Max Goes To Hollywood

thunderdome1Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) (Amazon VOD)

Okay, the title may be a bit misleading, as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was made in Australia and is an Australian production, but back in 1985 when I saw this at the pictures it felt like a blatant sellout. I mean, Tina Turner playing Max’s nemesis? Two of Tina Turner’s songs bookending the film? The violence curtailed to make Max more mainstream? All those bloody kids?

Rewatching the film after so many years, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s a better film than I gave it credit for, although it’s clearly inferior to the two films that precede it. It still feels a bit too calculatedly mainstream for my liking, but the relentless pace of the film and its quirky sense of humour are definite signs of it being a ‘proper’ Mad Max film. Its funny watching it post-Fury Road too;  you can see several similarities in the plot of both films, and both naturally of The Road Warrior too.

Its funny how the success of Thunderdome didn’t immediately lead to further Mad Max films, nowadays they would never let a film like Thunderdome go by without launching a trilogy of films after it. They waited 30 years for the next one? Thats mad.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Louder. Bigger… Better?

max1Fury Road was one of the first times in a long while that I’ve walked out of a cinema totally buzzing about what I’d just seen. It felt akin to the old days of my youth when I walked out of the cinema darkness having just seen The Empire Strikes Back or Blade Runner with my head spinning and a huge stupid smile on my face. In some ways this is fitting- Fury Road is pretty much a throw-back to old school film-making of the pre-cgi days; yes, I guess there is a lot of image manipulation (the blown-out colours for instance) and cgi augmenting the crazy stunts that betrays it as a ‘modern’ film, but it’s definitely old school, the work of a veteran film-maker.

(Question: why wasn’t Ridley Scott’s Prometheus a triumphant return to 1979s Alien in the same way Fury Road is a triumphant return to 1982s The Road Warrior? Because Fury Road really has me wondering at what Prometheus might have been in better circumstances. If I had to offer an answer- Fury Road‘s story is absolute bare-bones; I thought Road Warrior was simple but Fury Road strips it down to the bone and its all the better for it- whereas with Prometheus Scott wanted to stretch and challenge the preconceptions audiences might have had regards an Alien prequel. George Miller wasn’t having any of that with Fury Road; he knows what fans want from a Mad Max movie and he delivers it in spades. That said, I’d certainly hope any sequel has rather more plot and character and is less of a one-note/two-hour car chase (I’m being a little unfair there to be honest). But you know, Fury Road is, at the very least, true to its roots. It’s a Mad Max movie, whereas Prometheus was hardly an Alien film at all).

Beautiful desolation- yes those dots in the sand is the car chase and those skies... well...
Beautiful desolation- yes those dots in the sand is the car chase in progress and that storm, well… the Apocalypse sure is pretty…

It reminds me of the magic of cinema. Why I love movies. God knows as I’ve gotten older, the best movies seem further and further back in the past and all the ‘current’ movies increasingly tired bubblegum amusement rides in the form of reboots, remakes and sequels… and future movies heartless ‘more of the same’ to the point I wonder why I bother (case in point, trailers prior to Fury Road included Jurassic World and San Andreas, each featuring an eye-numbing amount of cgi nonsense). To see a film that shakes the mold and harkens back to the films of my youth is almost a revelation. Sure this thing gets screened primarily in 3D and I had to hunt down a rare 2D screening. Sure it was likely greenlit as some kind of remake/reboot of Mad Max 2. But goodness me its a hand-on-my-heart classic throwback to a cinema of 30 – 40 years ago. Miller must have made this movie in some kind of goddam stealth mode, how else could a modern Hollywood movie turn out like this did?

George MIller is 70 years old. It feels wrong even mentioning it; just because he is 70 doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be making films like this- but it still bears thinking about. This huge, $150 million, mad-ass crazy Apocalyptic action flick, possibly the wildest mainstream spectacle to come out of Hollywood in years, was written/produced/directed by a guy now 70 years old, and reportedly he is (thank God!) willing to make more. Lets hope Warner allow him the freedom he had with Fury Road (and that it gets made a little quicker)- indeed, kudos to Warner for financing this film as it is. Too often I moan at the stupidity/greed/crassness of the big studios but here a studio done good so all credit to the people who made this possible.


