Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
First things first: if you’re not even a little bit excited about “Mad Max: Fury Road,” this article isn’t for you, this website isn’t for you, and in fact you might not even legally be human. We present this article as a public service to those new to the film franchise that launched a thousand enjoyably bad post-apocalyptic car-chase movies; here’s everything you always wanted to know about Max (Rockatansky) but were afraid to ask.
1. “A FEW YEARS FROM NOW…”
Even though “Mad Max” practically invented the genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction movies, the first film wasn’t meant to be sci-fi at all. Director George Miller grew up in rural Queensland, where horrific car wrecks were bizarrely common (Miller’s said he lost three friends to crashes before he turned 20) and later spent a year as a resident at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital working in the ER treating the victims of wrecks and of Australian biker gangs. Early drafts of “Mad Max” set the action in contemporary 70s Australia, when the oil crisis was at its peak and fistfights over gasoline were fairly common, but producers felt it was too hard to believe. Miller and co-writer Byron Kennedy bumped the setting up to a few years into an indeterminate future and turned what might have been just another car/cop movie into a tale of looming dread.
2. SHOOTING ON THE CHEAP
For 20 years, the first “Mad Max” held the Guinness record for most profitable film in history, beaten only by “The Blair Witch Project.” That’s not so much because it was a success. but because it was filmed on a shoestring budget. Crew and extras were paid in beer, the art director regularly “borrowed” props and signage from local businesses, the cast was filled out with no-name actors like Mel Gibson, and the opening chase sequence (which was filmed last) wrecked every car used in the film save for Max’s Interceptor. In fact, the dorky little minivan that Roop and Charlie plow through was George Miller’s own Mazda Bongo. If the film hadn’t been a success, Miller was going to have a lot of trouble getting to work next morning.
3. STAR CARS
George Miller once compared Australia’s relationship to cars to America’s relationship with guns: controversial, often lethal, but somehow essential to the nation’s character. Fittingly, the cars of the “Mad Max” series were all either Australia-only models like Max’s Ford Falcon XB GT coupe (featuring a “Concorde” grille kit that became hugely popular after the movie’s release) or heavily customized imports like the Toecutter gang’s Kawasaki K-1000 “Kwakas” (some of which were later modded for Road Warrior to look like Suzuki Katanas, which weren’t available in Australia at the time). Aussie mechanics have kept Mad Max’s rough-and-ready DIY aesthetic alive over the years, and for New South Wales mechanics Frank’s Test And Tune, it paid off in a big way. After publishing a YouTube video of their completely insane chopped Holden FX Ute, Fury Road’s PR team bought the beastly machine for promotional purposes, and the rusty rat-rod with a blower taller than its roof may even show up as a vehicular extra in the film itself.
4. CASH BURN
Having made the most profitable movie in Australian history, Miller and Kennedy had a bit more budget when it came to make the sequel, and they used that extra cash to not only make the largest and most expensive set in Australian film history, but to blow it all up at the end of the movie. The “Compound,” the isolated oil refinery/fortified village that Lord Humungus besieges, was built from scratch out of scrap metal and derelict vehicles outside of the town of Broken Hill in New South Wales, and while constructing the set was a massive undertaking, exploding it was just as challenging. The script called for both a giant fireball and flying chunks of debris, which in movie pyrotechnics terms are usually mutually exclusive. Two different sets of explosives were needed to destroy the Compound to Miller and Kennedy’s standards.
5. STUNTING GROWTH
The stunts in the first “Mad Max” were so amazing that for years, professionally jealous American stuntmen spread rumors that one of the motorcyclists died during filming. In reality, the only on-set injury in “Mad Max” was when the actress playing May tripped on a rabbit hole and broke her leg, but “The Road Warrior” was a different story. Featuring many more stunts and action sequences than the prequel, “The Road Warrior” was much more complicated and much more dangerous, and one of the most iconic scenes was actually a dangerous accident. When a biker chasing Max’s tanker smashes into a wrecked dune buggy, stuntman Guy Norris was supposed to just fly through the air and land in a cushion of empty cardboard boxes. Due to a split-second accident of timing, Norris’ leg grazed the buggy, resulting in an amazing head-over-heels flip and a break so severe that it bent the metal pin Norris had in his leg from an earlier accident.
6. THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK
The Ayatollah of Rock-and-Rolla was never meant to just be a (literally) faceless villain-the first draft of “Road Warrior” had Lord Humungus as none other than Max’s old partner Jim Goose, miraculously recovered from his horrific burns but psychologically twisted beyond recovery. The idea was scrapped early on, but that’s why so many of Humungus’ Marauders are wearing old Main Force Patrol uniforms. The Warrior of the Wasteland ended up being written as a former military strategist who’d suffered some horrific burns (possibly during the fall of civilization) and now sought to impose order on mankind with his army of gayboy berserkers and smegma-crazies. Sounds far-fetched, but that’s basically the same as the 2016 Republican party platform.
7. DOG SOLDIER
Max’s faithful dog “Dog” was a Queensland Heeler that George Miller personally rescued from the pound a day before it was meant to be put to sleep. That was great news for Dog, but not so great for the film crew-it turned out that Dog was terrified by the sounds of revving engines, which was something that was hard to get away from on the set of “Road Warrior.” Dog was also extremely sweet and affectionate, normally the exact opposite of a problem with an adopted dog, but something that made it difficult for Bruce “Gyro Captain” Spence to pretend that Dog was attacking him. According to Spence, the only way to make Dog’s attack look convincing to play keepaway “for hours on end” with the Gyro Captain’s scarf, until Dog was conditioned to jump after the scarf in a way that looked like he was going for the Captain’s throat.
8. DIVA MOVES
Here’s a little-known Mad Max secret for you: “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” kinda sucks. It’s still better than 99% of the movies that tried to copy the Mad Max formula, but compared to the first two films it’s the weakest of weak sauce. That’s because George Miller was barely involved with the film-distraught after the untimely death of friend and producer Byron Kennedy, he only directed the action sequences, which are easily the best parts of the movie. Thunderdome was also produced with American money, which demanded weird casting choices like the re-use of the Gyro Captain as the entirely different character Jebediah, and the inclusion of notably non-Australian Tina Turner as Auntie Entity. To her credit, Turner did her own vehicle stunts, because as the intro to “Proud Mary” states Ms. Tina never EVER does anything nice and easy. (Although in this case, she did do something a little easy-Turner never learned how to drive a stick, so the production team hastily modified her stunt car to use an automatic transmission.)
9. DANGEROUS GAMES
Dozens of video games have been released featuring post-apocalyptic vehicle combat, but until September’s release of “Mad Max” for PS4/XB1 there’s only one source for official Mad Max gaming action: a fairly boring NES game from 1990. “Mad Max” NES was a top-down shooter that allowed you to drive the Interceptor and throw dynamite at people but somehow managed to make the experience completely dull. Far more entertaining and a bit closer to the Mad Max feel was 1992’s “Outlander” for the Sega Genesis, which was developed as a Road Warrior video game until publisher Mindscape lost the rights just weeks before release. It might have been for the best that “Outlander” wasn’t official, though, considering that later levels have you firing missiles at someone who looks very much like the Gyro Captain. That seems like overkill considering that Humungus’ Marauders were able to shoot him down with an oversized dart gun.
10 . FULL OF SOUND AND FURY, SIGNIFYING BAD-ASS ACTION
The development of “Fury Road” has been about as long and painful as actually trying to drive across a post-apocalyptic desert full of savage biker gangs. The very idea of a sequel to “Thunderdome” was stuck in development hell for some 25 years, and when “Fury Road” was finally set to start shooting in 2001 the World Trade Center attack crashed the Australian dollar (like a real dollar, but with the Queen on it) and halted production, forcing George Miller to work on “Happy Feet.” For years, conflicting reports stated that the new Mad Max would be shot in Australia, shot in Africa, shot in 3D, or even done in computer animation and influenced by anime like “Akira,” but eventually principal photography started in 2012 in Namibia.
Despite countless rumors, Mel Gibson won’t be in “Fury Road” even as a cameo as he is completely balls crazy, but there’s still a major call-back to the first film in a relatively quiet way. Hugh Keays-Byrne, the Shakespearean actor who chewed amazing hell out of Mad Max’s scenery as barbarian biker Toecutter, is returning as chief villain Immortan Joe in “Fury Road,” and if his appearances in interviews is a guide he’s ready to bring the same level of mesmerizing intensity to what can only be the craziest and most amazing movie of 2015.