Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

“Mad Max: Fury Road” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

What is there left to say about “Mad Max: Fury Road?” It’s arguably the greatest action film ever made. It’s thematically thick and boasts a nuanced story that unfolds its characters through action rather than dialogue. It doesn’t treat the viewer as stupid or needing explanation. It simply leaps into its world and expects you to keep up at its breakneck pace.

Because everyone else is going to talk about it in particular ways, and I’ve already discussed its feminism and how it uses choreography to create visual myth, I’m going to do something more esoteric. I’m going to tell you why the film closest to “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the last you’d ever compare it to: John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

They’re both broadly sci-fi, but for all intents and purposes, they belong to completely different genres – “The Thing” is alien body horror. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is post-apocalyptic demolition derby. One takes place almost entirely in one location. The other never stops moving.

I compare the two because of the specificity in each film. Both enjoyed an overly long scripting process. “The Thing” was pushed back considerably. Because of this, director John Carpenter decided to take the time to plot out extra elements in the film. It meant small details that would’ve normally been overlooked instead got their own unspoken story lines. There’s a throwaway argument early in the film about who had keys to emergency blood transfusions. It might’ve served only as an opportunity for characters to turn on each other and cast suspicions. Carpenter noticed layers he could add to this. He added notes for each scene, including moments that hint the keys’ potential paths via subtle details in other scenes. It’s always backgrounded, and it’s unlikely you’ll notice on first viewing, but it gives you the sense there’s more going on in the world than just what’s happening in front of the camera.

For a film where the very question of who’s human and who’s a flesh-ripping alien creates the tension of the story, these extra details – even if we don’t consciously notice or connect them at first – serve to ground us in the film’s reality. There are stories happening that we only see pieces of, suggestions of. These elevate the horror of a film by letting our mind run wild with the possibilities. Instead of a routinely effective story, we’re offered a more complete glimpse into a nuanced horror world. That wouldn’t have been there without the delay that allowed Carpenter to keep on making notes, to add the details that make us feel his world’s rhythms.

George Miller effectively worked on and revamped the story and sequences of “Mad Max: Fury Road” for a decade. The stunts and shots were already mapped out in extreme detail by the time the stunt crew even started working on them. But this is detail and what I’m looking for is nuance. The film is filled with suggestions about when it might take place in the original “Mad Max” trilogy’s timeline. All the details disagree, adding even more fuel to the concept that we’re being told a myth that transcends time rather than a story that fits within it.

Character is realized through action, but the action is so detailed that it feels expressive in the way dance often is. I’ve long said the best fight scene should act like the best dialogue scene. Something should change for everyone within it and we should understand what that is. This is precisely what happens in a movie where action scenes almost never stop. Most action scenes have a few moving parts – that makes them simple and we’re left to rely on emotional investment to suspend our disbelief. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has that emotional investment, but it doesn’t waste it filling in cracks in its artistry. Instead, each sequence is detailed in ways that make us understand how dozens of moving parts interact together. That’s brave, and it’s the kind of madness earned through years of pre-planning.

To get even more tangential, developers have sometimes said that the holy grail of video game development would be a world that takes place at the level of detail our own does: a block of a real city, where real people make unpredictable decisions that are unique to their own complex motivations, and even those motivations evolve. Worlds can be built in grand scopes, but the way they translate to audiences is via details so minor you don’t always register them in a conscious way. This is the true measure of world-building. This is what films like “The Thing” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” do. They marry genres built for grand scale to the finest detail imaginable on a cinematic level. That’s how you transcend genre, by delivering a world so nuanced, it feels like it could live without the artist’s hand.

Mad Max Fury Road poster

Images are from Nerdist and Coming Soon.

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Trailer of the Week — “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Mel Gibson you look so different

With apologies to the 50 Shades of Grey trailer that premiered this week (which for some reason also functions as the ad for a Beyonce remix), I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of reading the book on which it’s based. My girlfriend at the time insisted – she was studying advertising and was curious how it had become so popular – but all we could think as we read each overheated new chapter was, “They’re doing it wrong.”

There’s also the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It’s an announcement trailer, visually stunning but spinning from scene to scene too quickly to communicate the series’ real strength – the emotional battles of its characters. It also highlights those trademark Peter Jackson action scenes that always turn out spectacular in the movie but never look quite right in a trailer. I’m sure the story trailer we’ll get in a month or two will connect better.

Leaving behind what may be the two whitest movies of all time, I’m going to go with the only movie with better bondage than 50 Shades of White and more epic visuals than Lord of the Rings 6: Hobbit 3: 5 Armies (which is beginning to sound like a cricket score): that would be Mad Max: Fury Road.

The colors, the costumes, knowing that most of those insane stunts are all live action…this film took 30 years to get off the ground, and every minute of that time looks like it made it onto the screen. I have not seen a film announced better all year.

It’s funny, but whenever we make period pieces, we dress our actors in drab colors – grays, blacks, browns – when the truth is we exist in one of the least colorful eras for fashion in human history. It’s the way we treat the post-apocalypse, too, and while it makes sense for a lone hunter to be decked in the camouflage of decay, regular townsfolk would be more likely to wear greens, reds, whites, yellows, purples – color would be one of the easiest and cheapest ways to pick your day up. Or, if you’re a road bandit: spikes, studs, and black-and-white make-up cause those are the colors of the skulls you crush. Point is, in the wasteland, a little artistic expression in your dress goes a long way toward making everyone’s day better.

In a cinematic age of explosions and CGI and drab wastelands, you’d better look different and feel different, and Mad Max: Fury Road finds a way to make the barren post-apocalypse a thing of rare beauty. If you’ve ever spent a night in the wilderness, not just camping but out away from every hint of light – even a porch lamp – you know that nature offers a color palette you couldn’t dream of. Post-apocalypse movies should be vibrant. George Miller seems to be emulating this – sure, it happens in a desert, but the browns are deeper, yellower, redder, the blues are thicker, the spikes spikier. It’s easy to forget his first three Mad Max movies – especially the otherwise problematic Beyond Thunderdome – were spectacular feats of color and cinematography. So this just leaped to the very top of my Movies of 2015 list.

Plus Tom Hardy looks to have picked up predecessor Mel Gibson’s weary tics, while bald Charlize Theron with a mechanical hand and day-old Braveheart make-up is a hero I can easily root for.

I just hope the DVD comes with an incomprehensible Australian dub like the original did.