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Daniel Olmos [Celluloid 05.13.15] post apocalyptic action thriller

When I was a very young boy, my mother went for a trip to visit my gran, leaving me alone with my father and brother. My dad had an idea to buy a VHS video recorder and whipped us into a frenzy by promising we could watch Star Wars EVERY SINGLE DAY, if we wanted to. He bought it and we did, but of course we couldn't only watch Star Wars and so began an odyssey into the post apocalyptic wilderness, fueled by a seemingly endless supply of B movies from the local video store. We watched Battletruck, Night of the Comet, A boy and his Dog and countless others, but the one that started it all off, the one that captured our imaginations more than any other, Was Mad Max 2, “The Road Warrior”.

I don’t think I watched the first Mad Max film until much much later, but it didn't matter. As far as I was concerned Mad Max was "The Road Warrior." His past was nothing more than a 30 second voice over at the start of the film, his reality was a desperate struggle for food and gas and nothing more.

Road Warrior is stylistically a hugely influential film, obviously spawning the sequels, it also inspired a whole host of copycat films, literature, fashions, websites, parodies, computer games and also caused me to push my little fiat 127 to its limits on several occasions. It’s a testament to how much the story resonates with something within us that a new sequel is being made 30 years after the last film in the series was released to the public. It’s not at all hyperbole to say that the movies, and in particular The Road warrior, are iconic and changed perception of what a post-apocalyptic film could, and should, be.

Maybe one of the most influential aspects was the roving gang of murderous bikers. Whilst post apocalyptic biker gangs appeared in film before The Road Warrior, most notably in Dawn of the Dead, it’s Humungus and his marauders who have become the archetype, and rightly so, of a rag tag army of merciless cut throats whose lack of humanity truly makes the wasteland a hellish place. While the fashions are dated now, modern PA movies eschewing the slightly camp leather and studs for caked-in grime, they are still a terrifying prospect as they burn and rape their way across the vast scorched desert.

Max himself is very nearly "The Man with no Name," or even the disgraced ronin, because the film is very much a spaghetti western, or a Samurai tale. Max is the antihero, a man dangerously close to becoming the very enemy he fights against, unwillingly placed in charge of innocents, a man who somehow manages to find enough humanity within himself to save the stricken townspeople, but not enough to join them in their better life. It doesn't matter though, because this is very much “A Tale.” And Tales don’t concern themselves with what has gone before, or what happens after the story finishes.

What The Road Warrior does concern itself with is speed, power and brutality, and how those things can be used both in destruction and creation. The film is incredibly visceral and muscular, and the white line nightmare that it depicts is as effective now as it has ever been. During the chase scenes the sheer sense of raw speed permeates everything, leaving the viewer breathless when they are finally over, usually in a twisted heap of metal and limbs. Muscle cars vie for position against dune buggies, hot rods and motorcycles and a low camera angle and sped up film give the feeling that at any minute it could be our faces crushed against the asphalt.

In fact the whole film is visually very poetic and powerful when it comes to the action, we see many horrors, but many others are only hinted at, and as any avid horror buff knows, that can often be all the more effective.

Aside from the minimal story there is a great amount of attention to detail concerning the world director George Miller creates. What we are presented with is a fully formed alternate earth. The film only offers the briefest glimpse of that, but as viewers we get the feeling that the world was there before the film started and will continue after it finishes, and not to mention it’s an absolute thrill ride from beginning to end.

The Road Warrior doesn't really do deep characters. For example the characterization of Max is minimal. He is a broken man who is simply pushing forwards because he doesn't know what else to do, and that’s about it, he’s not searching for redemption, or revenge or anything like that, he is simply existing, as bleak and empty as the wasteland he inhabits. Humungus and his gang are evil and immoral, and the townspeople on the whole, naive and largely helpless. Their goodness and simplicity is reflected in the unusually pale colours and simple styles of their clothing and armor. Jebediah the gyro-copter pilot is the most well-rounded character, and indeed, the only character who really develops during the film’s run time. At the start of the film he comes across as a simple bushwacker, albeit one who is really terrible at ambushing. He is seemingly a stupid ridiculous man, motivated purely for selfish reasons, but as the film progresses, his humanity comes to the fore. Most of the film’s comic relief comes from him, as does ultimate salvation.

In the end, after The Road Warrior finished, my father, my brother and I were never the same. Strangely, I think we yearned for it somehow, this film that depicted the rawest kind of humanity was so different from the safe, green world of southern England, but so vividly created that one and a half hours was just not enough time. It was like a drug. We tried to satisfy the craving with lesser depictions of mans final struggle, but nothing was as pure and as powerful as Mad Max 2.

My dad got into muscle cars soon after, and while his influences were more blatantly the escapades of Smokey and the Bandit, I knew that there was a part of him that wished he could mount a cannon, or a set of vicious spikes, to his v8 gas guzzler and just roar off into the wasteland. And what about me? I have been waiting for the time the two great warrior tribes go to war ever since. Daydreaming and planning my survival tactics, Mad Max style. I'm not ashamed to say a small part of me would relish a life like that, but until then I have Quiet Earth and I have Mad Max.

Recommended Release: The Mad Max trilogy

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Anne Honimous (7 years ago) Reply

Hear, hear...well said!


pleeg3 (7 years ago) Reply

Well said. I find many similarities except I sneaked in back in 1981. I was an aspiring Punk Rocker... Wez was cool. Punk Rock will survive the Apocalypse.
Living in the Wastelands of the state of Maine I had no idea there was a Mad Max I. Mad Max II was the Road Warrior... Now we knew why Max was so mad... bad bad Mr Toecutter. Can't wait to see Mr. Keays-Byrne again. Had to miss the sneak preview tonight. Tomorrow I'll jump in my 1985 Ford Falcon. Fight my way through the Maine Wastelands to the last Theater.
Thank you George Miller...

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