Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie Watch: Mad Max - Fury Road

Firstly, apologies to my brother, who asked I take him to see this movie at some point.  And I will!  And I am sorry I went to see it without on my first viewing, but Raylan texted me and said I should just go and when you make time, I'll go again.

Secondly, holy shit.

I have no idea how many times I've seen The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, but they were in pretty regular rotation for me as a kid.  And I've watched both a few times as an adult (admittedly, Road Warrior is my preference, but I think Thunderdome gets a bad rap for a movie that is just brimming with ideas).

That said, I'm kind of over both dystopian sci-fi these days, and I'm certainly over "world on the brink" movies, which is kind of what killed Pacific Rim for me.

But Mad Max is the original formula, and director George Miller is a bit of an un-discussed genius when it comes to making movies.  And if you want to debate that point, I'll sit with you through Babe II: Pig in the City any time and if you don't cry a little and aren't completely amazed, you're a cold, dead person inside, and I don't want to know you.

But I felt no small amount of trepidation when I saw the first trailer for the new Mad Max movie.  It's been almost 30 years, Gibson wouldn't be back*, and CGI has transformed the landscape in ways that made the idea of a CGI Max movie terribly unappealing.

But I think most of what you've heard is true.  Mad Max: Fury Road simply looks and feels completely different from all of the blue-hued CGI-fests we've gotten used to over the past decade.  Not that Miller hasn't deployed effects, digital washes, etc...  but it's not the same thoughtless, flattened out palette.   His use of color almost reminded me of the tinting of black and white film back in the silent era, when different scenes would receive different shades to reflect mood or tone.  And if Miller's camerawork was dynamic when he used to film cars running over one another at 75 mph, in the digital era, he's here to provide a master class in camera movement (and editor Margaret Sixel deserves some directing credit herself).

The last time I felt the same visceral thrill watching a movie was the CGI-light Dark Knight, a movie which also relied on pacing and unpredictability, amazing practical effects and stunts.  Just like the notices have said - there's something to seeing all of these cars actually built and actually rolling around.  My one, unintentional, inappropriate laugh was when one of the cars rolled on to the screen and was so insane, I just lost it for a minute.  I'll let others who've seen the movie guess which one.

But, yeah, even in this age of helicarriers and quinjets and Jaegers and whatnot, there's something about actually seeing these cars.  And more than that, there's something about a director who knows how to film them.

Like all Max movies, describing the story almost does them an injustice, and that used to lead to raised eyebrows by critics in tweedy jackets.  But in this era of plug-and-play formula for character development across all genres of movie (most certainly including Oscar-bait dramas), the sort of thing that was always there in these movies - the unspoken conversations, the minimalist dialog, the characters showing themselves through action, not some canned conversation to give an actor a monologue...  it's fascinating stuff, and I think the audience got it back with Road Warrior if you were paying attention.

The movie is also an R-rated movie, and I can't honestly remember the last time I saw a new Rated-R movie.  And while the violence and themes are intense (and I am totally okay with an R-rating for this movie), the violence is portrayed as terrifying.  I like my Captain America movies, but what doesn't look fun about throwing a shield at a HYDRA agent?  Everything looks fun about that.  But Max's world is as near a vision of hell as I can conjure.

The Mad Max movies are about a world gone mad.  Environmental collapse and the failure of the modern world to hold itself together has left humanity murdering itself over the scraps.  The mighty feed on the poor, and survival means everything is a risk, and that just means everyone has gone mad as history slips away, and the bones of the old world provide recyclable resources.

But the movies provide a glimpse of hope here and there, and so it's not a nihilistic viewpoint.  In their own ways, the movies are near horror movies - there's nothing in this world to fetishize or dream of.  It's the opposite of the Star Trek future, and so it's about that glint of goodness in a field of decay, of hope when there's no reason to harbor a glimmer of a better tomorrow.  And that's a pretty remarkable thing in and of itself.

Anyway, yeah, I liked it.

*I'll try to separate any of Gibson's personal garbage with the fact that he's pretty spectacular as Md Max


Jake Shore said...

Wow. Can't wait. Still in my bunker. Haven't even seen Avengers 2 yet.

What is going on here? I don't think I've ever seen a major summer release with 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. As far as this film's transcendence of the genre; over the big budget CGI drivel, featuring equally well written story and characters; why now? Why this film? Why has it taken this long?

I liked Mad Max and Road Warrior, but nothing about them led me to believe George Miller is a genius. What does he "get" that no one is? And will it change anything?

The League said...

You know, I think it's a great mix of old school action movie making, indie movie making ethos and modern technology. I'm not sure he's doing much here he didn't do in prior Max movies, but the immediacy and purity of a singular vision carries through here in a way that bigger movies seem to have lost. Maybe it's nostalgia?

But do see it on the big screen if you can. I'd hate to oversell it, but it was just straight up enjoyable.

Jake Shore said...

Vision. Hmmm. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact, or appearance that, all the prominent filmmakers, no matter how talented, have compromised their vision, in deference to the vision of the studio? How much say do directors have over films today compared to the 60s, 70s & 80s?

Is that why there are so few original ideas being turned into movies? I have great affection for the films of the 80s, but only in retrospect does the decade seem like a fountain of creativity. When you were living in the 80s, did you feel like you were in some golden age? Given the remakes, sequels, and adaptations of all things 80s these days, it must have been. How long til John Hughes' movies are redone?

RHPT said...

I read that the movie didn't have a fully working script, which usually is a sign of trouble but clearly that wasn't an issue this time. I also read that one of the scenes in the movie (I don't know which one) took 138 days to film. 138 days!

I bet your favorite vehicle was the one with the guitar guy. (Is that a spoiler?)

The League said...

Well... none of the Mad Max movies had a script. I don't really know how people from the 1980's don't know that. It was always outlines and a few sketches on cocktail napkins. That's why there's no dialog. Sure, it's hell on budgeting a film when that's how you work, but...

And, no, I'd seen the guitar vehicle in the trailer, and while it got a chuckle, it was not the one. Two more guesses, I guess.

The League said...

@jake - I think there's a LOT to that. The studios controlled everything tightly through the mid-60's and then got desperate when everyone stayed home to watch TV, so they handed over the keys to anyone with an idea too big for TV. And then we got Bonnie & Clyde and new Hollywood came screaming off the runway.

But, yeah, the 80's saw remakes and pastiches of the past. You can hardly say Indiana Jones wasn't a nod to a whole genre of film that went before. But I think - before Sony and other big share-holder driven companies came in and bought everything up - that studios were at least less risk averse and movies passed through a lot fewer hands before getting made. Now there are fifty accountants crunching numbers from pre-production to the last showing on USA Network at 3:00 AM 20 years on. Corporations are, I hate to say, boring. If someone makes Coke and it works, you just keep making Coke. And if someone is selling Coke, someone else makes Pepsi. and RC. and off-brand Cola. And that's always been true (Star Wars spawned a million hilariously bad imitators), but now it's all about risk aversion. When "Guardians of the Galaxy" is seen as edgy, something is wrong.

Paul Toohey said...

I don't know that I've seen a movie that is as well put together on each and every front like this one is. Story is great, characters are great, practicals are's just great.

I need to see it again.

JAL said...

Shiny and chrome!