And you know, it actually gets me excited for Blade Runner 2. Its about as unnecessary as a Road Warrior remake/reboot was, but Fury Road shows that it could turn into something worthwhile (and to be honest, early word on the talent behind BR2 is looking very promising indeed). If we can get a great new Mad Max movie after some thirty years, maybe there’s a chance a new film about Replicants could be great too.Yes I realise this is nonsense but thats whats its like with this great buzz after a great movie- for a little while, anything seems possible. Allow me to bask in it a little while longer before I come back to reality with a bump. Lets just hope that that reality-bump isn’t Star Wars 7



Riddick (2013)

is a fascinating proposition. Pitch Black was an original film (unusual in itself these days) that came out of nowhere to great success, at least on home video, where word-of-mouth managed to gain the film a second-wind financially, meriting an eventual sequel. Unfortunately that sequel was as overblown and pretentious as its title, The Chronicles of Riddick, although that said, it made a commendable attempt at original world-building with a gothic look straight out of Lynch’s Dune. Having become the very antithesis of the original, the second film was deemed a critical and financial failure, and that seemed to be that for the character and a franchise.

But Vin Diesel’s anti-hero Riddick remains an original and enduring character, and nearly ten years later we have another movie (take heart, fellow Dredd fans, there is yet hope!). And here is the fascinating part- the title itself is perhaps indicative of the films’ approach; Riddick is simple and stark minus any pretensions of its epic predecessor, and so it is lean and mean, costing less than $40 million to make in comparison to something close to the $120 million that Chronicles cost. You have to admire film-makers who listen to the fans and act on what they have to say, because its evident in how the film returns to the roots of Pitch Black that such corrective action has been taken.

Riddick reminds me of the best stories from Heavy Metal magazine in its 1970s heyday; heavy in style and hardware with a hard adult approach in its sensibilities, much akin to Alien, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior and the original Robocop. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Riddick is approaching any of those films in quality but it does share with those films an inherent, integral self-logic of purpose. Alien was a silly monster-in-space movie elevated by incredible production design and realistic, life-worn middle-aged characters, in which the steam-drenched, haunted-house corridors of the post-2001 space ship somehow made sense. Blade Runner‘s central premise (making superior artificial humans without any way of actually identifying them) is nonsensical but in its grimy, rain-saturated city it has a reality beyond its central proposition with its fascinating investigations regards death and humanity. Both films are violent, edgy and adult, traits further exampled in the brutal  dystopian future of The Road Warrior or in Robocop’s corporate satire. Its rock and roll science fiction of the senses, decried by literary purists but damned effective film-making nonetheless. They may not have been based on Heavy Metal comic-strips but they all feel as though they could have been.

riddick2So we have Riddick. After that bloated second film Chronicles I really didn’t expect very much from this, but you know how low-expectations somehow have the opposite effect, raising your sense of enjoyment? Well, I think I enjoyed this film more than I should have. Its low budget goes pretty far, and while its hardly a high-concept movie, it works. Riddick is left marooned on another hostile planet, and the set-up for this post-Chronicles turnaround is the only real false step, as the film attempts via flashback to establish an explanation/continuity that feels awkward as it refers back to the second film. This may work better in the extended cut on Blu-ray, but I saw the film on a HD stream via Amazon Prime so can’t comment on that. But anyway, Riddick is on the planet struggling to survive, and after several weeks (months?) finds a more habitable region and an abandoned outpost. Figuring the bounty on his head is the biggest pull, he sets off an emergency beacon announcing his identity, and sure enough two rival bounty teams fly in looking for his head. But soon all of them have more urgent dangers pressing on them, as a stormy rainy season sets an army of amphibian monsters onto them, leaping the film back into original Pitch Black territory. Its simple and, at its best, direct- in a similar way to how Dredd worked so well, it uses the limitations of its budget to strip the film down to its core fundamentals and make the best of them.

No doubt some fans, and particularly those fond of the second film, will be disappointed by a perceived  lack of ambition, in not pursuing the world-building set-up by the second film. Maybe a fourth film will return to add some closure to that as Riddick works on his revenge. I don’t know if a fourth film is in the works but after watching Riddick I’d be rather interested to see it. If Riddick‘s purpose was to breathe fresh life into a dead franchise then it seems to have succeeded.