Sunday, 26 July 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - The Art of the Action Film

Mad Max: Fury Road

Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
Release: 15 May 2015
IMDB User Rating: 8.6
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 89%

I have come to realise that this whole debate about the illegal downloading of movies is little more than a storm in a tea cup. The reason I say this is because if the movie studios were not making any money because everybody was downloading the movie over the internet for free then they wouldn't make any more movies because it would no longer be profitable. The thing is that even in the age of the internet movies are still very profitable, and Mad Max Fury Road is a prime example. Costing $150 Million to make, as of 19th July it has had a world wide gross of $367.2 million, which isn't a bad effort.

It is the cinema that will make or break a movie, and despite sophisticated home entertainment systems, and the internet, people still flock to the cinemas to see the latest release movies. While the success of any given movie is measured against its takings on the weekend of its release, in my opinion it should be the length of time in which the film is in the cinemas. Once again Mad Max is a prime example because five weeks after it first opened it still packs out a cinema (albeit the smaller ones). Age of Ultron, which hit number one around the time Mad Max was released, was no longer showing. In the end, I suspect that if the Dallas Buyer's Club didn't make as much money as they anticipated, it probably has little to do with people downloading the film and everything to do with the fact that despite it winning awards, the average punter really didn't want to see it. 


An Impossible Film
Anyway, enough of this discussion about internet piracy since this post is supposed to be about the film as opposed to a rant about how the film industry isn't actually affected by it all that much. Anyway, I read an interesting article about how this film should never have been made. While I never actually thought about it in the lead up to the movie, after reading the said article Rob Bricken does actually make some very interesting points:
  • Movie making is a business: Hollywood executives want to see a return from their investment, and when considering what movies to fund, they simply don't throw money at a project simply because it looks good. The reason that we see so many sequels appearing is because the original idea worked and made lots of money, so they work on the principle that if something worked once then it is going to work again. While the original Mad Max had been a hit, by the time they reached number three the punters simply weren't interested in any more so the concept was shelved. Sure, the Star Wars prequels appeared years after Return of the Jedi, but that had more to do with George Lucas having a lot of clout in Hollywood as opposed to the executives attempting to resurrect an old idea. 
  • Mel Gibson wouldn't have worked: when a movie is resurrected it is always tempting to bring back that which made the original movie work, and in the case of Mad Max that was Mel Gibson. Sure, Gibson has a number of characters that he has become associated with, however Mad Max was one of his signatures. Yet they took a risk in using somebody else and it worked, and worked big time. This is not surprising because Mel Gibson is way past his prime, and with the recent (or not so recent) negative publications, he no longer has the drawing power that he once had. Okay, Tom Hardy is hardly an unknown (he played Bane in Dark Knight Rises), but once again staring him in the lead role was a huge risk, a risk that paid off big time.
    Spike Car
  • George Miller hadn't directed an action movie in years: which is true. In fact the last action movie that he directed was none other than Mad Max III, and while I still think it is a pretty cool movie (if only for Angry Anderson's one fingered salute at the end), it never went down all that well. What I discovered was that the last movie that he directed was none other than 'Happy Feet' - a children's movie. So, for some unknown reason the Hollywood directors approached George Miller, gave him a bunch of money, and told him to make a sequel. As I have suggested, that was a huge risk. Take A Phantom Menace for instance: while it was highly anticipated it ended up being a huge disappointment, and if that was going to be a lesson for Mad Max then it would be to leave the idea on the shelf. Once again, it turned out that George Miller delivered the goods, and delivered them in spades. 
  • It doesn't follow the standard script: sure, every movie has a script, but Hollywood works on the principle that there is an overarching script that every film must follow, including action movies. However Mad Max simply does not seem to follow that script. Right from the get-go the film is literally non-stop action, with a few spots to allow us to take a breather, before the action really heats up again. Another thing where Mad Max deviates from the Hollywood Script is that the title character, Mad Max, basically plays second fiddle to Imperator Furiosa. This is almost unheard of, and in fact Max spends the first part of the movie chained to the front of a car as a prisoner. Sure, action heroes get caught and imprisoned, but they are still the focus of the film and every other character works to support him (or her), yet Max seems to be the character that is supporting Furiosa.
War Boys Fleet

