This weekend, Comic-Con attendees got their first look at the Mad Max: Fury Road trailer. In two minutes and forty-three seconds, it resurrects a franchise that died in 1985 with the release of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Here’s a look at the franchise from its first inception to today:
Mad Max (1979)
George Miller directed the prototype for dystopian action films after working as a physician in an Australian emergency room, witnessing the results of many of the kinds of collisions depicted in the film. The writer, James MacCausland, built the story after experiencing the effects of the 1973 Oil Embargo. Reflecting on that period, he wrote, “there were further signs of the desperate measures individuals would take to ensure mobility. A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol – and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence.”
MacCausland continued “George and I wrote the [Mad Max] script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.”
Miller made the film for an estimated $650,000. By 1982, its worldwide release made $100,000,000, though only $8 million of that came from the United States. It was shown in limited release here, and it wasn’t until it was shown widely on HBO in 1981 that it truly became a cult classic in the United States.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior picks up after the planet is consumed by nuclear war. Miller directed again, and co-wrote the script with Terry Hayes.
In the United States release, the “Mad Max 2” was dropped from the title, because the film had been in such limited release here, the production company figured Americans wouldn’t ever make the connection to the original film. It’s also why there’s a piece of narration in the beginning of the American version of the film, which doesn’t appear in other versions, explaining the story.
Aside from the black Interceptor — a modified Australian Ford Falcon XBGT coupe — and Max’s battered police uniform, there are few references to the original film. One that keeps fans guessing is the identity of the main adversary, Humungus. His face remains covered by a goalie mask, so we never get a good look at who he is, but there’s a constant veiled reference that he may be Max’s partner Jim Goose from Mad Max. A few hints to his identity include the horrible burns he covers with his mask, the use of police vehicles by his crew, and his use of a police-issued sidearm from the original movie.
Critics seemed to like the third episode of the franchise, but Rotten Tomatoes fans rate the movie at 50%. It was a dramatic shift from the car-centric plot of the first and second films, with only one half-hearted car chase where the other two movies included a non-stop barrage of automotive action.
Where the prior two films were produced with Australian money, American producers dumped a ton of cash into the third episode, which is why you got Tina Turner at the height of her resurrection, in just her third acting role after Tommy and the horrible production of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. She also produced a song for the movie, which only added to the sense that producers were grasping at straws.
The only reason to watch the film is the fight sequence at Bartertown between Max and Master Blaster, filmed inside the Thunderdome from which the film gets its title. Roger Ebert called it the first really original movie idea about how to stage a fight since we got the first karate movies” and said the sequence between Max and Blaster was “one of the great creative action scenes in the movies.” He also gave it four out of four stars in his Chicago Sun-Times review, which seems insane after you watch it.
Thirty years is a long time between sequels, but after the lukewarm reaction from fans to Thunderdome, it’s given Miller plenty of time to generate a good movie. Based on the trailer, and the chatter on fan forums, Fury Road looks like it’s going to be a worthy successor to the first two movies. The following trailer appeared this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con: