mad max

With the new movie about to hit, Oliver Pfeif­fer re­caps the ad­ven­tures of the Aussie Road War­rior so far

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The pre­vi­ous ad­ven­tures of the Aussie Road War­rior.

e don’t need an­other

hero!” belts out Tina Turner dur­ing the closing ti­tle song to Mad Max Be­yond

Thun­der­dome, the third chap­ter of Ge­orge Miller’s angst rid­den, post apoc­a­lyp­tic fan­tasy fran­chise. In our clut­tered age of cin­e­matic su­per­heroes some might fi­nally be will­ing to agree with her. How­ever, fol­low­ing a 30- year ab­sence from our screens the rene­gade po­lice­man will soon wan­der the des­o­late waste­lands again in Mad

Max: Fury Road. Max Rock­atan­sky was never re­ally one for hero­ics any­way.

“He’s a re­luc­tant hero, driven purely by ne­ces­sity who in­ad­ver­tently be­comes in­volved… a char­ac­ter in a bru­tal world try­ing to avoid his bru­tal na­ture,” ob­served Miller. At this most pri­mal level Rock­atan­sky is the myth­i­cal gun­slinger of West­ern mythol­ogy, the samu­rai war­rior of Ja­panese leg­end who, when pro­voked, turns very mad in­deed.

Fury fu­elled the orig­i­nal film’s pro­duc­tion too, lend­ing it a raw and vis­ceral qual­ity. No doubt Miller’s ex­po­sure to the hor­rific af­ter­maths of car crash pa­tients while work­ing as an emer­gency ward doc­tor left an almighty im­pres­sion on the young film en­thu­si­ast. It was dur­ing this time, while at­tend­ing sum­mer film school, that Miller met his fu­ture cre­ative part­ner By­ron Kennedy.

Eight years later in De­cem­ber 1978, with a script com­plete, a then un­known 21- year- old Mel Gibson cast in the lead and on a shoe­string bud­get Miller and Kennedy com­menced their 12- week shoot in Australia’s Mel­bourne hin­ter­land. The eye- open­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the Aus­tralian oil cri­sis of 1973, re­veal­ing the vi­o­lent ex­tremes mo­torists would go to in or­der to ob­tain fuel for their cars, ig­nited Miller’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to cre­ate a postin­dus­trial so­ci­ety where roads were ruled by a fear­some group of delin­quents who un­leashed ter­ror on the high­ways.

And in the words of the seem­ingly de­monic Nightrider char­ac­ter from the film’s fre­netic open­ing car chase it was “a fuel- in­jected sui­cide ma­chine!” Take the film­ing of the fiery demise of that char­ac­ter, which took three days to film ( for only four sec­onds of screen time) and utilised a fuel rocket mo­tor to send its souped up Holden Monaro to speeds of up to 75mph in 36 me­tres, or the time direc­tor of photography David Eg­gby fear­lessly mounted the back of a mo­tor­bike trav­el­ling at 110mph to cap­ture the in­tense ex­hil­a­ra­tion of speed. “Hand- hold­ing the cam­era on the back of the mo­tor­cy­cle en­abled me to main­tain a cor­rect hori­zon when cor­ner­ing,” says Eg­gby. “It was a cou­ple of days later at rushes when we no­ticed the speedo in the bot­tom of frame was touch­ing 180kph! We did some crazy things then that you wouldn’t be al­lowed to do now. I was too young and gung- ho to be ner­vous.”

The ram­shackle shoot­ing en­vi­ron­ment made use of real biker gangs like the Hells An­gels and ig­nored laws pro­hibit­ing film­ing and per­form­ing stunts on open roads at such danger­ous ve­loc­i­ties. Miller was acutely aware that he was break­ing new ground, even if the time- con­sum­ing style of film­mak­ing oc­ca­sion­ally dis­grun­tled cast and crew.

