Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Twenty One

Mad Max

                              Here he comes again...

From the opening of Mick LaSalle's review of Mad Max: Fury Road:
“This is how bad things are: "Mad Max” makes sense again. Thirty-six years after the original debuted during the height of the 1970s malaise, when the future looked bleak and resources were scarce, another installment of “Mad Max” has arrived, subtitled “Fury Road,” to remind us of two things: (1) Things always seem really horrible before they get even worse; and (2) The dystopian future always looks like a desert. In the future, there are no flowers."
"Directed by George Miller, who has directed every previous “Mad Max” feature, the film takes the parched atmosphere of the previous entries and amps it up, so that “Fury Road” plays out in a nightmare world in which a gang of powder-faced, skin-headed thugs control the water and own other human beings. Max (Tom Hardy) is a living blood bank, forced to hang upside down with a tube coming out of one of his veins.”
"Other unfortunates include women used for milking, women used for breeding and an entire population of filthy, toothless peasantry, who limp around in rags, hold empty bowls and wait for the massive water spigots to turn on. And you thought the life of a movie extra was glamorous.”
I had mixed feelings upon hearing that another Mad Max movie was in the works.  The second -- and by far the best -- of George Miller's original trilogy was The Road Warrior, which hit me with all the force of a cinematic sledgehammer.  With no internet to fan the flames of pre-release publicity back then, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior arrived in theaters without much fanfare, but a gaffer I knew at the time -- the fattest and smartest man I've ever worked with -- raved about it, and I'd learned to respect his opinion. So I went, hopeful but not at all sure what to expect. The first few minutes -- in muted color, then morphing to black and white  footage in the not-quite-square format of the really old days -- weren't particularly impressive, but the rough, weary voice-over that accompanied those images was pure, dark poetry:

"My life fades, the vision dims.  All that remains are memories.  I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land.  But most of all I remember the Road  Warrior, the man we called Max. To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time when the world was powered by the black fuel and the deserts spouted great cities of pipe and steel.  

Gone now, swept away.

For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze that engulfed them all. Without fuel they were nothing. They'd built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped.

The leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled, the cities exploded.  A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men.

On the roads it was a white-line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage, would survive. The gangs took over the highways ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed.

Men like Max, the warrior Max.

In the roar of an engine, he lost everything and became a shell of a man -- a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past.  A man who wandered out into the wasteland… and it was here in this blighted place that he learned to live again."

Abruptly cutting to full-wide screen color, the camera then descends through the smoke to swoop low onto a straight-as-an-arrow road slicing through the desert -- and suddenly everyone in that theater was riding along with Max and his dog in the midst of a high speed, life-or-death chase set in this nightmarish, adrenaline-fueled future.

I'd never seen anything like it. Nobody had. This was something new, bold, and infinitely  more dynamic than any previous post-apocalyptic drama. Miller's use of the wide screen was brilliant -- the shot compositions letter-perfect -- and his violent, mechanized update of the cinematic conventions that popularized Hollywood westerns back in the 40's and 50s so deftly done (and so deliriously over the top) that I was instantly hooked.

The Road Warrior -- I loved it.    

With all this as context, you might understand my skepticism towards a modern re-boot three  decades later.  During those intervening years, I had time enough to learn the hard way that Thomas Wolfe wasn't kidding when he said "You can't go home again."*

Because you can't.  That's over and done.

But it doesn't mean you can't revisit familiar themes --  otherwise we'd have stopped writing new stories after the Greeks -- and with the old master George Miller again at the helm, I wondered if Mad Max: Fury Road might be worth seeing after all. The preview was impressive, raising the art of dystopian automotive mayhem to operatic heights, but unconvincing.  It was only after reading/hearing a few short interviews with Miller (along with this excellent LA Times piece about the making of the movie) that I came all the way around. 

Besides, I love Miller's approach to this movie:  

"We don't defy the laws of physics.  It's the real world.  It's analog versus digital."

That, dear readers, is music to my ears.

What the hell, I work in the film and television industry, which means that deep inside this gray-haired, beat-down, ready-for-the-glue-factory exterior hides a pimply-faced adolescent who loves carefully crafted cinematic crash-and-burn as much as the next maladjusted, hormonally-addled teenager -- and with Fury Road, that kid just might get to come out and play.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to this one

*  Thomas Wolfe might not have been a rosy-cheeked optimist, but he was one very smart guy.  Check out some of these.

(Update:  Since this post first went up, I was directed to a fascinating interview with Fury Road DP John Seale in Filmmaker Magazine, detailing how he lit and shot the movie using a truckload of cameras.  Thanks, Heather!)


Ed (Sloweddi) said...

Liked Mad Max... then I went to see Pitch Perfect 2. Almost the exact same movie.

The dystopian environment of the underground A Capella is completely mirrored (almost) in Mad Max.

Michael Taylor said...

Ed --

I can honestly say that comparison never occurred to me -- possibly because I haven't seen either movie yet. Then again, most movies take normal human behavior -- good, bad, and ugly -- then push it to the limit to amp up the narrative drama. So maybe those two being thematically similar shouldn't come as a surprise...