Hey 3.5 readers.
Your old pal BQB here.
So I’ve spent my extra free time this week watching the Mad Max films and I have to say, I am shocked to find out that the original film had absolutely no apocalypse in it whatsoever.
The first Mad Max film stars Mel Gibson as the titular character and takes place in a version of Australia “a few years from now” i.e. maybe a vision of the 1980s as dreamed of by people in the 1970s.
Max is a member of Australia’s “Main Force Police,” leather jacketed cops who cruise the highways in bright, yellow muscle cars, looking to take down the biker gangs that are running amuck in Kangaroo land.
When a veteran member of the force is killed by the bikers, Max gets so distraught that he wants to quit, but is talked into taking a vacation by his boss instead. On holiday, Max begins to feel better until, well, his wife and son are murdered by the same biker gang, so he goes mad and hunts all those gearheads down.
The end, and honestly, the plot sounds better than the movie. The movie itself is largely unwatchable. There are a few cool bits of action interspersed with a lot of crap and it looks like a student film that was slapped together for a C minus. It’s pretty shitty, even by 1970s standards.
The apocalypse doesn’t come into play until Mad Max 2 or “The Road Warrior.” That film comes with an early narration explaining that there has been a war that ravaged the world, leaving it bombed out and depleted, and now scavengers roam the wasteland.
This movie basically set the standard for all apocalypse movies, books and stories to follow, director George Miller envisioning a world where people worship cars and gasoline and water become such hot commodities that people are willing to fight and die for them.
Max steals a rig to help a downtrodden tribe of misfits who are oppressed by the muscular, mask wearing Lord Hummungus. He’s about to run with a bunch of gas as payment, but eventually feels sorry enough for the tribe that he fights for them, and a battle on wheels commences.
Honestly, this movie kinda sucks too, especially by today’s standards. There’s not a lot of character development and you have to piece things together but the chase scene is good and sets the stage for all future apocalypse movies to come.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is where the series starts to emerge. The plot is coherent. The characters are given depth. Ironically, the chase scene at the end isn’t as good as it was in 2, but I suppose you can’t have everything.
Max’s car, now pulled by camels, are stolen. When he reaches Barter Town, he strikes a deal with the villainous Auntie Entity (Tina Turner) to fight Blaster, the brawn behind little person Master’s brains (together they are Master Blaster). Max is promised his ride will be returned if he takes Blaster out in Thunderdome, the arena where 2 men enter, but 1 man leaves.
When Max realizes he’s been tricked, he is sent off into exile, destined to die of thirst in the desert until he is saved by a tribe of people comprised of the survivors and descendants of a plane that crashed near an oasis long ago. The tribe has built an entire religion around Captain Walker, their Jesus like figure who they believe will one day return and fly the down plane to Tomorrow-morrow land, a city they have seen a picture of and believe to be a Utopia.
Max has to save these tribesfolk from themselves, because he’s traveled all over the wasteland, and their oasis is the closest thing to paradise he’s found. They don’t have any idea how good they have it.
I suppose in the 1980s the Mad Max movies would have been thrilling, though honestly, the first one really does suck. And it’s a plot hole that Max lived to be an adult before the apocalypse, because the next two films build a world where it looks like people have built their lives around worshipping cars and chasing gasoline for multiple generations. It’s almost as if Director George Miller just decided he liked the character but also liked the apocalyptic setting, so asked his audience to just fudge the details a bit as Max is transported to the wasteland and we just forget about that first dreadful flick altogether.
Ultimately, watching these old movies made me appreciate the recent Mad Max: Fury Road a lot more. That movie was an unexpected treat. When it was released, I thought it was going to be one in a long line of lame remakes, but I enjoyed it. Now, after watching the old movies, I enjoy it more because I think it finally allowed George Miller to achieve his true vision.
Obviously, I don’t speak for Miller, but as I watched the old films and thought about the new one, my gut tells me that Miller did his best given limited budgets, limited technology, limited ability of the Hollywood apparatus to understand and carry out his vision (he was just starting out as a filmmaker with the first Max) and it took several decades and a lot of new tech for him to bring all the car chases, flaming guitar playing baddies, trucks full of drum beaters, etc to life.
Too bad Mel Gibson turned out to be such a creep. There might have been a way to fit him into the new one, but kudos to George Miller, as I now realize that Fury Road must have been the culmination of a lifelong dream, one where he had to keep working until he got it right.