Wait, that's not right.
Mad Max: Fury Road is decidedly unlike the other movies that made director George Miller famous: the Babe franchise and Happy Feet. How could a man who made a heart-warming movie about a talking pig who brings a whole farm together also be responsible for the Mad Max franchise, which defined the post-apocalyptic genre and features graphic violence, adult themes, and scantily clad women?
By being George Miller—that's how.
George Miller burst onto the Hollywood scene with his first flick, 1979's Mad Max. Though it was released to mixed reviews, the years have been kind to the originator of the Mad Max franchise, and the sequels have helped bolster its reputation and set Miller up as a renowned action director. He has helmed all four movies in the Mad Max franchise, and we'll leave you to debate which one's the best. There are a lot of opinions out there. His work on Mad Max also opened up Hollywood to the Australian film industry—and launched Australian Mel Gibson's film career into the stratosphere. Not bad for a first time director.
Since the OG Mad Max, George Miller has been keeping busy doing all kinds of different films and raking in the award nominations. He's done everything,
His work on these movies has been nominated for umpteen Academy Awards, and he's collected a few AACTAs (the Australian equivalent), too. With such a diverse filmography, you'd be hard pressed to pigeonhole Miller into one directorial style. But when it comes to his work on the Mad Max franchise, we will say this: the man is a visual virtuoso. His action movies are heavy on the imagery, light on the exposition, and his directorial choices are a feast for your eyes at every turn. Fury Road has been called "eyeball-scorching" and we think that's about right.
When it comes to Fury Road, Miller's most impressive accomplishment as a director has to be the stunts. In the age of digital film, when you can make the world whatever you want it to be with a few clicks of a button (and the mastery of people highly trained in computer generated imagery), Miller opted to take a more realistic approach. Here's what he had to say on the matter in a production interview:
It's a film in which we don't defy the laws of physics…so it wouldn't make a lot of sense to shoot it all digitally, or a large part of it because it would lose a lot of that authenticity…We chose to do it old school.
By "old school," he means they shot the movie on location, on film, using real people and real vehicles. According to Miller, most of the digital enhancement in the film came later, to remove harnesses on the actors, or to enhance the landscapes the actors actually moved through.
Think about that for a second, Shmoopers: every time you see a car crash into the War Rig, or a tumble rear over teakettle across the desert…That. Actually. Happened. And that reliance on practical effects over CG magic is yet another way Fury Road stands out from its action movie brethren. As Miller points out, "this is a very kinetic movie," and practical effects lend authenticity to the story—and authenticity is pretty important when you're telling the story of a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which everything is upside down.
Of course those practical effects meant that shooting Fury Road was no walk in the park. As Miller describes, "every day is a big stunt day, so you have to be almost fanatical about preparation and safety…so everything was very well rehearsed, very well prepared."
That kind of stunt coordination is pretty impressive, don't you think? The stunt team had to figure out how to film the polecats, which actually had stuntmen—and Tom Hardy at one point—up on top of a pole that was attached to a moving vehicle. To film the motorcycle stunts in the canyon, they hired actual competitive stunt riders in Australia show them their best moves, and then adapted them for the script. When Max's car flips over and over at the beginning of the movie, there's actually a man driving that car. When Morsov leaps onto a buzzard's car with his two spears to blow it up, the stuntman actually did leap off the back of the moving War Rig.
The logistics alone boggle the mind—let alone their insurance rates.
Our favorite example of this stunt coordination of course is the War Rig's final moments.
As supervising stunt coordinator Guy Norris puts it, "The War Rig has to roll in an incredibly particular way and stop and wedge itself in the middle of this gap in the mountains. Again, we wanted to figure out a way that we could do it in a spectacular manner and do it for real."
So the stunt driver had to slide the truck, and then they would trigger a giant steel foot that would push against the ground and catapult the truck up onto its side—all on the move. The stunt drive, of course, had to perfectly place the truck in reference to the cameras, so that Miller could get the ideal shot. As Miller puts it, "the difficulty of that shot is that it had to land precisely in front of our cameras."
Everything went just about perfect. It was so convincing, in fact, that George Miller was convinced his stunt driver had gotten hurt. But of course, he was fine. He's a pro, after all. "He hit the exact spot he needed to. It came perfectly into camera." And then, to put the icing on the stunt cake, they ran the Doof Wagon right into the bag of the overturned War Rig, shot it all on a 300-frames-per-second camera, and the rest is magic.
Gee, George Miller, is that you again?
That's right. Fury Road's director and producer is also the main man in charge of its story—though he of course had some help. With an assist from his writing partners Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, George Miller envisioned ("wrote" doesn't quite do this one justice) Mad Max: Fury Road as something unlike any other action movie we've seen before.
Instead of starting off with a stock and standard screenplay, Miller and co. went a different route: the storyboard. They mapped out Fury Road visually, shot for shot, and told the story that way instead. According to Miller in the DVD extras, " It was 3500 panels around a room, and I would say a good 80% of those panels are reflected in the images you see on the screen today."
Think of it like a comic book. Rather than writing line after line of dialogue—which, in a movie with very little dialogue, wouldn't be much help—they opted to tell the story in visual panels, each one of which mirrors a shot in the movie.
In a bonus material interview, Producer Doug Mitchell gives a good explanation of how this works:
What these storyboards did is it told us which car was going around which crash, who was on it and so gradually you could break it down as one has to be very accurate as to how long it would take to shoot and how you'd want to shoot it.
So not only were these storyboards a storytelling tool, they were a logistical production tool, too. By mapping out the story visually, Miller and his production team were able to coordinate the stunts, set decoration, art direction, and cinematography all from one source.
There's a reason all three screenwriters are given writing credit on Fury Road: they each had a job to do. While it's clear Miller is responsible for the overall story, having been responsible for all three Mad Max stories that preceded it, Brendan McCarthy is the artist of the group. He's a pretty famous British artist and designer, and he's done a lot of work in movies. His main claim to fame though, is his work in comic books—which makes sense. In many ways, the so-called "script" of Fury Road was in fact a comic book. He's the man responsible for this movie's visual...um...vision.
And of course George Miller conceptualized the story, right? Having created the first three Mad Max flicks, it's a world he knows well, and one he's fully qualified to revisit and re-envision. As he describes it, Fury Road is a kind of campfire tale:
Basically, [Mad Max stories are] allegorical stories in the same way I guess that the classic Western was that. And Max is a character who gets swept up into this story. He's sort of wandering the wasteland looking for some sense of meaning in a very stark world, and he gets caught up in this story.
This story being, of course, Furiosa's fight to give the breeders their freedom. Think of Mad Max: Fury Road as a self-contained story that the History Men will tell future inhabitants of the wasteland, and you've pretty much got the right idea.
In the land of Oz (um, that would be Australia), there's really one horse in the rodeo: Kennedy Miller Mitchell. It's one of the oldest production companies in all of Australia, and it's responsible for the George Miller-helmed hits Babe, Happy Feet, and, of course, Mad Max: Fury Road.
Close friends and colleagues George Miller and Byron Kennedy founded the company—then known as Kennedy Miller Productions—after meeting in film school. As it happens, their first flick—Mad Max—became a relatively successful hit, and launched the company into more than 35 years of success. Sadly, the Kennedy part of Kennedy Miller perished in a motorcycle crash in 1983, leaving director and producer George Miller to continue alone in the film-making business. In 2009, the company was renamed Kennedy Miller Mitchell after film producer Doug Mitchell joined the team.
We would be remiss if we didn't point out that Kennedy Miller Mitchell does much more than make movies. The company has worked in television and gaming, too.
Of course a scrappy little production company from Australia—however well established—needs an assist from the big boys every now and then. That's where Village Roadshow Pictures comes in. They're another Australian company, but a bit more mainstream. Since their founding in 1986, they've worked on such blockbuster hits as the Matrix trilogy, the Sherlock Holmes franchise, Oceans Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen, for that matter), just to name a few. Consider them the bankrollers of this scenario—when it comes to the vision, that was all Miller and co.
Shot on location in Namibia, Mad Max: Fury Road looks stunningly real, for all its crazy set dressings even crazier story. As we analyze in depth in our "Director" section, George Miller went all out on the practical stunts, hoping to imbue his film with as much physical reality as possible.