Cinematic Art
I must be honest and say that I simply did not know what to expect when I first bought my tickets, and the main reason I did so was because I had liked the originals and I thought that I might as well see this one. When I sat down in the cinema I must admit that it took some time to actually come to terms with what I was seeing. For instance: when the infamous Doof Warrior first appeared with his flaming guitar my initial reaction was 'what the...' In fact I thought he was pretty silly until I discovered that he pretty much steals the show. As Richard Vine suggests, it is one mean feat to steal the show in a film like Fury Road, yet jump onto the user reviews on IMDB, and you will find him coming up time and time again.

Sure, it is actually not unusual for armies to have drummers banging out the beat to which they would march, but George Miller literally takes it to a new level with some guy in a red jumpsuit thrashing out heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar. As Richard Vine says: "It’s the moment, when director George Miller shifts gears from Mad Max to Mad Maximum, and you realise you are watching an action film determined to push things as far as possible."

The thing is that it is true - Mad Max: Fury Road pushes the boundaries on what it is to be an action movie, to the point that people have written articles praising it as a work of art. For me, that first time I didn't know what to expect, and it wasn't until I sat down, thought about it, and read about it on the internet, that I came to realise how extra-ordinary this film was. Mad Max is one of those very rare movies that finally drew me back to the cinema to watch a second time, and after the credits began to role, I resisted the temptation to run back to the box office and buy another ticket to watch it again. 

Mad Max - Sand Storm

In fact everything about the film has the touch of an artist, from the incredible visuals to the amazing soundtrack that is almost operatic in its composure, and the fact that you will leave the cinema breathless. Sure, for most of the two hours that you spend watching the film you will be drawn into what is effectively one incredibly long car chase - yet isn't that what draws us to action movies: car chases. Once a group of friends were having a discussion on which film has the best car chase, and if you have seen the previous instalments you will have an idea of what to expect from Fury Road. However, once again, Miller shifts up a gear and goes from having the car chase at the end, to basing the entire movie around it.

Take also into consideration the cars. It is only in a movie like Mad Max where you use the vehicles that we see roaring across the desert, yet this is what we could expect from such a world where vehicles are created from what can be scavenged from the world that existed before. Yet even though we can be caught up in the action, or blown away by the visual effects, and left breathless by the film's intensity, the film then captures us even more through the story that it tells us (a story that has flowed from the previous movies, yet has adapted itself to the modern, 21st century world).

The Politics of Gender
The world of Mad Max has always been a world that has been ruled by the strong - we see this in the previous movies where wild gangs roam the land looting and plundering all that they see. However there is an interesting twist to this male dominated brutal world, and that is that woman have a role to play. We see that in Beyond Thunderdome where Tina Turner rules Bartertown with an iron fist. Here Miller that given us a twist and given the reigns of power to a woman, who in turn becomes the antagonist of the film. However times have changed, and thirty years have past since this last instalment, and on fury road we see a different story unfold.

Furiosa

The film begins at the Citadel of the Warboys where their leader Immortum Joe rules the place with an iron fist. Unlike the first films, where it was gasoline that gave power, water has now come into play, and it is his access to drinking water that gives him power. This is a male dominated society where woman are relegated to commodities, either as a means of producing offspring, or being farmed for their milk like cattle. However Furiosa stands against this trend being one of Immortum Joes trusted knights, and it is the role that she plays that demonstrates the distinct shift in the politics of gender.

The world of Immortum Joe is the old world where women are treated as property and for their usefulness, yet the goal of this film is to escape the world and to bring about a new world where people, especially women, are no longer things but people. We see this when Joe walks into his harem to discover the words 'Women are not things' scrawled all over the walls, but it didn't click to me until that scene where Max approached the War Rig to discover a group of scantily clad women washing themselves down.

