Flush It Friday: Journey to the Australian Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland
For the past couple of weeks, I have been watching Mad Max films almost exclusively. I caught Mad Max: Fury Road back in 2015 in the theaters, loved it, and shortly afterwards went back and watched the original trilogy (which I had not seen earlier). In my late 30’s, this series of four films has become my favorite film series of all time. They’re not all perfect, but the great ones make up for the lackluster one. Here’s my non-controversial ranking for your reading pleasure:
4. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
This is what happens when a movie becomes “Disney-fied” in my humble opinion. It’s the third film in the series (threequels are always doomed), and the first one to be rated PG-13. Now the previous movies have never been a hard R, but the amount of violence and adult situations definitely pushed them outside of what’s acceptable for a PG-13 film. Beyond Thunderdome feels neutered: the deaths aren’t grizzly, there’s no blood, and while there is peril it’s never scary. It’s not a complete waste though, because this film really excels with the dazzling sets, costumes, props, and overall concepts. Tina Turner plays Aunty Entity, an extremely compelling character who serves as the head of “Bartertown”, a cobbled-together city run by misfits trying to rebuild civilization after the apocalypse which took place decades earlier. Max shows up to Bartertown, jokes are told, situations are frivolous and cartoonish, but it all leads up to one incredible fight sequence between Max and a towering figure known as “Master Blaster” (a symbiotic duo comprised of a giant man – all muscle, guided by a very small man – all brain). This is the halfway point of the film, which takes place in the famed Thunderdome… unfortunately everything which follows the battle is rather anti-climactic. Max is kicked out of Bartertown, he runs into a colony of children out in the wasteland who demand his help, and of course he is initially reluctant (because he’s a loner) but eventually gives in. They return to Bartertown, free the “Master” half of Master Blaster, then leave again, and the movie ends with a signature chase scene that’s decent (but feels like it was added as an obligation to the fans).
Beyond Thunderdome gets 2.5 stars out of 5. It was probably disappointing back in 1985 to have witnessed this follow-up to the greatest action film ever made up to that point, the previous film in the series. But 30 years later George Miller would rectify this by making a phenomenal fourth film in the series.
3. Mad Max (1979)
George Miller wasn’t always a director. He started out chasing ambulances across the Australian outback and witnessing car wreck after car wreck, which gave him the inspiration to create a post-apocalyptic film about a police officer named Max (unknowingly kickstarting Mel Gibson’s career) trying to restore some semblance of order to the chaos. Mad Max is an imaginative film with fantastic ideas and a few intricate stunts / action set pieces, but obviously limited by its smaller budget. The setting isn’t full-blown apocalypse yet, there are still remnants of civilization scattered throughout: a few businesses, green fields, trees, and the diminishing presence of law enforcement. But there are gangs of biker-type characters riding around wreaking havoc, taking advantage of the situation. One of the main biker gangs, lead by villain Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), commits an atrocity on Max’s family, which sets up a course of revenge by lone lawman Max.
It’s a slow-moving film that plants the seed for greatness to come later, but at the time it was sort of a functional experiment similar to Sam Raimi’s first Evil Dead movie. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5 – really good but overshadowed by what would come later…
2. The Road Warrior (1982)
An instant action classic, The Road Warrior takes place years after the events of Mad Max in which civilization has completely crumbled. This is the Australian wasteland that director George Miller had envisioned, now fully realized with a bigger budget and more resources. Max is traveling the wasteland with an adorable and trusty blue heeler by his side, searching for “guzzoline” – which has essentially become the new currency of the world. He comes across a wacky gyro-copter operator who shows him a group of nearby people who have cobbled together a “town” centered around a gas pump… a town which is continually under attack from a roaming biker gang of S&M-clad evil-doers lead by, possibly the greatest movie villain of all time, Lord Humungus (the “Ayatollah of rock-and-rolla” and the subject of the header image). Delivering a famous speech he agrees to let them all live if they turn over said guzzoline. There are a few skirmishes between the townsfolks and the biker gang, but eventually Max feels compelled to assist in fending off the bad guys. The final 20(ish) minutes of Road Warrior comprise one long chase sequence, an adrenaline-fueled, action-packed, violent cacophony of cinematic glory. Your jaw will be on the floor for the entire duration.
The Road Warrior is perfection, an easy 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a vivid, fully-realized world with danger at every turn. The stunts are all real and visceral. You actually feel the danger in your bones while watching this film. It’s a true achievement, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and a really difficult one to top.
1. Fury Road (2015)
Sarah Lafayette reviewed this absolutely bat-shit insane film upon its release, which you can re-read here. I will spare you repeating everything she said so eloquently; and just leave you with my thoughts on the movie. After watching Mad Max Fury Road, I said aloud to my friends, “That was the first SIX STAR film I’ve ever seen”. While The Road Warrior had a mesmerizing final 20 minutes, Fury Road is two hours of jaw-on-the-floor insanity. Some people say it’s just one long action sequence, and they aren’t too far off. Some claim the plot is paper thin, the character development almost non-existent, and only about two pages worth of combined dialogue… but I claim those aren’t issues. This is the most fully-realized world ever put onto celluloid, made even more impressive by the presence of actual stunts, vehicles, props, and a relatively small amount of CGI. Yes, a team of engineers built ~150 freaked-out vehicles for the film, and yes stuntmen actually swung around on the “polecats” attached to moving vehicles attacking people on other moving vehicles.
This film is an absolute spectacle, and I’m convinced it has set a bar so high that I don’t think will be surpassed in my lifetime. You will be impressed within the first five minutes, and then again continually for the following 120. There are like 10 times I said to myself, “they can’t possibly do something crazier than what I just witnessed” and then the filmmakers manage to do exactly that. Over and over again. I am absolutely shocked not only that a film this crazy was successfully made, but blown away by how GOOD it is.
(Fury Road recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and the New York Times published a kick-ass piece discussing many aspects of the movie.)
And here’s what you may regret having missed this week on the Blog ov Toilets:
Enjoy a terrific conversation with famous flusher Simon Phoenix:
Check out a band that Hans and Richter really liek:
Karhu showcases a roundup of bands from every genre available:
I can safely just include Tech Death Thursday on every Flush It Friday I write:
Now it’s time for y’all to tell us the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; but also feel free to share any opinions or thoughts about this incredible film series.