Friday, May 15, 2015

Most of all, I remember the Road Warrior



Karen: I hadn't even seen Mad Max, even heard of it, when I went to see some weird-looking film called The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2 everywhere but the US) at our local theater in the early summer of 1982. There was this post-apocalyptic, punk vibe to the theater poster that seemed pretty cool. So I went in, knowing next to nothing about it. Then my brain was put in a blender for an hour and a half as all Hell was unleashed. It was truly a revelatory experience, so much so, that  I went back to see it over and over again. I soon found a video store in town with a copy of Mad Max and me and my friends rented that repeatedly. We just couldn't get enough of Max and his decimated world.

Karen: The idea of the world coming to an end was not so far-fetched for those of us kids living in the early 80s. After all, it was still the Cold War era, and we'd grown up with the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain as facts of life. My friends and I had been born a year or two late for  the Cuban Missile Crisis, but  the fear of an atomic war was always with us. I think that's true for all of us born during that era, but the threat of nuclear war was particularly acute for us, as we lived  next to an Air Force missile base. We grew up hearing repeatedly about what would happen in an all-out nuclear blitz, with some people sounding almost gleeful about it.  Although by '82, we were thinking less perhaps of the 'scorched Earth' vision of Dr. Strangelove that our parents and older siblings knew and more of a gradual decay of civilization as we knew it. We were already seeing signs of it all over the place - we'd had energy crises, a recession, job losses, a nuclear meltdown at Three-Mile Island -heck, if you want to know what was going on, just listen to London Calling by the Clash. And still we worried about our leaders pushing those hot buttons, and speeding things up. That's the the picture The Road Warrior painted for us: society had not been wiped out in a cascade of bombs, but had ground to a halt. The film was so beautifully shot that it also made the end of the world look terrible and yet strangely glorious. And exciting -if you had a car with some juice in it.



Karen: There's also no denying the appeal of the young Mel Gibson. He had 'star' written all over him. This was way before any scandals, any drunken speeches or other sorry turns. In The Road Warrior (and Max before that), he was your prototypical lone warrior, whether you want to think of that as a cowboy or samurai or whatever, the "shell of a man" who is still standing, still going on and inevitably getting caught up between the helpless and those who would prey on them. Like Clint Eastwood  or Toshiro Mifune before him, he does a great deal with very little dialogue. This film was the foundation  for his stardom. Max is not quite a hero, but he's still got some decency left in him.



Karen: The movie itself is like a shot of adrenaline, and has some of most spectacular vehicle stunts ever filmed -I think I can safely say it still does, because it was all real, none of it was CGI. But underneath the sheer twisted pleasure of it, was the sort of horrified fascination of imagining a future just like the one on the screen. OK, maybe without so much S&M fetishism, but one where every day was a struggle to survive, where gasoline, food, water, everything we take for granted now is nearly impossible to obtain. Perhaps the worst thing would be the erosion of the human spirit, of kindness and caring and those qualities we can afford when we aren't fighting to survive.



Karen: There is a new Mad Max film out now, the first without Gibson. Mad Max:Fury Road, stars Tom Hardy as Max, and seems to fit somewhere in between Mad Max and The Road Warrior (at least, Max still seems to have his Interceptor). Based on trailers, it looks like it has even more spectacular car crashes and stunts than its predecessors, which would seem impossible, but of course anything is possible with CGI. But I wonder if a post-apocalyptic film like this -a film based in a world that has been devastated not by a zombie plague or super-virus but by the very old-sounding threat of global war - can have as much visceral impact as the original Max films once did. I don't think too many people, especially the 16-25 age group, which I am sure the studio wants to pull in for this film, worry too much about a true end of the world. Sure, they probably worry about things that could impact them: economic downturns, natural disasters, maybe the threat of terrorist attacks. But the actual collapse of society? That's got to seem about as realistic today as the plot of the new Jurassic Park movie. So what was once an edgy, almost too-close to reality idea is now just another fantasy for summer. Maybe that's a good thing. But I remember when The Road Warrior was kind of scary and a little thought-provoking. Just like the Clash. But they live now...only in my memories.

