What I learned re-watching the Mad Max films recently.

***Note: I originally intended to post this before the release of Fury Road, but didn’t get round to finishing it.***

With Mad Max Fury Road finally arriving on the big screens over a decade after it was originally intended to be made (and if you still haven’t seen it, then get out and do so now), it seemed an opportune time to revisit the films about Max, the road warrior.  It has been a long while since I last saw any of these films – in fact it was round the release of Beyond Thunderdome, a film so disappointing at the time that it retroactively destroyed all memories of the first two films.  Whilst re watching the trilogy, I began to realise a few things about the series, and why they are so iconic.

1: The first film is the only ‘true’ story of Max
Now, I’m not trying to claim that there really is a road warrior out in the Australian outback, ramming cars into bikes, trucks, and strange men in gyro copters.  No, what I’m saying is that the first film is the only part of the series that is realistic and restrained to some kind of grounded setting.  As the origin story for our protagonist, it is told as is, not via voice over of someone telling the tale.  Grounded in reality it may look cheap at times (hey, it was a low budget film), but it tells  powerful story of a lawman who tries to put his family first, but loses everything and is pushed over the edge.  By the end of the film to all intents and purposes Max has lost his mind and gone off the deep end.  The Mad of the title can be seen not as a word for angry, but for genuine insanity.

2: Kids imaginations are responsible for the bondage-punks style of the villains
Mad Max 2 introduced the , mythical aspect of the road warrior by telling the tale via flashback.  The opening and closing is narrated by an elderly tribe leader, talking about his encounter with the mysterious stranger.  The thing is, as we find out to the end (did I say spoiler alert?), the narrator is the feral boy from the film, a primitive character who was quite clearly a disturbed young child (he had a bladed boomerang – that’s not normal).  The story he is telling is quite clearly exaggerated by his childhood memories, and likely enhanced to make for a better story.  So, the good guys dress in white (or cream colours), the bad guys have weird masks, spiked leather bondage clothes, and drive cars built out of Satan’s meccano.  This is similar to when you start to tell your mates about that time you got in a fight on a night out, but realise that the reality (that you were beaten up by a girl and ended up a bloodied mess on the floor crying) wasn’t that impressive, so you add 14 armed bouncers to the mix, who you deftly took out one by one until that one guy sucker-punched you.  Yup, the events of the second film were probably just a small argument at a petrol station which turned into a bit of a fight, but as told by this aging madman it becomes a mythical adventure, inspired by old stories of lone cowboys fighting off bandits.
Now Fury Road may seem to dismiss this theory, as the opening voice over is by Max, but to which I refer you to the last line of the first point.

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Hold on..that's Weird Science! Ah well..

3: Practical effects from decades ago look better than modern CGI
Look, they just do, you can’t deny it.  Whilst some CGI can look great (the recent Planet of the Apes films for example), so much today looks cartoon like and fails to impress.  When you watch CGI cars flipping around in Transformers films, you can’t help notice that they are bouncing wrong (we all know how gravity works).  Now, regardless of how old it is, if you have a shot of a real car smashing through a real bus, it will always look like a car smashing a bus because, well,  it is.  Same goes for dismemberment and blood spurts – yes, it does look a bit fake at times, but the fact it was done practically with models and fluids makes it still work better than doing similar with CGI.  Thankfully the new film, according to reports, knows this and we can expect real stunts and blood bags ahoy in Fury Road.

4: Thunderdome wasn’t actually that bad
Look, it is a bit of a mess, and mashes two stories (Bartertown and the plane survivors) unconvincingly, and Tina Turner is a bad choice, but it still has some great moments.  Just accept it as a warped tale being told by an aging survivor trying to recite his encounter with Max, possibly whilst getting drunk with his mates (see point 2), and you can find it a lot easier to accept the failings of the film.

5: They can tell any tale in this world
Thanks to the mythical nature of the series since that second film, you can spin any story out of the setting.  Seriously, think about it for a second.  Say, for example, someone came up with the idea to pit Max against a mutated hyper-intelligent dog, well they could easily add a back story of genetic research being conducted some time before the fall of civilization, and we’d just chew it up and accept it so long as it had cars and bad guys in bondage.

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Even epic vehicles like this!

This is also why everyone has been quite accepting about the new film being made.  Bear in mind that reboots and remakes get a bad rep, with many judging before it is even made, Fury Road was warmly embraced from day one, even when it was made clear that Mel Gibson wasn’t coming back.  The world collectively said, “So what? Just give us cars and carnage!”  Think of Max in the same way as James Bond, anyone can play the role so long as it sticks to the basic conventions of the setting (Bond = spy, Max = twisted future).  Although if in the next film (which has a script ready to go) Max drives an invisible buggy to an ice castle, I’m out.

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