Dust To Dust

Five things you need to know about… The Michael Shan­non cy­ber West­ern

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At least cli­mate change is good for some­thing – pro­vid­ing in­trigu­ing sto­ry­telling in­spi­ra­tion for film­mak­ers. Take writer/ direc­tor Jake Pal­trow’s pe­cu­liar, sci- fi in­fused West­ern, Bad Land: Road To Fury, which shows a fu­ture west­ern United States where wa­ter is a rare com­mod­ity for peo­ple like farmer Ernest Holm and his kids. Oddly enough, it’s their re­liance on a me­chan­i­cal ro­botic horse to sur­vive the el­e­ments that proves to be the cen­tre­piece of this pulpy drama. “It all felt like a com­bi­na­tion of things we hadn’t seen,” Pal­trow tells Red Alert. “The so­cial is­sues and po­lit­i­cal back­ground in the movie was what I was in­ter­ested in, so in­sert­ing a clas­si­cal struc­ture and land­scape into this fu­ture felt like some­thing I wanted to see my­self.”


Pal­trow’s over­all aes­thetic is clas­sic West­ern yet the tech is so fu­tur­is­tic that au­di­ences will of­ten be sur­prised, which was the direc­tor’s ob­jec­tive. “I wanted the film to have a sto­ry­book na­ture to it even though I wanted the per­for­mances and the feel­ing of living in the en­vi­ron­ment to be nat­u­ral­is­tic, I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily want it all to feel real,” he ex­plains. “Try­ing to find the dif­fer­ence be­tween nat­u­ral­is­tic and re­al­is­tic and get­ting into the science fic­tion, I wanted to find a bal­ance.”


De­spite its low- bud­get ori­gins, Pal­trow’s yarn was strong enough to at­tract an im­pres­sive cast led by for­mer Zod Michael Shan­non as the Holm pa­tri­arch, with sup­port­ing turns by Ni­cholas Hoult, Elle Fan­ning and Kodi Smit- McPhee. Shot in 35 days in South Africa, Pal­trow says the cast truly sold his con­cept. “It was a very good ex­pe­ri­ence with them, as chal­leng­ing as the en­vi­ron­ment to make the film was. From my ex­pe­ri­ence with re­ally good ac­tors like we had, they feel what you are try­ing to ac­com­plish be­cause they can align them­selves with it.”


While most of the film takes place in an arid desert, there are some se­quences, like when Ernest’s son Jerome ( Smit- McPhee) crosses into an­other state, where tech is ev­ery­where cre­at­ing a vis­ceral al­ter­nate way of life. “He’s in a world that has re­gressed ter­ri­bly in ev­ery way,” Pal­trow ex­plains of the Holms’ bleak ranch. “Go­ing across the bor­der and see­ing that the state next door has an end­less wa­ter sup­ply cre­ated through this fic­tional atomic process where they are smash­ing hy­dro­gen and wa­ter atoms to­gether in th­ese gi­ant re­finer­ies is there to show this is the ex­act op­po­site of what the boy is living through.”


Ernest is able to ex­ist in the desert be­cause he can trans­port and trade wa­ter with the well drillers via his ro­botic car­rier ma­chine. In essence, it’s just a me­chan­i­cal beast of bur­den but it ends up en­gen­der­ing a strange sym­pa­thy from the fam­ily and au­di­ence. “It doesn’t have to be sen­tient for it to be an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pal­trow smiles. “I like the idea of hav­ing some­thing that you are im­bu­ing with all the things you need from it, and you imag­ine you are get­ting some­thing back from it in your mind. The thing is blamed for a ter­ri­ble crime but it can’t speak for it­self so there is some­thing beau­ti­ful and sad about it.” Bad Land: Road To Fury is in cine­mas from 1 May and on DVD/ on de­mand from 4 May.

The long, sad look of teenagers asked to help out with chores.

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