28 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

What a wonderfully written paen to Road Warrior (and the original Mad Max in general).
I saw Road Warrior long before I saw Mad Max as well, and I think it really stands apart from the first movie so much. The sparse dialog, the harsh and grim characters (and that poor dog!), the austere sets and, yes, that almost hypnotic violence just come together to create something quite memorable, rather disturbingly so.

I think you're right that this new Mad Max will not have the resonance of the original film(s).

Charlton Hero said...

Excellent write up as usual from the BAB! The Road Warrior and more so Beyond Thunderdome were big milestones in my early years as a kid. Fond memories of renting a stack of VHS tapes on the weekend and getting up real early on Saturday Morning (before cartoons) to watch these classics!

Loved this series..cant wait for more with Fury Road..

Great work!!

Gary said...

Not everybody was terrified of a nuclear war back then. I know as a teenager I wasn't (the "Day After" was laughable). I knew war would never happen. So Road Warrior was just a fantasy movie to me. A great one.

Doug said...

I don't have a whole lot to say on the Mad Max films, but I will counter Gary by saying that yes, the thought of nuclear war was on my mind as a kid. I don't know about "terrified", but particularly in college we did discuss it among friends.

Doug

Anonymous said...

The first Mad Max doesn't mention a war at all, does it? Its pretty clearly set in the aftermath of a severe energy crisis; can't remember what the second actually says, but I seem to recall the recap at the start mentions some sort of apocalyptic disaster after the events of the first film. Its been a while, so maybe I've got that wrong - but the second had a very different feel to the first. The scarcity of fuel was still a strong theme though, and eco disaster seems like something relevant today.
As does war, sad to say; nuclear conflict definitely seems to be back on the agenda.
Maybe back in the 80s that was something that affected Europeans more? The US hadn't been part of a theatre of war in the twentieth century (I mean domestically - conflict was always at a distance)....

Anyway, I digress - totally agree with Karen. Those first two MM films were great at the time; the second in particular was so striking they created new clichés - apocalyptic future chic - so yeah, I agree its hard to see a new version having anything like the same impact. That was already a problem by the time of the third, Beyond Thunderdome... which Karen wisely ignored.

-sean

Gary said...

Doug-I'm wondering if it is more of a liberal vs conservative thing? Most of my friends were conservative, or leaned that way, and weren't worried about a nuclear war. I did run into people that were worried about it at college though, and they tended to be mostly liberals.

Sean-IIRC Mad Max took place shortly after the collapse of society, possibly as the result of a US-Soviet war? Road Warrior was after that, when war had spread over the whole globe. Of course I could be remembering it wrong. LOL.

david_b said...

I never saw any of these Max films.., I just figured the Apes would eventually take over anyways.

"......Game Over."

All Hail the Law Giver.



(I kid, I kid..)

Doug said...

Gary, that's an interesting take. Funny that our fears were raised when conservative politicians came into office here in the States and in several European nations.

And I had to odd situation of attending the same college as Ronald Reagan, and while he was in office!

And we worried. And yes -- my friends and I were liberals :) .

Doug

Doug said...

"And I had to odd situation"

Should say --

And I had the odd situation...

Doug

pete doree said...

I vividly remember the first Mad Max coming out in the UK, because all the older kids in our school went to see it and then regaled us younger ones with tales of the goriest, most horrific movie ever: "And he makes him cut his own foot off!!!"
Mad Max & The Hills Have Eyes were rites of passage round our way, lemme tell ya.

By the time we got to see the 2nd one, we were just as amazed and enthralled as everyone else. As you say, Karen, World War 3 was a genuine possibility back then, which gave Mad Max 2 / Road Warrior added frisson.
And I'm one of those who do like Thunderdome; I like the mythic element of it. ( The lost tribe of kids, Tomorrowmorrowland etc. )
Like Sergio Leone, Miller once said he was almost making three films about the same character in three different worlds, and that the inspiration originally came from Joseph Conrad's 'Hero Of A Thousand Faces'. So the whole lone samurai / Man With No Name thing was absolutely intentional.
Once you get past the ultra violence, I think it's that that makes Max special and that sets the films apart. There's a brain behind them.

The new one I haven't been that interested in, but it's getting great reviews so maybe. It needs to not just be crazy costumes and car crashes though. It needs to have that mythic despair for me, or else it's 'just' an action film.

Humanbelly said...

