a good knowledge of max script though will eventually help you with some annoying elements of max, and speed up your work flow.
from contacting resellers last year regarding prices for max 7/8, via the resellers listed here:
found it fairly suprising that for a complete license for max 7, it was roughly around 3,500 euro, and to buy max 8 was the exact same price.
also, you can go for the annual subscription of max, which is roughly around 250 euro, which is a bit cheaper :D
3ds max is an excellent composition tool kit i.e., particle systems, rendering effects, excellent also for animations especially with max 8’s new biped adjustments.