Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sunday Cinema: The Road Warrior & Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

There's a lotta movies coming out this summer but I've been itching to see Mad Max: Fury Road since those first crazy trailers started hitting. Clips at WonderCon only whetted the appetite and last week the huge premiere welcomed stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, writer/director George Miller and the original Max himself, Mel Gibson! Apparently a sequel, featuring Gibson, nearly happened in 2001 but after 9/11 the U.S. Dollar dropped and a couple of years later Mr. Gibson moved into his "complicated" stage of arrests, being illegally recorded, gold dug and saying some not so nice things. The story needed Max to be closer to his prime and over a decade later, it was not to be an "old warrior" tale a la Unforgiven or the proposed Conan the Barbarian sequel. Cut to word that Hardy and Theron were shooting in the African desert in Nambia during the summer of 2012 but it was basically silence on Fury Road until a single image dropped and little by little, we've finally made it. To prep for Thursday's release, I sat down for 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Mad Max did not blow me away. It was released several years before I was born, I didn't grow up with it and hey, times change, filmmakers ape stuff and source material just doesn't pop the way it could if you saw it firsthand. The flick heralded Mel Gibson's spectacular awaiting career and put Australian filmmaking on the map. The Road Warrior though, I enjoyed the snot out of. The opening minutes catch the audience up and introduce the world as Mad Max was an influential if not box office smash. Living in the wasteland looking for "juice" aka gasoline, Max encounters some hardcore marauders along with a gyro plane captain who claims to know where an oil refinery is. Doing some recon, Max, his dog Dog and Captain scope out the outpost that's under siege by Lord Humongous and his goons as they kill anyone trying to escape. Apparently the refugees believe there's a paradise outside the wasteland some 2,000 miles away and are prepping to make a run for it. Max ends up cutting a deal with them to lead the convoy and vehicular mayhem, shotgun blasting, hero shots, dog food, feral kid, crazy Vernon Wells, buff/masked villain and football shoulder pads ensues to make for a memorable 96 minutes.

Gibson is silent yet iconic as Max and his scene giving the feral kid a music toy shows him at his most randomly icy cool with inquisitive yet harsh and kind of dead eyes. A great bit of car chase starts out the flick but I was a little disappointed his souped up Interceptor didn't get more to do as it's totaled later after a short pursuit. It's a desolate and dirty affair with the marauders raping, torturing and murdering the refiners while also gonzo with the practical f/x, world, costumes and characters. The end sequence with a tanker truck with several cars and motorcycles in pursuit is fantastic as vehicles are really crashed and crushed and real people flung through the air. Made for a meager $2 million bucks, The Road Warrior opened up # 4 on May 21st in 1982 behind defending champ Conan the Barbarian, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Porky's with a $2.5 million dollar gross on it's way to $23.6 million total.

Gibson and Miller along with co-director George Ogilvie and co-writer Terry Hayes returned to the franchise for 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. We find a long haired Max stumbling into Bartertown, a shanty built from the ruins of World War III where vendors hock radioactive water, methane gas from pig sh!t fuels the city and things are ruled by the strong yet not quite tyrannical Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). Max is recruited to take out Master and Blaster, the little person and slow witted giant who really run Bartertown with their pigs and crap. Max ends up booted from the city and found by a bunch of wild children whose plane crashed years ago in a Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan set up. Together, they head back to Bartertown to free The Master. A fight on bungie cords with huge hammers and chainsaws anchors the first act while things turn into a swashbuckling adventure with soaring music when the kids get involved. They live in a lush and wet rainforest which is a nice change of pace from the sand and fire of usual Mad Max motifs. Just when I wondered when Max was going to drive a car, we get a huge chase sequence at the end involving a truck on a train and lots of post-apocalyptic vehicles in pursuit.

Beyond Thunderdome is an interesting movie, it's slicker and shinier than the previous films but also really weird but somehow all works to make a visually interesting and entertaining time. Miller and Oglivie go overboard on the panning and zooming but it definitely gives the piece part of it's over the top personality.  Reportedly budgeted at $12 million, Warner Brothers released Thunderdome on my birthday a few years after I showed up. Opening at # 2 with $7.2 million, Mad Max 3 would gross $36 million at the box office going up against the likes of Back to the Future, Cocoon, Rambo II and Pale Rider. Gibson's next movie at Warner Brothers, Lethal Weapon, would mark the beginning of his career as a top grossing and earning actor before becoming an Oscar winning director with Braveheart. While I do wish Gibson could have had a part in Fury Road as he brought the character to life, it's comforting to know George Miller is still at the helm and is looking to carry on the series like a James Bond and passing the mantle.

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