Though it came to be his signature work, the Australian director George Miller wasn't exactly looking to revisit "Mad Max." He long thought the franchise, which of course helped augur a new action-movie era over its three installments between 1979 and 1985, was in fact best left to yesterday.
"I never wanted to make another 'Mad Max' movie," he said. "But the idea kept popping into my head and it wouldn't go away."
"I just didn't realize," he added, "it would take 12 years
"That long period in the desert, such as it is, ended Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival. Miller was talking to reporters after his new movie "Mad Max: Fury Road" played to media on the Croisette, ahead of its world premiere here Thursday night and subsequent opening in the U.S.
This has been a ridiculous week for the post-apocalyptic sequel/reboot/just-happens-to-be-in-the-universe picture. As reviews started to hit, many outlets were calling the all-in style and action--the urgency and lack of backstory--of "Fury Road" the future of moviemaking, and even typically more sober-minded critics were billing it, preemptively, as possibly the best action movie until 2020.
Full Coverage: Cannes Film Festival 2015
Strong advance buzz can mean a backlash, particularly in Cannes, but that seemed little in evidence Thursday. The press screenings brought not just an enthusiastic response at the film's end but mid-screening clapping from some areas of the Lumiere Theater after a number of the movie's action set pieces (briefly) let up. And mid-screening clapping is a rarity in these parts.
You probably know plenty about the plot, so I'll leave to others to describe more fully what happens when, sometime after the apocalypse, former cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson's role, played here by Tom Hardy) teams up in an aging fuel truck with a one-armed warrior named Imperato Furiosa (Charlize Theron), as the two race across an earthly wasteland. (Basically, they hope to bring to safety the wives of a dictator named Immortan Joe, whose warpainted thugs are in keen pursuit throughout. The general air is one of peril and scarcity--water and gas are in short supply in these times, and breast milk even sort of takes their place as a key resource, in one of the movie's many odd flourishes, which also, it should be noted, includes a guitar-playing human hood ornament.)
But the plot is often beside the point, taking an, ahem, backseat to the action razzle-dazzle in what is essentially an elaborate chase movie.
Whether the bold visuals and mastery of technique make "Fury Road" an instant classic or simply a fun summer movie is a matter for debate. Those who love it can't love it enough -- there is something almost visceral about the movie's intense fan base, and if you're among it you'll know what I mean -- but others could well argue that the lack of more traditional narrative virtues makes it more style than substance (you'll know who you are too).
Either way, the movie is a technical marvel, made so because of how Miller went about shooting in the Namibian desert, amid heat and sand and plenty of harsh elements.
Another reason production was so complicated is that the movie relies on thousands of quick edits for its kinetic feel. That means each take contributes that much less to the finished film than usual — and also makes every second of those takes more difficult.
"Normally with a master scene you just block out the scene," Miller said. "But this was made up of so many cuts. You say action and three seconds later you're saying cut."
That, he added, made matters tricky for others too. "It's very hard for actors to get into continuity," Miller said. "Acting is so athletic and to ask people to keep starting and stopping again is very difficult."
Hardy acknowledged the process could leave him feeling daunted.
"The most frustrating thing for me was trying to know what George wanted to do," the actor said in Cannes. "Because all the vehicles are moving and the whole movie is in motion." He paused."I feel I have to apologize to you," he said, gesturing to Miller. "Because I got frustrated [during production]. And there's no way George could explain what he's seeing."
The film also has a different feel, Miller suggested, because of who edited it: wife Margaret Sixel, who had never edited an action movie before.
"She said, 'Why on earth would you want me to cut the movie?'" Miller recalled. "But if it was the usual [male editors] it would look like every other movie you see."
"Fury Road" opens just ahead of another big action summer movie with hopes for kicking off a new chapter of entertainment, the original-concept piece "Tomorrowland." The Brad Bird effort is this film's spiritual foil -- it makes essentially the opposite argument, that the dystopia that "Mad Max" takes for granted is avoidable thanks to the power of human ingenuity. At the press conference, Theron noted how many looming issues, from water and oil shortages on down, "Fury Road" tapped into. Which film is in fact the future will play out in the world in the years ahead, and at the box office in the next few weeks.