“He knew what he wanted and alien­ated many a crew mem­ber and ac­tor in his quest to get what his vi­sion in­tended,” re­mem­bers ac­tor Roger Ward who played Fifi Ma­caf­fee, Max’s bald- headed ram­bunc­tious po­lice su­pe­rior. “I re­mem­ber stand­ing around for what seemed like hours while Ge­orge stared at the ground, ob­vi­ously spin­ning through his mind the se­quences of events he vi­su­alised and how he could trans­pose them to film. I would have wilted un­der the hos­til­ity he was ex­posed to but Ge­orge was adamant and would not begin to shoot un­til he knew what he wanted.”

risk y busi­ness

Key dare­devil col­lab­o­ra­tors aided the young film­maker. There was as­sis­tant direc­tor Ian God­dard, one of Europe’s top mo­tor­cy­clists, and leg­endary Aus­tralian stunt­man Grant Page. The lat­ter even per­formed a stunt where a car smashes through a car­a­van while his leg was still in plas­ter from a pre­vi­ous in­jury. Aussie biker and stunt­man Gerry Gaus­laa even broke a world record when he drove his four- cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cle over 28 me­tres and jumped off the bike in mid- flight.

When it was re­leased in­ter­na­tion­ally in 1980, Mad Max was a tri­umphant suc­cess, be­com­ing the high­est bud­get- to- cost ra­tio of a mo­tion pic­ture un­til The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Not bad for a film edited in the direc­tor’s house. De­spite crit­ics largely de­rid­ing it for its ap­par­ent sense­less vi­o­lence, au­di­ences lapped up the feel of be­ing thrust from their seats and into the midst of the ac­tion. Aided by Aus­tralian com­poser Brian May’s gothic and er­ratic score this re­lent­less vengeance flick packed an emo­tional and vis­ceral punch.

Mad Max 2 takes place al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter events in the first film, with a pre- ti­tles mono­logue set­ting the post- nu­clear tribal war­fare sce­nario. The plot was a mas­ter­stroke

in lin­ear sim­plic­ity: in essence one long chase, which sees our an­ti­hero trans­formed into a re­lent­less scav­enger who re­luc­tantly elopes with an ide­al­is­tic tribe to drive a semi- trailer con­tain­ing gal­lons of petrol from their iso­lated oil re­fin­ery to a dis­tant coastal out­post. “We made it very min­i­mal­ist in terms of dia­logue in or­der to tell as much of it as pos­si­ble in purely film lan­guage,” said Miller. In­deed, Gibson voices just 12 lines of dia­logue in the en­tire movie, which helps re- en­force the tar­nished “burnt out shell of a man” that Max has be­come.

Less on the quiet side was the quirky Gyro Cap­tain that Max en­coun­ters early on, played by Aus­tralian char­ac­ter ac­tor Bruce Spence. “I could see the similarities be­tween the Gyro Cap­tain and Max in terms of that re­la­tion­ship you had in some Westerns where the hero has an off- sider who is a lit­tle warmer and slightly hu­mor­ous,” con­sid­ers Spence. “Ge­orge and I sat down and watched Shane and Yo­jimbo. Kuro­sawa movies tend to have a strange, out­ra­geous off­side char­ac­ter.”

The pro­gres­sively des­o­late sur­round­ings also lent tex­ture to a char­ac­ter that had to adapt to his en­vi­ron­ment in or­der to sur­vive. “The char­ac­ter didn’t have much of a name but the back­ground was what was im­por­tant,” says Spence. “There was cer­tainly an am­biva­lent moral­ity about him, hence his con­fronta­tion with Max, which cre­ates a jour­ney for the char­ac­ter later on when Max finds him­self in dire cir­cum­stances.” It also helped that Miller cre­ated a sense of spon­tane­ity on set, en­cour­ag­ing an off- the- wall way of look­ing at this world. “It was like a cir­cus at times – all th­ese strange peo­ple, dressed weirdly and all th­ese un­usual au­to­mo­biles,” says Spence. “It had that air of an­ar­chic mas­culin­ity and testos­terone about it.”

And a Mad Max movie wouldn’t be a Mad Max movie with­out an adren­a­line- in­duced car chase se­quence. The se­quel cli­maxes with ar­guably the great­est pur­suit of them all: an oil tanker driven across an open desert track pursed by a hellish band of leather- clad foes in mon­ster cars that lasts a re­lent­less 12 min­utes of screen time.

A su­perbly gritty and gutsy ad­di­tion to the se­ries that was re­leased to huge ac­claim, Mad Max 2 is ( thus far) widely con­sid­ered the de­fin­i­tive film of the fran­chise. But tragedy struck in 1983 when Miller’s cre­ative part­ner By­ron Kennedy was killed in a he­li­copter crash. Af­ter much con­tem­pla­tion and spurred on by the suc­cess of the first two Mad Max films the film­maker de­cided to hon­our his late friend by tak­ing the story into bold new ter­ri­tory with Mad Max Be­yond Thun­der­dome – co- di­rected with Ge­orge Ogilvie.

end of th e road

Fif­teen years on we find Max in even worse shape than be­fore: shoe­less and des­ti­tute in a desert world where roads no longer ex­ist. His only means of trans­porta­tion is a ram­shackle camel- driven wagon, which is soon stolen. Scribe Terry Hayes con­sid­ered his take on the char­ac­ter as “Je­sus Christ in leather pants”. The anal­ogy wouldn’t be too far off the mark with our way­ward drifter hap­pen­ing upon the bustling and bru­tal Barter­town. There Max agrees to fight the es­teemed leader Masterblaster in the no­to­ri­ous Thun­der­dome, only to have a change of heart and be pun­ished in the un­for­giv­ing all- en­com­pass­ing dunes. Here he even­tu­ally sac­ri­fices him­self to save a colony of lost chil­dren who see him as their nat­u­ral saviour. A familiar face then joins the jour­ney for the fre­netic cli­max.

“I al­ways thought it was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story from Mad Max 2 so I wasn’t ex­pect­ing it,” con­sid­ers Bruce Spence on the sur­prise of be­ing ush­ered back into the se­ries. “They were well into the shoot when they of­fered me a part de­scribed as ‘ not the Gyro Cap­tain but kind of like the Gyro Cap­tain!’” he re­flects on the role of the equally sky- bound char­ac­ter of Jede­diah the Pi­lot. “They said there’s kind of a re­flec­tion of him and that they were hav­ing dif­fi­culty cast­ing the role so they thought to them­selves, ‘ Why not Bruce!’” Once more Spence found him­self re­sum­ing an odd cou­ple part­ner­ship with his lead­ing man. “Mel’s nat­u­ral aloof­ness and his char­ac­ter aloof­ness worked well for me and I could play off that,” he says. “The char­ac­ter clash is what cre­ates the drama. An un­easy al­liance be­tween two char­ac­ters is much more dra­matic than a very pla­tonic and easy­go­ing one.”

Inch­ing to­wards more tra­di­tional sci- fi with a mega bud­get that could em­ploy ’ 80s rock star Tina Turner as a flam­boy­ant Ama­zo­nian an­tag­o­nist, Mad Max Be­yond Thun­der­dome en­com­passes ex­pan­sive lo­ca­tions, mul­ti­ple sto­ry­lines and a vast ar­ray of char­ac­ters. “When I came into it I was just one of many,” Spence con­sid­ers. “It was a chaotic shoot with a busy story and to­tally dif­fer­ent to my ex­pe­ri­ence on Mad Max 2 which was more in­ti­mate. I wasn’t quite sure of my char­ac­ter’s jour­ney as there was a lot more mys­tery to him, but I re­ally liked the end which jus­ti­fied all the early stuff that hap­pened.”

But Max’s jour­ney doesn’t end there. Tom Hardy takes over Gibson’s man­tle in the ti­tle role in Miller’s long- de­layed, highly an­tic­i­pated fol­low up. Mad Max 2 stunt­man Guy Nor­ris re­turned to the fran­chise as a stunt co­or­di­na­tor for the fourth in­stal­ment and of­fers some in­trigu­ing in­sights. “I would de­scribe Fury Road as com­bin­ing Mad Max and Mad Max 2 on steroids,” he says promis­ingly. “The stunts were cer­tainly larger, much more elab­o­rate and per­formed for real at high speed. CGI was only used to re­move the safety ca­bles,” he adds re­as­sur­ingly.

“It’s taken Ge­orge a long time to make this and I think there is some­thing he wants to say about this world right now,” con­sid­ers Spence. “I know from what I’ve heard that this film won’t be like any of the oth­ers. I’m pos­i­tive he’s go­ing to blast peo­ple out of their chairs!”

No sur­prise that Mad Max 2 was reti­tled The Road War­rior in the US. Don’t watch th­ese movies be­fore em­bark­ing on a road trip… The fu­ture was leath­ery back then.

Won­der if he’s got a “How’s My Driv­ing?” sticker? Mel Gibson is dressed to, um, get bat­tered and bruised. Tina Turner in the third Mad Max film – which wasn’t “The Best”. Mad Max On Mars? Nah, that’d suck, like all Mars movies.

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