Pictures: Jasin Boland / Warner Bros
Fury Road has been a bumpy road as well. On Friday, Mad Max: Fury Road was finally released worldwide after what has taken an insanely long time from conception to completion. There aren’t so many movies that come to mind that have been so long in development where there is a finished product to show for it and one with such fevered anticipation just prior to release.
This movie has been anticipated by two distinct groups, one of which is the diehard Mad max fans that have been aching for this film since word got out that director George Miller was set to make a new chapter in the Mad Max trilogy. The other group is those who are coming in fresh and are maybe not familiar with the previous entries into this 30 year old series. All concerned have been united in excitement since the first teaser trailer caused a mini internet meltdown and the subsequent trailers only raised the bar further. “How is it possible that this looks so awesome?!!” We all cried in amazement, “This shouldn’t look so good!!”
I for one am part of the first group, of the Mad Max diehards since I went to a 10th birthday party and we (perhaps inappropriately) went to see Mad Max 2 (AKA Road Warrior) at the cinema. I had no idea what was going on up on the screen but something about that crazy post apocalyptic world connected with me. I immediately saw the original Mad Max on video as soon as I could and was hooked from thereon in. The fact that these films were made in my native Australia which up until that time had a film industry devoted more to kooky sex comedies and historical dramas was even more amazing.
Nothing had been seen like these movies before either from Australia or anywhere else. These were the movies that made Hollywood sit up and take notice of what was going on elsewhere in the world. Naturally when word of the third instalment of the series was coming out, I and the hordes of other Mad Max fans were barely able to hold their excitement. Mad Max-Beyond Thunderdome, whilst looking great and being a natural extension of the narrative to the first two movies was a bit…..meh…….It somehow lacked the sense of palpable danger that the first two had in spades and seemed to pander to a more mainstream audience so a lot of us hardcore fans were left quite disappointed.
So it seemed that as the silhouette of Max is seen walking off into the horizon at the end of Thunderdome, that was it for the series and it was known for nearly two decades as the Mad Max trilogy and we would have to be content with our lot.
In the intervening years between then and now, George Miller made what can only be considered a truly diverse collection of films, each having little relation to the last. Babe 1&2, Happy Feet 1&2, Lorenzo’s Oil and Witches of Eastwick. It is almost inconceivable that that these were films made by the same director of the Mad Max trilogy. The only hint of Mad Max that could be seen in any other of Millers films is the car chase towards the end of Witches of Eastwick. Babe never needed a car chase to get out a situation with crazed bikies. This of course should be seen as a commendable thing that Miller certainly doesn’t repeat himself. Prior to Fury Road commencing its torturous development, Miller was due to make a CG Justice League movie and everything was in place, with actors secured and preproduction completed when it all fell apart seemingly last minute.
This can be seen as the beginning of a string of bad luck for Miller as he commenced preparations for Fury Road for his next project. As the story goes, Miller had no intention of making another Mad Max film after Thunderdome but an idea for a story came to him and no matter how he tried, the idea would not go away and he set about what began a 15+ year period of developmental hell. In 2003 Miller was due to start production of the fourth MM instalment in Namibia with Mel Gibson continuing in the title role. Due to safety concerns in regards to the Iraq war, production was cancelled and MM4 entered its first production stasis. Miller still remained interested in making the film but kept himself busy with his other projects until 2006 when he publicly stated that he still intended to make the film but with a different actor as Max.
Mel Gibson had, for different reasons lost interest in the project. Cut to 2009 and it was announced that MM4 would be made as a anime style film. Miller then changed his mind in that same year to go back to a live action version of MM4 and towards the end of 2009 it was confirmed that filming would commence in Broken Hill, Australia (where MM2 was shot).
Years of speculation that Mel Gibson would still play Max were quashed when it was announced that Tom Hardy had been cast in the lead role with Charlize Theron in another major part. There was another development at this time in that Miller announced that he would film MM4 and MM5 back to back under the titles Fury Road and Furiosa. All was set to commence when record rainfall pounded the Broken Hill landscape and turned it into a beautiful flower bed, not such a great look for a dirty post apocalyptic movie!
