, choosing not to destroy Max with her army but instead letting him live: "Well, ain't we a pair, Raggedy Man?" she says with a hearty laugh.

Turner portrays this playful dichotomy between good and evil beautifully, and it's a quality of the character that she was literally hired for. As Miller explained to Jet magazine in 1985:

"We needed someone whose vitality and intelligence would make her control over Bartertown credible. She had to be a positive character, rather than a conventional evil 'bad guy.' We had worked on the script with her (Turner) in mind."

Tina Turner is the voice as well as soul of 'Beyond Thunderdome'

Although Maurice Jarre was hired to provide the film's score, co-directors Miller and George Ogilvie couldn't pass up the opportunity to have Turner, one of the greatest singers to ever live, perform a song for the soundtrack.

In highly Auntie Entity fashion, Turner provided not one but two songs for the movie. The first, "One of the Living," is a gritty rock number all about the harshness of having to survive post-apocalyptic life. "We Don't Need Another Hero," the second song and bigger hit of the two, is an all-timer of an anthem which highlights the survivor children and their plea for deliverance as they search for a better life. The song's music video sees Turner, in costume (and maybe character?) as Entity, leading the chorus of kids, almost as if this was Auntie's plea, too. The tune is such a banger that the popular metal band Ghost recently chose to perform it for a covers EP, released just weeks before Turner's passing this year.

Turner made Auntie Entity an important, memorable character

While Turner's musical contributions to "Beyond Thunderdome" are beyond reproach, it's important not to overlook her onscreen performance, or the fact that, had she wished to and been comfortable with it, she could've gone on to a long and successful acting career. Speaking on the eve of the movie's release, Turner described her inexperience with acting:

"There was some problems, because, you can't get too excited because they don't know yet, because it lends itself to an actress, and y'know I'm a singer, I don't have any skill as an actress other than what I've learned from stage ... Well, [Miller] was right there, and I knew that he was right there for me, and I wanted it, so I just simply gave myself to him, I just listened."

However she did it, the performance is a testament to Turner's talent, ability, and professionalism. Her turn as Auntie Entity allows the character to stand proudly amongst the other, highly colorful "Mad Max" villains like the Toecutter, the Humungus, and Immortan Joe, as well as complicated heroes like Furiosa and Max himself. As she sang herself, we don't need just another hero or villain; thanks are due to Tina Turner for giving all of us something special.