May 14 2010

Article XXVI – Wherein Mel Gibson Invents Madness

Bad. Ass.

Thanks to all your love and support, my stalker has been put behind bars.  In an elaborate sting operation that involved me dressing as Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and prancing around with a stuffed dog singing “Bad Romance” by Lady GaGa (yeah I didn’t understand that part either), the perpetrator was captured when he mistakenly fell into a hole covered in leaves.  Score one for the good guys.  Although, I guess they should change the title of the website to “One Film Geek.”

This week(end?) the movie on the chopping block is 1979’s Mad Max.  A staple of dystopian and post apocalyptic cinema, this movie hails from Australia and clocks in at ninety-five (95) minutes.  Although, really, since time and space are connected, we could measure this film in meters, light-minutes, or even parsecs.

The movie begins with a homicidal rampage.  The Nightrider (real name: Ambrose St. George Ulysses III*) cuts a swathe of destruction across the barren Australian landscape, running into buildings, cars, speeding, and yelling at the top of his lungs.  Naturally, the damn cops have to rain on his fun and chase after him, trying their damndest to suppress his god-given rights to maraud.  Max, who is not yet mad, is instrumental in driving him into an explosive tanker where he meets his fiery doom.

Of course, the ramifications of messing with mauraders were not yet fully known in the 1970s, and Max brings a whole gang of crazies down on him and his police precinct.  Included are such illustrious individuals as Toecutter (real name: Solomon Carter-Smythe, esq.*), Bubba Zanetti (real name: Sir Cornelius Kingsly*), and Johnny the Boy (real name: John Smith*).  After slaughtering Max’s family after he has quit the force, they move on to destroy more and more of the Australian countryside.  Max, who is now sufficiently mad, goes after the gang, and, one by one, kills or hideously maims them.

It’s definitely not my place to say whether Max was right or wrong in his termination of these helpless individuals.  So I’m just going to go ahead and leave moral judgment out of my analysis.

One of the obvious points I’ll need to address if I’m to retain any credit as a science fiction reviewer is that you could watch this movie and not have any clue that it takes place in the distant future.  Well, I suppose there is the obvious opening crawl that says IN THE NEAR FUTURE, but beyond that, if you didn’t know anything about Australia – and I know most of you don’t – you might just assume this is how the world works over there.  Well, this is not how the world works over there.  But what makes this a science fiction if it’s basically indistinguishable from a regular cop revenge film?

Gooday, Mate...hahahhahahahahaha

Let me tell you right now.  What qualifies this as science fiction is that it’s a dystopian society where almost all government and law has broken down.  There are no clues in this film as to when or why that might have happened, and there is almost no evidence of post apocalyptica anywhere in sight.  No giant craters, no mutants, no sand creatures.  The key is the word “dystopia” which is a vision of a futuristic society that is the opposite of a utopia.

Because of this I say that this film is science fiction.  It takes place in the future, in a society that we would not want to happen.  Well, most of us would not want to happen, anyway. I’m sure there are a few of you out there who would like to let your inner marauder out for a little while.

Now that I’ve spent hours and hours defending myself against imaginary accusations of choosing the wrong movie – let’s actually talk about the movie.  Or, I’ll talk, and you listen.

This was Mel Gibson’s breakout role.  He doesn’t do much acting in the film, aside from starting the trend in all of the movies he would go on to act in of being very, very angry.  In this, and in all of his movies, I think we can all agree that Mel Gibson is really good at acting mad.  Maybe because he really is mad?  Who knows?

This is some kinky sexplay

The story is pretty simple, but is kind of reminiscent of a Hollywood Western in which a sheriff’s family is murdered by someone who had previously been arrested, and the sheriff goes on a vengeance filled crusade stopping at nothing in his quest.  In this, the “Mad” in the title may also refer to a blood filled madness induced by seeing his family killed because of something he had done to better society.  In this, mad may mean crazy.  Clever little play on words there.

Where this film really shines is in the crazy ass action in the beginning and near the end.  This movie is filled to the brim with car chases and explosions.  The entire first ten minutes or so is consumed by an amazing car chase with three cop cars and the Nightrider’s black Pursuit Special.  There are crashes, flips, jumps, and explosions.  And that is only 80% of the chase scenes – the production ran out of money before they could do the last 20%.  So they got in as much as they could.

I mean, what more could you want?  Don’t be greedy.

It’s not really surprising that a lot of the film came about conceptually when the director who had worked as a medical doctor for a time in an emergency room.  He basically threw a lot of the deaths and injuries he had seen in real life into the movie.  A couple of the spills are shot in slow motion, which really make it kind of cringe-worthy.  There are some good prosthetic effects, although they are kind of glazed over quickly to avoid you staring at them for too long.

The Star of the picture, and his driver - William Wallace

I suppose if I’m going to do an analysis of this movie, I have to talk about the cars too.  They’re cool.  I don’t really know anything about cars at all, so this is kind of new territory for me.  They used…a Ford Falcon for Max’s starting police vehicle, and a “modified GT351 version of a 1973 Ford Falcon Hardtop.”  My god, I’m even boring myself with this part of the review.  But there it is. I expect a couple of you to make your own replicas and send them to me so I can parade about the Australian Outback in my own dystopian car.  For the record, they destroyed 14 vehicles for this film.

One of the most spectacular things about the movie is that it was shot on a budget of $350,000 and it pulled in $100 million worldwide.  For the longest time, this was a record investment-to-profit ratio, and was one of the most amazing success stories in cinema.  When watching it, there are literally hundreds of little cost-saving items that kept this movie’s production budget down, from vinyl costumes for everyone but Mel, to reusing the same vehicles painted differently in different scenes to guerilla shooting in certain scenes – this movie is proof that you can make a decent action film on a miniscule (relatively speaking) budget.

I liked it.  It wasn’t the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen, nor is it in my favorites list, but every time I watch it, I find myself liking it more and more.  It’s obviously a staple of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic storytelling, popularizing the notion of raiders and marauders in a society that has no rules or organization.  Everything from Escape from New York to Book of Eli makes use of the concepts introduced here.

It also ends as all movies should: with Mel Gibson walking away from an exploding car.  See you in the world of tomorrow.

*May not actually be their real names

Leave a Reply