Boy, I think I watched both of these on Christmas of 1988-- and that was the only time.

I think MAD MAX was set in a still-functioning society (per-apocalyptic), but the nature of that society was souring quickly. There was still a conventional police force (Gibson was a highway cop, remember?), hospital/health care, etc. The opening of ROAD WARRIOR sort of re-caps Max's tragic tale, which was closely followed then by the collapse of society. My main lingering impression is that the connection between the two films wasn't quite as integral (or necessary) as I'd heard. Very, very different stories. (Again, IMO-- Karen surely can correct me if I'm mis-remembering.) I also get Road Warrior a little tangled up w/ A BOY AND HIS DOG, which I saw in that same Christmas binge.

At 54, I think I may be just a shade on the older side of our community, here (really, only by a couple of years, say--), and while that still leaves me too young to actually remember the Cuban Missile Crisis itself, I DISTINCTLY remember the lingering effect it had on folks through most of the 60's. Duck & Cover drills in elementary school; marked bomb shelters in public buildings; folks who built their own bomb shelters, etc. The anxiety definitely wasn't a liberal/conservative thing from our perspective, it was there across the board. How that anxiety was dealt with tended to fall more into political camps, I think.

HB

Karen said...

Wow, I thought maybe I'd get 2 or 3 comments today, so nice to come in and see a lively discussion going.

As far as truly feeling the threat of nuclear war goes, like I said, it was constantly there with me as a kid. Not that it was always on my mind -but it was always in the background, and sometimes it came to the fore. It was something the adults would talk about, so it became a part of my consciousness. Heck, I can still vividly recall my junior high school history class where our teacher, when we got to the end of WWII, told us we'd better hope if a nuclear war came that we were at the epicenter of a bombing, because as he put it, "the lingering death from radiation sickness" was no way to go. And then we saw newsreels from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Believe me, it made an impression!

I do think the original Mad Max only discussed an energy crisis, but by the time we get to Road Warrior, as that intro clip shows, "two mighty warrior tribes went to war" and the whole world was engulfed. The implication (to me anyway) was it went nuclear, but I guess I could be wrong. Maybe that's just a product of the environment I came from. In any case, that sort of apocalypse still seems a long way off to me today. More likely complacency will kill us!

Doug said...

Cue "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood!

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, yes! Love that song (actually I love that whole album).

I have to say, on the topic of fears of nuclear war and whatnot, I also grew up in a conservative (mainly Catholic) rural community. My formative years were the early '70s to mid-'80s, and I recall that most folks around there didn't seem too preoccupied with nuclear annihilation. When it did come up, sometimes there were some of those types that Karen mentioned, who were almost gleeful about the prospect - of nuking the Russians and maybe also China. Otherwise, the local wise heads (including the local pastor) were much more preoccupied with the *real* causes of the pending apocalypse: (teen) sex, drugs and rock & roll ... :P

Anonymous said...

Ah, remember when the nuclear clock was at five minutes to midnight?

Checkpoint Charlie, Frankie says arm the unemployed, public information films about how to pile up the bodies, 99 red balloons and all that... who'd have thought cold war nostalgia was in the future back then?

-sean

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the Mad Max films until later, but I remember I was eleven when "The Day After" came out, and it scared the hell out of me...and I live in Canada! So yeah, that whole "imminent threat of nuclear holocaust" thing was definitely on my mind at the time.

@sean: Wasn't the nuclear clock up to TWO minutes to midnight at one point? Hence the Iron Maiden song...

Mike Wilson

Humanbelly said...

@Mike W (as I invite myself into the conversation)-- yep, I did a bit of looking-up. In 1984 (how ironic!) it was at 2 minutes, due to horrendous cold-war tension w/ the Soviet Union. It had worked back down to 5 minutes, but just this past january the atomic scientists bumped it TWO MINUTES CLOSER due largely to accelerating, unchecked climate change. Yikes!

Honestly, environmental disaster has long seemed a more likely apocalyptic scenario to me than the advent of a Mutually Assured Destruction WWIII event. The one that seemed terribly obvious to me at least five years ago- but hasn't seemed to be on anyone's radar until about this past year- is that water, FRESH water, is simply going away. It's not at all hard to imagine full-scale wars being fought over access to that absolutely fundamental resource as it diminishes.

