2006 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest sequels and certainly one of the best action movies of its era: The Road Warrior. Perfect in almost every respect, 'The Road Warrior' manages to maintain a torrid pace while never straying from a simple plot and mostly minimalist script.
Director George Miller and writer/producer Byron Kennedy had an interesting dilemma when conceiving a sequel to Mad Max. Their 1979 movie was a smash hit all over the globe -- except the United States -- where a version dubbed with American voices didn't make much of an impact. Warner Bros. of course wanted a big hit in America with the sequel, but how should they go about making the next chapter to a movie few in the States saw? The answer was a solution today's Hollywood should take a look at more often. Instead of a traditional sequel, Miller and Kennedy made a movie which could stand on its own, hence the unique U.S. title instead of the worldwide 'Mad Max 2.'
Apart from the excellent expository introduction and Max himself, the only aspect of 'The Road Warrior' that links to 'Mad Max' is Max's reaction to being asked if he's ever lost any family. Whereas 'Mad Max' was a classic tale of revenge, 'The Road Warrior' would be a cross between a Saturday morning cartoon and Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, with Max playing the role as The Man With No Name. Though 'Mad Max' was made with an extremely small budget (until 'Blair Witch' it held the film record for cost:profit ratio), it made its mark with its shockingly raw action scenes (you could argue that it contains two of the most brutal car collisions ever seen on the screen), and 'The Road Warrior' would aim to up the ante at every hairpin turn.
At the opening of 'The Road Warrior,' we find Max exactly where we left him before: in his car driving away from the pain that transformed him into the 'shell of a man' he now inhabits. What has helped make this such a legendary movie is the way Max is handled: given almost no lines of dialogue and with the absolute minimum of emotions. When Max cracks a half-smile at the end, it's not a reach to say it's his first genuinely enjoyable moment since his family was killed.
A spartan script by design, 'The Road Warrior' is still filled with odd characters and overflowing with lavishly creative production design. In the hands of American filmmakers, the gangs would be driving Mustangs with machine guns mounted to them. In 'The Road Warrior' world of the Australian Outback, the only real recognizable car is an old Ford F150, with Max at the helm of a heavily modified Australian-version Ford Falcon and Humongous' gang manning function-first monstrosities. Then there are the costumes. The friendlies at the refinery seem to have found their wardrobe by raiding a high school football locker room, while Humongous and Co. have taken the opportunity in the post-apocalpytic world to break out their cod pieces and assless chaps. It's the attention to detail such as the above which makes the movie work so well.
And the violence. Miller/Kennedy seem bent on one-upping themselves with each opportunity. When the boomerang blade smashes through the tranny's skull, you feel it. When the unlucky pair who are fastened to the front of a Humongous machine get an up-close view of the back of a tanker, it hurts. 'The Road Warrior' keeps going further and further up the meter of brutally fun action until Humongous and his machine meet their profoundly beautiful end.
There was a point in my life where I watched 'The Road Warrior' almost daily, and one aspect I grew to appreciate was the score by Brian May (no, not the one from Queen), who continued his work with Miller/Kennedy from 'Mad Max.' Since there's little dialogue, May's score is often at centerstage to carry some of the scenes, and it delivers every time.
It's a shame that on the 25th anniversary of 'The Road Warrior,' there is still no suitable DVD release, save for the bare-ass bones release around seven years ago. 'Mad Max' has a very nice two-disc Special Edition and there's even been talk of it getting the Superbit treatment (though I can't imagine why). Warner even saw fit to release a Special Edition VHS of 'The Road Warrior' shortly before the advent of DVD, but still no proper treatment for it on DVD (though there have been rumors of a Christmas release).
Also, it's strange to see how limited Miller's work as a director has been since his coming out party with 'Mad Max' and 'The Road Warrior.' Outside of those two movies he has directed just five, including 'Beyond Thunderdome' and the wonderful 'Babe: Pig in the City.' Perhaps he is content to sit on the royalties he gets from 'The Road Warrior' and 'Beyond Thunderdome,' which he was awarded the rights to from Warner in exchange for stepping out of the director's chair for 'Contact.'
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Filed Under Classic reviews