From the man who brought you Babe and Happy Feet, may we present the latest family-friendly flick featuring adorable animals!
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.
Practical Stunts in the Age of CGI
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.
The Perfect Example
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.