HB

Garett said...

The threat of nuclear war was quite real from the '60s through the '80s, either from one side having a gung-ho strike first attitude, or from an error by the early computer systems as in the show Wargames. I remember growing up with the sense that everything could be wiped out in an instant, and that our fate was in the hands of very few people.

I wasn't a big fan of the Mad Max films, but I did like post-apocalyptic stories in comics and films like Planet of the Apes, Kamandi, Terminator. Doctor Strangelove is still a sharp show. There was another "Day After" type show called Threads, but I don't remember much of it.

Anonymous said...

Quite possibly, Mike W (although I was actually thinking of Watchmen)

-sean

david_b said...

I suppose I shouldn't mention the nuke-tipped artillery rounds I managed in Germany in the '80s as part of the Fulda Gap protection plan..., in case 'buttons' were pushed.


Nahh, I'll let the rhetoric just play on...

Humanbelly said...

Real quick question on that, daveB (well, if it's okay to talk about): nuke-tipped artillery rounds wouldn't have the same overwhelming destructive potential as a bomb dropped from a plane or missile, though, would they? Are there differences of scale in the power of even nuclear weapons? Or am I mistaken, and they're all pretty much overwhelmingly powerful?

HB

Anonymous said...

You know, HB, wars fought over water are a possibility thats been doing the rounds for a while now; my understanding is that at any time the US military plans fifty years ahead of time, and they've had scenarios around struggles for water in place for some years now...

And hey - remember the water thief Dr Skuba from Jack Kirby's OMAC? And that was in the 70s. Funnily enough, I was listening to a news report only the other day about drought and shortages in California....

-sean

Karen said...

Oddly enough, I am working on a report right now concerning research on water. The supply of fresh water is a very big concern for the future and I know I've seen it listed as one possible "global catastrophic risk," although that may be a bit of hyperbole. If one wanted to there's any number of things to worry about: pandemics, asteroids, climate change, AI...the list goes on and on.

I want to go on a tangent and put in a plug for Brian May's soundtrack for The Road Warrior. I no longer have it but it was absolutely perfect for that film. And no, it's not the same Brian May from Queen. I checked.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, of course it wasn't Queen's Brian May - he had enough on his plate, what with being an awesome guitar player and an astrophysicist...

Humanbelly said...

Oh, it's a pretty heavily-covered topic over here, Sean. The severity and the measures being taken to deal with it keep reaching new "worst ever" marks, it seems like. It's not a separate issue from climate change, though- it's very much a part of it.

Hmm-- I wonder if DUNE will end up being the model for survival? (Which would eliminate, yeesh, like 99.8% of the current world population. . . ) Of course, isn't the bulk of the Australian continent arid/desert? How much of that interior is populated at all?

HB (just mentally meandering before HBSpouse gets home for dinner. . . )

Anonymous said...

Hmm I remember that when Mad Max and the Road Warrior came out there followed an endless stream of copycat post apocalyptic movies direct to video (the home movie boom was on) on VHS (remember those?), most of which were obviously very low in quality in every way you could imagine.

Yeah, watching Mel Gibson was a treat too - you could tell his star was on the rise at the time. I also recall his name being mentioned as a possible candidate for the role of James Bond! Ah, that was almost a lifetime ago when you consider his missteps later in life.

Some preliminary reviews have been quite complimentary to the new film with Tom Hardy. While I'm sad to see Mel not in the role of Max, not even in a cameo, I'll wait until I see the movie before I rate Hardy's performance.


- Mike 'Mad Mike' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Martinex1 said...

Late to the party here... Like others I saw Road Warrior before Mad Max. Went to the theater with my friend Tom to see some other movie ( don't remember what) and when we got there the Road Warrior poster was hanging instead. We said okay that looks cool. We thought it was going to be like Conan except with cars.

I was blown away. I have to admit that as I sat there watching that I wasn't even sure ( or comfortable with) what I was seeing. It was so different and weird for its time. It stuck with me for days.

Karen said...

Just an update: hubby and I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this afternoon, and that's time and money we'll never get back, unfortunately. I'm astonished it's getting such good reviews. George Miller has basically taken Thunderdome and cranked up the volume to 11. I wish I could just wash the whole putrid thing out of my brain.

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