It’s been 30 years since George Miller last directed a “Mad Max” film. Now, the Australian filmmaker has returned to the character that launched his career and the movie franchise that defined the modern post-apocalyptic thriller.
In “Mad Max: Fury Road,” out this Friday, Tom Hardy has replaced the original Mad Max — played by a young Mel Gibson — but Miller has retained much of the DNA of the original three movies. There are crazy costumes, crazier cars and the most elaborate — and, OK, craziest — action sequences seen in any movie for a long, long time.
Miller recently stopped by The Frame to talk about the language of action, his insistence on practical effects, how technology allowed him to tell the story he's wanted to tell for more than a decade, and what happened to all those amazing vehicles.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS IN THE WASTELAND
While many filmmakers increasingly turn to computer effects in an attempt to wow audiences, Miller is staying largely old school and analog for “Fury Road” — which is fitting as he just turned 70. When vehicles in “Mad Max” blow up, they are really blowing up, and stars Hardy and Charlize Theron are actually doing a lot of their own stunts.
"This is a movie in which we don't defy the laws of physics," Miller said on The Frame. "They're real cars, they're real people, in a real desert. When you see Tom Hardy hanging upside down between two tires of a giant War Rig hurtling through the desert, that is Tom.”
One thing the actors aren't doing a lot of in "Fury Road" is talking. Almost all the story is conveyed through car chases and stunts, not through dialogue, according to Miller:
"I've always been fascinated with action movies, even pre-dating sound. I was always taken by Hitchcock's notion where he said, ‘I try to make movies where they don't have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ That's what we tried to do with 'Fury Road.' I wanted to do one extended action movie where there's very little language to speak of.”
NAVIGATING THE STORY
In the early days of “Fury Road,” Miller took a unique approach to storytelling by teaming up with graphic artists Brendan McCarthy, Mark Sexton and Peter Pound to sketch out the film through storyboards. This was all done without a traditional film script.
“The three of us spent nine months in a room laying out the movie," Miller said. "We plotted out the story, but basically wrote the screenplay as one extended storyboard — 3,500 panels around a room. Eighty percent of what people see today, all these years later, is what was on that wall."
Once the action was sketched out, it came time to develop the subtext of the story and the dialogue. Miller said that part of the process came about organically, especially the conflict between the tyrant Immortan Joe and his five wives.
"Just like everybody else in the movie they are commodities, they carry in one way or another his brand seared onto the back of their necks,” Miller said. “I guess you're sometimes alert to what's happening out there in the world. You're riffing off the zeitgeist in a way, and these things seep into the story. Before we knew it, all the subtext emerges. I can't think of starting a story with the subtext first. You tell the story and then you begin to see these emerging themes.”
The timespan of the film take place over three days, hardly enough time to really get to know the characters. But for his cast and crew, Miller made sure to write complete backstories for the individual characters and their wares.
"If you're asking an audience to come along on this chase, on this wild ride, you have to find every way you can to create authenticity,” Miller said. “Not only did each character have a very, very detailed backstory, it's virtually another screenplay. This applied to every single character, every set piece, every piece of weaponry, every piece of costume. All the designers had to know where it came from.”
THE ONE ADVANTAGE OF DELAYS
The world that George Miller envisioned more than a decade ago when he first began working on “Fury Road” was not possible to achieve at the time, especially without the aid of computer graphics. But thanks to advancements in film production technology, Miller’s imagination was became translatable.
One particular idea Miller had years ago came together in time for filming and the director said it was oddly emotional.
"I remember seeing some street performers on flexible poles swaying in the breeze at a festival in Australia. I thought it'd be great if we could put those on vehicles, I never imagined we could do it for real,” Miller said. “Suddenly, after all this time, they'd figured out a way to put those people on poles and have those vehicles working. It brought tears to my eyes, I never imagined it could be done for real…It was one of the advantages of the delays.”
Filming the intense and often high-speed car chase scenes in the middle of the Namib Desert created its own set of difficulties. But thanks to the camera crane technology called The Edge, Miller was able to have the flexibility necessary to coordinate and cover such complicated practical stunt work.
THE CARS? “Truth is, we've wrecked them all.”
Miller and his team designed 150 individual vehicles for “Fury Road,” each with its own function in the story. Unfortunately, being functional in a place like the Wasteland means there wasn't much left after shooting.
"Truth is, we've wrecked them all," Miller said.
The one that was not destroyed — and which Miller cites as his favorite — is a vehicle called The Gigahorse.
“It’s a massive V-16 driven by the Immortan Joe, the tyrant character. It’s two Cadillacs, one on top of the other. It’s so epic.”
Among the other cars are Max’s classic Interceptor (a souped-up Ford Falcon XB GT coupe), the Doofwagon (complete with a masked rock guitarist and wall of speakers affixed to the front), and a tank-like muscle car called the Peacemaker. We’ll let it speak for itself: