Weekend Retrospective - Wasteland

MAD MAX 1979 - 1985

I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. 
But most of all, I remember the Road Warrior

George Miller's original biker gangs thriller come dystopia chase movie is a curious piece of work. The well staged car crashes are here, the oddly charismatic psychos are entertaining, and the downbeat revenge notes are eventually played out; but as a film it's not a tightly wound story - the pieces are here but as a whole it's a little sloppy. There's a certain independent movie charm about the original Mad Max which is enjoyable and the b-movie performances are fun, but many things crop up which make it less than great.

The music is oddly out of place in a number of scenes with rousing chords and romantic themes feeling as if they have been taken from another soundtrack, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's stock music. It's also strange that they have a few elements hinting at a society on the verge of breaking down but it's vague and day to day life is going on in many places - they might have the need for fascistic leather clad cops with souped up day glow vehicles, but they still have to deal with an outraged lawyer who turns up at one point to defend the bandit they picked up. They even talk about doing paperwork. The world itself is a little too green and pleasant, and Max is just an average, undefined character who isn't centre stage until half way through. Overall it's likeable and there are memorable moments like the comic style eye popping close ups, but the pacing is way off, it drags too much with material that could be trimmed before the finale of vengeance and fiery death plays out. The film makers seem to be finding their way, but they'd get there soon enough. In great strides.


Soon after a short but sweet mythology building narration, the V8 Interceptor roars onto the screen in new found wide screen glory. An immediate style and tone is established as soon as Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) begins - it's got a new level of confidence. It's more of a Western, or a throw back to lone wanderer stories like Yojimbo - stripping out the police work cliches and family melodrama and focusing on wasteland survival. The reasons that this film has had a such a lasting impact on pop culture are very apparent straight away. The make shift vehicles, the barren landscape, all those oddball raider outfits and mohawks; it's something you can find the influences of every time you see a post apocalyptic story in any medium from film to videogames. The story itself may be overly simplistic but I like the idea that this is just a 'day in the life' on the travels of a scavenger who could be pushed into heroism in the right circumstances.

Of course the popularity of this sequel hangs on two main ingredients - the colourful characters and the hair raising death and destruction of the car chases. Between the boomerang throwing Feral Kid, Bruce Spence's twitchy Gyro Captain and the strangely Scandinavian villain "The Humungous" - all wild gesticulating and speeches - the screen is never without a certain level of intrigue and entertainment value because of this assortment of caricatures. With no real back stories or build up, they just story of exist in this world and it's easy to go along with them in anticipation of what will happen next. Mel Gibson in the title role is far better this time as a worn out anti hero who is a much better fit for the ragged bike leathers than before. The action set pieces that soon come along are all pretty nail biting thanks to some intricate camera work and plenty of real stunts. The level of carnage is eye watering at times as vehicles are destroyed and stunt performers spin through the air. Even Brian May (not that one) puts in a solid musical score to accompany the mayhem, adding rhythm and tension. Everything works here, and it thunders along like the fuel tanker at the centre of these events. It's a taught, relentless and pitch perfect chase movie. Unlike the third entry in this series...


Beyond Thunderdome was intended to be a stand alone film, an original story. So when things go off the rails and the plot begins to follow a group of "lost boys" style children in the wasteland, that's the reason it feels out of place. They cut out that part of their first idea and book ended it with all the stuff about Max in town a town ran by... Tina Turner. It's really odd and feels messy; a big departure from the slick, back to basics approach in part two. Having avoided even seeing this for many years I was pretty disappointed that it was even more awkward than I'd always been led to believe.

None of the elements feel like they belong in the world they created before, even the first act set in "Barter Town" is too busy, with a focus on big crowd scenes and detailed costumes rather than getting the story told. The mad cap ideas about a methane fueled town and a dwarf overlord riding about on a larger servant is just too far outside the established tone, it's like another genre or something you'd expect from an kids film made in this era. When they get to the lost valley of children it goes to pieces entirely. They start talking about an actual nuclear holocaust and the subtle references to the decline of society offered in that great Road Warrior monologue are forgotten. By the time they go completely off the deep end and start racing a steam train my patience was barely intact.

With the promise of a new reboot (or even just a sequel set earlier in this timeline) it's interesting to consider that the creators have taken a look at this as a step in the wrong direction, and things might be taken back to the 1981 methods with proper physical effects and a simpler, vehicle chase style plot. Fury Road has been a very long time coming and it has a lot of potential to be a let down, but at least they won't give us any more of Master and Blaster... probably.