Sure, there has been criticism about the use of these beautiful white women, but we must remember the male ideology that for a woman to be a breeder then the woman must be beautiful. Isn't that the essence of sexual selection - the strong mate with the beautiful while the weak and the ugly are left to die? It is understandable that Miller used these women in the film as Joe's breeders because it is not only logical, but it is what would be expected from such a character. However, we do note that it is the harem girls that are freed by Furiosa to take them to the promised green land, and not the cattle that are being used to produce milk (even though they are liberated in the end).

Women Washing

Also consider the scene where they reach their destination - the tribe that they encounter is a tribe of women, and one of these women carries with her a box of seeds. This seems to imply that women are creators and preservers, where as the men are the destroyers. The question is asked 'who killed the world?' and the answer that is implied is 'the men'. In Fury Road the men are the destroyers and the controllers, while the women are the ones who produce and conserve life. This is clear with the women who produce the milk, as well as the breeders who provide Imortum Joe with his army of warboys.

Misplaced Hope
Mad Max: Fury  Road is also a film about hope, or about the search for hope. Furiosa and the breeders flee Immortum Joes citadel in a quest for a new life in the Green Land. We see this in other Mad Max films, particularly Beyond Thunderdome, where the characters go on a quest for paradise, only to discover a world ravaged by war. They are found in an oasis, but this oasis is too small, and they forever stare at a post-card promising a paradisical land that simply does not exist. The same theme comes out in Fury Road, for as they travel along the road, fleeing the wrath of the warboys, they are looking ahead for a world that simply does not exist, a world that Furiosa only remembers from her childhood. When she learns that this world has gone, having been destroyed by poison, they look across a parched salt plain and decide to set off in a quest in the hope that such a land may exist.

However, as Max points out, such a land does exist - the Citadel, yet to get to the citadel they must once again face the fury of the warboys. This is the thing about hope - it exists and it is within our grasp, yet the road we must travel to grasp this hope is not an easy path to travel. Many of us look at this path and say that it is too hard, that it does not exist, and that it is impossible, and we then look across the salt plain and convince ourselves that hope must lie in that direction, and then embark on a quest that in the end is fruitless. In reality, our hope does not lie in uncharted territory, but rather in a place that is familiar to us, especially those of us here in the west.

Hope Destroyed

While I generally don't link to too many Christian websites, I found one of the comments on the review on Christian Answers quite interesting. The commenter points out that there is actually quite a lot of biblical imagery in the film, particularly from the book of Exodus. For instance we have water coming out of the rock (and in the Bible the water of life refers to Jesus), however we should note that the water is controlled by Immortum Joe. To me that is quite reflective of the people that seek to control our access to understanding the true nature of God. Just as Immortum Joe turns on the tap for a short time, he then turns it off, warning us that for us to have too much might turn us into addicts. This in a way has been my experience in that there are people who will warn us away from 'bad influences' and seek to restrict our knowledge based on what they believe is helpful. There was a time when the church even made it illegal for the Bible to be written in the common tongue, least people learn the truth and seek to think for ourselves.

The desert plays a significant role in the film, as does the desert in Exodus. The desert is reflective of the difficult life, and the journey that we make towards the hope that we have. True, the hope in Mad Max turns out to be empty hope, but as I explained, sometimes we flee the difficult road in search of hope down the path well travelled - a path that ends up leading to death and despair. The green place did not exist across the salt plains, it was back where they came, though no doubt it was controlled by Immortum Joe. To reach that hope, and the water of life, they had to confront him, challenge him, and in the end over come him, so that the water could be released to flow continuously and provide endless nourishment.

We also have the slaves being released from captivity, which is also the case in Exodus. The Israelite slaves are held captive in Egypt, just as we are enslaved to our past actions, and our base lifestyles. The choice to flee our captivity is a choice that we must make ourselves - just as the breeders chose to follow Furiosa and the Israelites chose to follow Moses. They also had the choice to return to the Citadel, where they knew that water flowed, and to confront the challenge that is Immortum Joe. While neither Max, nor Furiosa, may be messiah figures, what it does show us is that we know where our hope lies, but we also know that the road to that hope will be faced with obstacles that we can ultimately overcome.

Water of Life


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