The reason I ask is that while it has the critics raving, when they actually read their description, or when I watch the trailer, it sounds and looks awful.
I will tell you where I am coming from. As a teenager, I saw the original Mad Max in the theaters and the experience was riveting. I’d seen nothing like this before. All the familiar tropes weren’t there, and a lot of things I’d never seen before were. The effect was both disturbing and electric. I eagerly awaited the sequel. When the Road Warrior came out, I was not disappointed. It was even better.
Looking back at it years later, both films still stand up, though the original Mad Max was an uneven mix of bold originality and the banal. The homoerotic villains, the Aussie accents, the nihilistic post-apocalyptic environment, and the cruel, cynical dialogue were brilliant and original. In contrast, the loving home scenes with Max’s wife and young son were pure filler. It is as if the filmmakers didn’t quite have the confidence to pull it off completely: whenever they did something creative and bold and original, they felt they had gone overboard and had to reign themselves in. The result was uneven, but brilliant in many places. In the Road Warrior, their confidence had arrived, and it was justified.
(The less said about the third film, Thunderdome, the better. It was a bloated monstrosity that had the form of the first two without any of the substance. Too much money, too many hit songs and too many pop-culture divas.)
The issue is not CGI vs. actual stunts. CGI is fine, if used properly. What separates the first two Mad Max’s from a typical action flicks is that you actually care about the characters. When Max takes revenge on the Toecutter’s gang, you cheer him on because you were shown how utterly evil they are (they ran down his three year old son with motorcycles). In the Road Warrior, it is civilization vs. the barbarians. Take the scene where Humungous (“the warrior of the wastelands, the ayatollah of rock and rollah”) and his gang menacingly park their souped-up rigs outside the compound gates to deliver their ultimatum to the townspeople. Is there a more vivid scene in the entire history of cinema that visualizes the idea of Barbarians At The Gates better?
You cared because the filmmakers sweated all the little (and cheap) details – in the stunts, the cars, the set, and the dialogue. All reinforce The Story.
Take the first meeting between Max and the Gyro Captain. This scene’s charm emanates from the cautious and cynical way they maneuver around one another. Their world is nasty, brutish and short, and they act accordingly. They don’t take foolish chances. The dialogue perfectly captures their tactical wariness. The Australian accents didn’t hurt.
When Papagallo tells everybody to get ready to evacuate the compound, what follows are a series of rapid-fire scenes showing rushed preparation. Among them are a couple of quick scenes where chickens and pigs are being corralled. It lasts mere seconds but it reinforces the story: the people in the compound are makers; those outside are takers. Again Civilization vs. Barbarians. Road Warrior contains a thousand details like this.
Another critical factor is that both films are deeply embedded within the hot rod culture. Road Warrior featured a bevy of customized cars and trucks, but every modification made automotive sense. They weren’t designed by an art director, they were made by somebody who read Hot Rod magazine. (OK, you can’t switch off a roots-type blower, but other than that…) A Mad Max knock-off I saw a few years later featured Volkswagen Beetles covered with paper mache. None of the accoutrements served any purpose but I suppose the art director loved it. That flick disappeared without a trace.
The trailer to the new Road Warrior film features a huge VW Beetle-thingie on steroids with giant, monster-truck wheels. OK, but to what practical end (other than to look cool in front of the camera)? The originals stood out because every cool car detail served a practical purpose to the characters; they were also things that people living at that time could conceivable make. (Proof of the latter is that hard-core Mad Max enthusiasts have built some of these vehicles for themselves.)
Then I saw this piece by Andrew Klavan in PJMedia, entitled, ‘Mad Max’ – the Critics are Lying for Political Reasons, which confirmed my worst suspicions.
Which is all too bad. A friend of mine had a great idea for the third Mad Max film (again, forgetting Thunderdome ever existed): a remake of Steve McQueen’s second last film, Tom Horn, where he plays an aging but legendary lawman who has lived long enough to become an anachronism. If memory serves me correctly, it took place in the 1890’s where Tom Horn’s old gunslinger ways are increasingly out of step with a West being tamed. In my friend’s Mad Max finale, Max is an aging road warrior at a time when the post-apocalyptic world is recovering. Road warriors are no longer wanted as peace and order is coming back. McQueen was 50 when he made Tom Horn. Mel Gibson is 59 – the high side of the perfect age.
Perhaps the problem with Mad Max is that the first two films were made by the duo of George Miller and Byron Kennedy, and Kennedy died in a helicopter crash in 1983 – two years after Road Warrior. The awfulness of the third Mad Max film, and the weakness of George Miller’s subsequent career, suggests that Kennedy was the more talented half of the partnership. Was Kennedy Paul Simon to Miller’s Art Garfunkle?
So, unless I hear otherwise, this Mad Max fanatic is going to stay away from the theaters. I might not even rent Mad Max: Bigger, Louder and Dumber.