Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) (1981)

Post-apocalyptic fashion is fucked up. And awesome.

This film opens exactly the way it should, with Max screaming down the highway in his Interceptor, pursued by punks in a dune buggy. Not only is an awesome car chase, but there's no dialogue for first ten minutes or so, except for battle cries and screaming. Actually, I lie, it really opens with a bit of narration, explaining how the world ended up as such a dog's breakfast. Frankly I don't think this was necessary, George Miller creates such a rich and involving world, you don't really need to know why it is the way it is.

Max isn't a cop anymore, and seems pretty content to chase people down so he can steal their fuel, so he can chase people down etc. Quite a cycle of dependency he's got himself into. In one part Max is opening a can of dog food and his dog looks up hungrily, but Max gulps it down like it's a gourmet meal. People are reduced to eating dog food but they're still fighting over petrol, (they use the word "gasoline" for the American audience's sake but it's set in Australia, so fuck it, it's petrol) and it's one part of the film that really rings true to me. People's priorities really are that fucked up.

Anyway, after this confrontation he comes across this crazy gyro pilot (Bruce Spence), who leads him to a compound where they are refining petrol. He is trying to decide how to rob them when he witnesses a group of raiders attack a vehicle when it tries to cross the wasteland. They critically wound the guy and rape and murder his wife. When Max carries the dying man back to the compound he announces that he was promised some petrol as a reward. So yeah, he's not exactly heroic. Unfortunately for Max, the guy dies before he can collect so instead he is held prisoner for a while and gets caught in the middle of their battle with the raiders. It should be noted that one of the guys in the compound is played by veteran Australian character actor Syd Heylen. I like to imagine he's Cookie from A Country Practice, who managed to escape Wanden Valley before it was consumed by nuclear fire (Bob, unfortunately, didn't make it). So the leader of the raiders gives them two options: Leave the compound and everything in it and their lives will be spared, or stay and die. They decide to make a break for it with their tanker of petrol, but they want Max to drive. He doesn't want to help them, but then the raiders shoot his dog and blow up his car so he changes his mind.

So yeah, it's a simple story of redemption, but it's got such great and memorable characters it doesn't need a complex plot. You've got the gyro pilot who rears poisonous snakes and wears yellow tights. You've got Wez (Vernon Wells), the crazed punk with a male sex slave chained to his motorcycle. You've got the "Ayatollah of Rock'n'Rolla" himself, the Humungous (Kjell Nilsson), who looks like a post-apocalyptic S&M Jason Voorhees. With these films George Miller basically defined the template for post-apocalyptic fashion, outfits comprised of leather and chains and scavenged sports equipment. Don't know how they style all those mohawks though, maybe they raided a tanker full of hair gel. The cars are the kind of awesome junkpiles you can imagine nomadic scavengers putting together, full of jury rigged armour and metal spikes and stuff.

There's also the feral kid. Now, this is one of the rare instances of a kid sidekick that doesn't make my want to puke out my intestines. That's probably because he only speaks in grunts and growls and likes to dismember people with a bladed boomerang. He hangs out with Max and saves his ass during the climax, but thank Christ the kid doesn't teach him how to love or anything like that. The closest thing to an emotional connection between the two is when Max gives him a music box, and he doesn't have tears welling up in his eyes or anything, he looks like he doesn't really give a shit. He even gets the kid to crawl onto the hood of a moving truck to retrieve some shotgun shells. The hero risking a kid's life, that's not something you see in most films.

Of course it ends with one of the best car chases ever made, over fifteen minutes long. Watching a dozen crazy vehicles zipping to and fro and fearless stuntmen leaping all over the place, I realised that there's no way they'd do a scene like this anymore. It's just too complicated and dangerous. They'd ruin it by filling it full of quick cuts and shakycams and computer generated bits where you travel through the gearshift, down through the engine and out the exhaust like in The Fast and the Furious. And you can forget all the dangerous stunts, it's far easier to have actors sitting in front of a green screen and let the computer guys fill it all in with ones and zeros. Anyways, George Miller really knows how to crash some vehicles. Then they had to crap it all up with towns fueled by pig shit and Tina Turner, but whatever.

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