For this blog series, I’ll be focusing on the question, “You’re on a life boat and you can bring only one movie. Which movie do you choose?”
Guillermo del Toro’s pick: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Written by Terry Hayes & George Miller. Directed by George Miller. The sequel to Mad Max. Across the post-apocalyptic terrain, Max meets a group of people with a large supply of fuel. The group is surrounded by a fierce and barbaric gang and Max agrees to help the group escape with the condition they give him fuel as payment. Running time 1 hour 36 minutes.
The film opens with voice-over and black and white images of war, industrial landscapes, and oil refineries reminding the viewer how the thirst for big oil and power turned man against man, creating a post-apocalyptic world where people do what they have to do to survive. For Max (Mel Gibson), he travels the roads scavenging for food and fuel while the loss of his wife and child are at the fore-front of his mind.
Along the way, he happens upon a flying gyro machine which appears to be abandoned or unattended so he stops to investigate as it may have fuel he can use. As he’s rustling with a snake, possibly to cook for food, the owner of the gyro pops up. Max gets the better of the gyro flyer ( Bruce Spence) who tells him of the small community some miles away who is storing a huge amount of oil and fuel. The Gyro flyer tells Max he will take him there if Max promises not to kill him.
Max, the Gyro flyer, and Max’s dog head out to a lookout on a cliff ridge for a look at the community and see the gang of bikers led by Lord Humungous (Kjell Nilsson) an over-muscled guy wearing bondage underwear and Wez (Vernon Wells) and crazed, blood thirsty, pink-red mohawk, chaps wearing guy who was responsible for killing Max’s wife and child. Max and the Gyro flyer witness some of the gang members brutally attack a vehicle heading back to the oil camp leaving the woman raped and dead and the man clinging to life. Max goes down to the vehicle and decides to take the man to the oil camp to see if they’ll give him some fuel.
The camp does not know or trust Max; however, when the gang attacks the camp, they realize they need a new plan to escape with the oil and fuel. In the meantime, a little feral boy (Emil Minty) who doesn’t talk but is a fierce killer with a very sharp boomarang becomes enamored with the new stranger and begins shadowing Max. Max tells them of a semi truck he saw about 20 miles away which will haul their tanker. If they’ll give him fuel, he’ll go get it and bring it back. The camp agrees and Max sets off on foot with containers of fuel.
Max meets up the gyro flyer who flies him back to the semi and they manage to get it running. Max drives the semi back to the camp with the biker gang on his tail trying to kill him while the gyro flyer flies overhead to the camp. Both manage to get back into the oil camp but not without damage to the semi. The camp leader Pappagallo (Michael Preston) and the elders want Max to drive the semi with the tanker but he says a deal is a deal.
The camp begrudgingly gives him the fuel and Max takes off only to be attacked by the band of bikers. After they do something very bad to Max’s dog, Max booby-traps the bikers in the attack making them think he’s dead and the biker survivors leave the scene giving the gyro flyer the chance to rescue Max and take him back to the camp.
Max then agrees to drive the semi-tanker and somehow get revenge on the biker gang. The oil camp crew fixes up the semi while the women pack up all the belongings. As the semi begins to leave the camp, the little feral boy hops onto the semi and hides right behind the cab. A couple of camp vehicles drive with the semi as protection but are no match for the biker gang and their weapons. The feral boy is discovered by Max and brought up front where the boy helps Max defend the semi against the bikers.
After a long, fierce, and deadly cat and mouse–road rage–battle across the desolate landscape, many are dead and the semi is crashed and turned over revealing the contents of the tanker. The explosion of the crash is seen by the gyro flyer who hasn’t left the oil camp yet. He goes to the site, picks up Max and the little boy, and takes them back to camp where the gyro flyer becomes the new leader of the oil group on their journey north and Max stays behind as a memory of the little boy.
What I Liked
The opening gives you enough of a set up so you don’t need to watch Mad Max before The Road Warrior. And, actually, I think that’s how many Americans did experience the first two films introducing Mel Gibson to the American film sphere on a larger than life scale. The post-apocalyptic landscape of Australia lent to the amazing dirty, sandy, dusty desolate footage with vast emptiness for miles and miles. Incredible visuals of night, dusk, dawn, and day and HUGE cinematic shots showing how alone and vulnerable people were.
The biker gang is the worst of the worst and the costuming, the vehicles, the energy, and rawness of the group was so over the top and yet felt like what that world would be like if people predisposed to that behavior were allowed to do whatever they wanted without consequence. They rape, pillage, intimidate, and destroy with a crazed amount of glee which is quite unnerving. George Miller takes the approach with some of the violence (directed at women and Max’s dog) as implied violence. He shows the woman being attacked giving the implication of rape and death but cuts to the Max and the gyro flyer for their reactions as they watch it unfold through the binoculars. We see the dog and we see the biker with the cross bow but then he cuts to Max’s face and gives us the audible sound of the dog’s whimper. Very powerful as well as a good balance of brutality as the film is chock full of brutal moments.
This film is mind-blowing for the sheer amount of energy is takes to fully comprehend how dangerous each of these road battle scenes must have been to shoot. How precise and important for each vehicle to behave the way George Miller needed them to for the shot without killing the stunt people as well as the projectile throwing of people from explosions or car wrecks. The gritty feel of his scenes made me feel like Max, the little boy, and the oil camp people who went with him were doomed from the start and that I was setting myself up to watch these poor people die a slow barbaric death while at the same time believing if anyone could make it, it would be Max and holding onto that hope.
Speaking of Max…Mel Gibson’s Max is emotionally hardened by his loss but not so much that when given the opportunity to show his own humanity he does. I think it’s part of what makes the story work; otherwise, he’s no better than the garbage biker gang as Pappagallo points out when Max tells him he just wants his fuel from the deal and leave. And maybe it’s in that moment when he loses his final companion–his dog–that he realizes he must help the oil camp the only way he knows how in order to redeem himself and honor the loss of his family.
The Road Warrior has very little dialogue and doesn’t need it. Why waste time and energy when every moment counts at this point? Surviving means doing, not talking about doing. According to IMDB trivia, Mel Gibson had only 16 lines of dialogue in the whole film…less is more in this case.
What I Wished Was Better
Nothing. It’s violent. It’s raw. It’s honest. I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole with a flamethrower attachment…
George Miller gives amazingly raw-looking footage mixed with cinematic landscapes as the backdrop for a post-apocalyptic future in which Max solidifies himself as The Road Warrior. Guillermo del Toro picked The Road Warrior because, “…it destroyed my brain with what it did. It was the first time I noticed how the camera worked and moved like a ballet.” He loves George Miller and hopes to one day just sit and talk with him about movies and making them. That would be a fantastic idea… Available to rent on Amazon and other streaming platforms. Watch the trailer below:
Fun Facts: The tanker truck rolling near the end was so dangerous, the stunt driver was not allowed to eat 12 hours before rolling in case he had to receive emergency treatment or surgery. (omg) Another stuntman was severely injured during a vehicle battle scene when he was supposed to fly off the motorcycle and over a car. He ended up hitting the car and doing a mid-air cartwheel breaking his leg! The Road Warrior was shot in sequence and the Interceptor Max drives is the original car used from the first film. While the year is unknown, director George Miller suggests the events took place in the mid-1990s. (wow)