That said, there's a fair amount of digital post-production at work here. Check out how the colors are all saturated, which veers away from the typical approach to post-apocalyptic wastelands, so often depicted as totally devoid of color. Looking at the raw footage from Fury Road, you can see just how much color was added post-production. By saturating the scenes—making the browns of the desert almost orange, and the gray of night an eerie blue—Miller imbues the wasteland with a sort of hyper-reality. Everything feels immediate, oppressive, and yes—alive.
For more on the effects of on-location shooting, check out "Setting." And for more on the stunt coordination and CG effects, be sure to give our "Director" section a gander.
Junkie XL. That's the name of the composer responsible for the Mad Max: Fury Road score. And oh, how we love how much that makes sense. It takes a man with a crazy name like Junkie XL to provide the soundtrack for a movie as crazy as this one.
Fury Road's score features a mixture of classical and heavy metal, giving it a decidedly rock opera feel. In fact, that's just how Junkie XL, a.k.a. Tom Holkenborg, describes it in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
I knew when I saw the film that we needed to come up with something that is a completely over-the-top rock opera. The wasteland George created and the caricature of the dictator Immortan Joe, the look of the war boys, the cars—it's so over the top. The music needed to match that.
And match it, it does. Throughout the movie, we've got an ominous and repetitive low cello note, which conveys approaching menace. We hear it, for example, when Max and Furiosa finally take off together in the War Rig. As Holkenborg explains it in the same interview,
When he is in that big truck with the women, the women don't know if at any moment, "Is he going to explode? Is he going to shoot us? What is he going to do?" So I wanted to come up with a very simple motif on a cello that plays, Dah-DAH. Or it plays three times. Or it plays five times. Or just once. You never know how many times. So that was kind of the musical statement that he could be dangerous. Then, where the situation seems to stabilize and he's actually now collaborating with the women, that now becomes only two cello notes in a row—constantly two. Two feels more stable. It feels more grounded, so it feels more safe.
That's just one example that gives you a sense of how the soundtrack enhances the storytelling in Fury Road. And there are countless others: the frenetic strings we hear during Max's brief flashbacks, the kick-butt heavy metal guitar that the Doof Warrior uses to thunder up the war party, the soft orchestral sounds of the Vuvalini. In Fury Road, the music makes you feel whatever it is George Miller and Junkie XL want you to feel in that particular scene. It mirrors the characters' states of mind, and invites you into empathy with them.
The score received a fair amount of critical praise, including from the acclaimed film composer Hans Zimmer himself. In an interview with HitFix, he called Holkenborg's work on the film "absolutely phenomenal and mind-blowingly brilliant."
We'll let Hans have the last word.
You make a film, and if you do it properly, you're putting put all of yourself into it—everything you know and whatever wisdoms and skills you might have accumulated along the way. But you don't really know how its going to impact, and it usually takes time. First of all people write about it in reviews, and there tends to be a consensus of what works and what doesn't over time, and then…somehow to some extent a film either impinges in some way on a culture or it doesn't. After a while, the audience starts to tell you what your film is.
In this Fresh Air interview on NPR, George Miller points out that in the case of Fury Road, this whole process—where the audience starts to tell you what your film is—happened very quickly.
Almost as soon as the film was released, the Internet exploded. Everyone—from famous critics to average Joe bloggers—had an opinion, and a whole heap were positive. And that's where the fandom of Fury Road really began: cyberspace.
Fans showed their appreciation for Fury Road's thoughtful approach to the action movie genre by writing thinkpieces on anything and everything about the movie:
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. As a thinking man's action movie, Fury Road got a thinking man's response.
Of course, there were more visceral, personal reactions to the movie as well. Folks got tattoos. They produced impressive fan art. They came up with crazy theories. All because the movie resonated with them in one way or another.
The movie's popularity helped contribute to the franchise's productions. There's a sequel (or a quintuple?) in the works, and there's even a comic book prequel, telling the story of Furiosa at the Citadel. Oh, and don't forget the 2015 video game, which lets fans experience first hand the movie's brutal world.