Cinophile: MAD MAX – THE ROAD WARRIOR

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The success of Mad Max: Fury Road has signaled the return of the moive that all but created the post-apocalyptic trope. Just like Rambo indicates a one person army, Mad Max 2 is the benchmark for a future world destroyed by humanity. 

The original Mad Max movie sat at the cusp of a world gone mad, a near future where rogue gangs terrorized people on the roads, while an under-equipped police department does what it can to keep things safe. But it was an obscure movie, only really known in its native Australia, and wouldn’t gain much international prominence until the sequel arrived.

Mad Max 2, alternatively titled The Road Warrior, was a fresh breath of air. It’s not the creator of the post-apocalyptic landscape, but did draw deeply from the well of such movies that appeared during the Seventies. Yet this movie holds the banner for a future wasteland, because previous attempts didn’t quite have the same lean and straightforward storytelling.

The movie starts with Max, driving the V8 Interceptor from the first film, being chased by some wasteland hooligans. He manages to dispatch most of them and scare off the rest. Then a chance encounter with another wasteland scavenger – a man with his own flying gyrocopter – leads Max to a rarity: an old oil refinery in the middle of the desert. He sees a chance to get fuel for his car, but there is a problem with the hordes of thugs surrounding the compound. Led by the enigmatic masked leader Humongous, Max soon finds his own ambitions aligned with the fate of the people in the besieged refinery.

Much like Blade Runner laid out the rules for a dystopian technology-mad world of tomorrow, Mad Max 2 is the go-to reference for the wasteland. In particular the bad guys, dressed in leather clothes, bondage gear, salvaged goggles and numerous mohawks, have served as templates for countless genre titles.

Vehicles frequently star in post-apocalyptic worlds, as seen previously in Death Race 2000 and later in the stark and brutal The Rover. But again it was Mad Max 2 that cemented this idea into movie lore, bringing together large rigs, muscle cars, bikes and off-road buggies. To many the Mad Max universe is synonymous with vehicles, which is why many did not take too well to the third film, Beyond Thunderdome.

But as mentioned in the start, the real reason for Mad Max 2‘s success and longevity is its simplicity. Max hardly speaks – Mel Gibson apparently only had fourteen lines of dialogue. Everything is kept lean, allowing the scenery, costumes and stunt work to do a lot of the talking. Naturally it didn’t hurt to have numerous over the top characters and more than a bit of action. Sadly the original and more violent cut, before Australian censors had their way, has been lost to time.

Most post apocalyptic films don’t manage to make a lasting impression on the world. They tend to be incredibly bleak (The Road) or, worse, don’t seem to take the details very seriously at all (the TV series Revolution.) Mad Max 2 had that perfect balance between revulsion and entertainment, detail and fluidity. Thunk about it too hard and some parts of the movie make no sense, in particular how the gangs could even continue their siege of the compound without any clear supplies. But it is a sign of a great film when the suspension of disbelief is so true that such details don’t matter – only Max and the crazy situation he finds himself in.

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Originally titled Mad Max 2, it was rebranded in the U.S. as The Road Warrior because the original was never released there. The idea for the second Mad Max came from the cult movie A Boy and His Dog. It was supposed to be the final film in the series. But director George Miller was working on a new movie with a Lord of the Flies theme set in apocalyptic times. At one point it was pitched with Max as a character, which became the third movie, Beyond Thunderdome.
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Humongous, the leader of the raiders in the movie, never has his identity revealed. But originally the story identified him as Jim Goose, Max’s best friend and fellow policeman in the first Mad Max. But remnants of this story remain: Humongous has extensive burn scars, which is how Goose nearly dies, and the raiders use quite a few police vehicles.
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Despite being set in a desert, the shoot was actually incredibly cold and the actors were covered in blankets when off camera. Most of the movie was filmed near Silverton, located roughly 1,100 kilometers from Sydney. The location was chosen for its steady weather, but unexpected rainfalls kept hampering things. Today it is home to a large Mad Max museum, made by a fan who moved there after seeing the first two films.
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The Road Warrior inherited the car theme of the first Mad Max movie. But with a significantly larger budget it pulled off far larger stunts, some becoming legendary. In one a stuntman is flung over a car, a real accident that left him with broken legs. A larger stunt involving a large truck hauling a trailer caused enough damage to it that the stunt had to be halted for a day so repairs could be made. The driver in the stunt could not eat for 12 hours in case things went wrong and they had to be rushed into surgery. The climactic explosion that destroys the film compound was large enough that mines in the area closed for the day.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: May 18, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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