Mad Max takes it old school

The commercial success of George Miller’s latest Mad Max extravaganza is undeniable.

Also undeniable is its critical success, which had fans raise their eyebrows whilst passionately screaming, “what a lovely day.”

What is it about Mad Max: Fury Road that had everyone (except anti-feminists) praising George Miller’s epic return? Heart, for one. And a taste for old school action flicks.

Since the birth of the reboot idea, 16 years passed until cast and crew walked the Cannes’ tapis rouge. Miller’s movie had to jump over multiple obstacles before seeing the light of day. 9/11 had a major impact on financing; the Australian dollar collapsed, making the budget “balloon”, in Miller’s words; the desert that was to be used turned into a wetland, forcing everyone to pack bags and move to the south west of Africa; and finally, after potential star leads Mel Gibson got cold feet and Heath Ledger passed away, the project came so close to cancellation it is nothing short of a miracle that such an ambitious work found screen time.

The new Mad Max is special for many reasons. For starters, one long graphic novel was used as screenplay. This means that 3,500 illustrated panels were made – one for nearly every shot in the movie – a  preference which highlights the importance of vision over dialogue, since the characters do not say much without ever losing precious communication between them. It takes fine actors to say so much with eye contacts and grunts alone. Award seasons could be fun this year!

Secondly, what sets Fury Road apart from other action movies are the aesthetics and the traditional, nearly CGI-less method of filming. Very little green screen and CGI were used. As Miller put it, “Everything you see on the screen happened for real”. (Be still, my heart, for the guitar creature and the Cirque du Soleil acrobatics on moving trucks.) Since Australia and Namibia have little regulation for stunts, its adventure spirit is translated to the audience. As for said stunts, about 150 people were involved, from Cirque du Soleil acrobats to Olympians. The biggest problem on this six month long shoot was the safety. Fights and car stunts were rehearsed abundantly, a healthy respect for gravity. The cast was nervous shooting these stunts, and it was rawly palpable to the audience.

Thirdly, we cannot ignore the outstanding cinematography on Fury Road, also rebellious in that aspect. Whereas most post-apocalyptic movies are always “so damn dark” as Miller said during the Cannes press conference, he craved light, sun, and sand. After all, deserts are the most unforgivable and dangerous places on Earth. The setting gives incredible coloration, as well as brilliant and incredibly original designs. The question now is, what does all of this change for action movies, as a shooting experience for the crew and as a viewing experience for the audience?

From a cinematographic point of view, Mad Max is a masterclass. The camera is steady instead of shaky; movements were added post-production. The film is superior in the art of 3D, with scenes of adequate length as to not get the viewer nauseous. The movie is non-stop motion after all. The editing keeps viewers on the edges of their seats. Miller had clear intentions when he said: “It’s not a green screen movie, so we had to shoot it for real. I think it makes the movie feel very, very authentic.”

Future action films will have to raise their standards. It’s not an easy task, making audiences both nervous and energized in an action film. In a period of franchise fatigue, filmmakers should want to energize their viewers into euphoria.

Fury Road will most probably go down as the best action movie of the year. And why shouldn’t it? It has the best actors around, the most exciting stunts all done ‘for real’, the best cinematography on a mainstream film, an excellent soundtrack, well-written characters, outrageous villains, a talented and generous director, a beautiful moral, and finally, a hint of absurdity that lets everyone know that nobody takes themselves seriously.

Even that guy with the flame-throwing guitar. Not a bit of rock star arrogance.

Solène Thériault

Solène Thériault

Growing up in Quebec City, Canada, Solène studied art history and writing. Since 2013 she has written about cinema, television and music, and held a column on her university radio show dedicated to new music.

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