Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Road Warrior


DIRECTED by George Miller
PRODUCED by Byron Kennedy
WRITTEN by Terry Hayes & George Miller & Brian Hannant
ART DIRECTION by Graham ‘Grace’ Walker

The Mad Max series is a perfect illustration of one of the worst things about most films that have a Roman numeral after them, even though they didn’t use Roman numerals in this one: Concept inflation.

Mad Max was a swell little action picture, made on a shoestring without much more going for it than a simple story and a bunch of guys willing to drive cars really, really fast and crash into things. But it had a heart. And it made $100,000,000, which guaranteed a sequel. It didn’t do much business in the US, because at that time we didn’t watch Australian films. When they did release it … they dubbed in American voices!

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was a bloated bit of awfulness bringing in all sorts of gimcrackery to disguise the fact that nothing was going on but Mel Gibson getting the crap beaten out of him, as he must in every film he makes, by contractual obligation.

Now I hear there will be Mad Max: Fury Road, due in 2005. I am a prophet, I can tell you exactly what it will look like. It will have CGI out the wazoo, lots and lots of car chases, and will look really snazzy. Mel Gibson will get the crap beaten out of him, but survive. And it may even be a good movie, but it won’t have much to do with Mad Max.

Luckily, between the first and the third movie was Mad Max II, better known in the US by what I think is the better title: The Road Warrior. Possibly the best action/adventure car chase film ever made.

What? I hear you say. What about all the high-tech thrill-a-minute stuff we’ve seen in the 23 years since? What about the car chase in Terminator III: Rise of the Machines, where they wrecked half of Los Angeles with a giant crane? What about The Matrix Reloaded, where they built a solid mile of freeway and used about 50 stunt drivers? Both wonderful action sequences, no question … but I was never on the edge of my seat! My foot was never groping for the brake pedal in the movie theater, I never winced, I never actually gasped. Hell, more than half the cars in Matrix were computer-generated, they weren’t even there!

The Road Warrior began with some really snazzy chases, built up a weird and brand-new universe I’d never seen before, and climaxed with the most astonishing, balls-out, maniacal, insane twenty minutes of action I have ever seen. Just watch those guys again sometime. They are hanging out there on the edge of the envelope, skidding, bumping, rolling over, with no camera tricks. I was literally breathless at the end.

As for the look of the film … remember that every cliché was new at some time. Sure there have been many more violent films than The Wild Bunch, but they can never have the same impact as the original. They don’t show me anything new, just variations on the old. Some films do that. 2001: A Space Odyssey showed us outer space for the first time. Star Wars showed us a lived-in future, Alien showed us … well, slime. All those things have become clichés since then.

The costumes and sensibility of The Road Warrior have been endlessly copied, but no one has yet equaled one scene I’ll never forget that sums up the brutality it portrays. The motorized barbarians led by The Humungus are delivering an ultimatum to the people in the compound through his spokesman, The Toadie (“Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”). The Feral Kid throws his super-sharp boomerang. Everybody watches it. It swoops down and The Toadie, without thinking, reaches up to catch it. Blip blip blip blip! His fingers are cut off. The Humungus starts to laugh. All his people start to laugh. The people inside the compound start to laugh, too. It’s the funniest thing they’ve seen in years. The Toadie looks around at everybody … and he starts to laugh, too. That last touch is what turned it from simply a very shocking scene into a scene of genius.

These people live brutal lives. You take your laughs where you can find them.