Thus production was halted again and MM4 was confined to development hell again. Mad Max fans all over the world could be heard to mumble “maybe you should just give up Mr Miller”. Miller still didn’t give up and filming was relocated to Namibia and this time, in 2011, after what felt like forever, cameras started rolling.
The films set was logistically very trying for all involved with a crew of hundreds in a makeshift camp in the middle of nowhere and even though filming was progressing, the budget reportedly went some ways over. This prompted Warner Bros to send in producers to see what the hell was going on. They probably went away very nervous about the high expenditure afforded to a film set that was hanging by a kaotic thread. On top of this, the film set came under fire from Namibian conservation management with accusations of damage to parts of the Namib desert. Leaked photos of the monstrous cars designed for the film give some perspective as to why there was concern for the pristine desert.
Filming wrapped in 2013 and we MM fans waited with baited breath for the next word. There started to be reports that the test screenings had totally crushed it and Warner Bros were so pleased with what they had seen that Miller was given additional funding to shoot some more footage to complement what he had already done. This was very encouraging as “reshoots” generally mean the need to fix a film that is in trouble.
With all that had happened prior to this films completion MM fans were apprehensive about how this film would turn out. The constant delays in commencement of production , recasting of Max (even though Tom Hardy is certainly not lacking in charisma and intensity), the possibility of a Hollywoodized MM with Charlize Theron in a major role and untrusting producers snooping around on set and just the sheer amount of bad luck that seemed to plague the development of this film made many fans nervous about the finished product.
It is with great relief that the wait has been more than worth it. The finished product is like all of the previous Mad Max films thrown into a pot with a dash of Star Wars, Lord of the rings with Guillermo del Toro popping by to add some of his spices. Oh and a crapload of acid as well. Speaking as a diehard MM fan who has been patiently waiting for this film for ¾ of his life, this film was everything that was hoped for and a whole lot more. Fury Roads association to the other MM films is vague.
Think of a tree branch that splits off and goes its own way but comes from the same base. A reference to a soft reboot sounds about right. I’m still gobsmacked that 70 year old Miller has been able to dial up the crazy so much whilst keeping the film grounded in its relatively simple narrative. As the story goes, Max is yet again drawn into an external conflict whilst going about his own business. Long story short is that he is helping Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and the “five wives” flee across the wasteland from Immortan Joe and his merry band of freaks who want the wives back.
The “wives” belong to Immortan Joe who is using them for questionable means and after you see the place they are escaping from, you’d have no problem doing a runner either. Immortan Joe is eventually flanked by two associated tribes in his chase and they are pretty foul as well. The whole thing becomes a multi tribal smackdown on wheels whilst taking a few unexpected turns in storyline. That’s as much synopsis as you’re getting.
The movie itself is gorgeously grotesque, like a moving painting at times but feels very rooted in the Mad Max mythology whilst ramping up every element of the previous films. In amongst this maelstrom of chaos is some surprisingly and very, dare I say, tender moments which gave more weight to the story and acted as a breather before the chaos kicked in again. Even though there are these beautiful quite moments, there is the full knowledge that the chase is still on.
In the age of green screen occupying nearly every corner of film making, George Miller stressed that this was going to be predominantly practical effects and you can see it up there on the screen. The palpable danger is back in this series and largely due to the fact that what you see up on the screen has been filmed in-camera. The very few instances of CGI used (including a monumental dust storm sequence) are beautifully done.
Another thing that has been ramped up considerably is the car design. They are heavily bastardized versions of existing well known models that have been chewed up by Satan, let to rest in his black acidic belly and spewed out again. Special mention to the cars covered in spikes. It felt dangerous to even be watching them from the comfort of the cinema.
With all the rave reviews piling in for this film, it’s a total vindication for George Miller that after all these years he was on the right track. We are privileged that he stuck to his guns when even the diehard Mad Max fans were becoming highly doubtful if this troubled endeavor was worth the hassle. For that I want to shake his hand and say thank you.