In a way, it’s kind of weird that if George Miller had released his fourth Mad Max movie in the ‘90s as originally planned, Mad Max: Fury Road probably wouldn’t be receiving all of the hullabaloo that it’s receiving now. (Just check out that obscenely great Rotten Tomatoes score.) There’s no doubt about it, Fury Road is a throwback (or, as Miller calls it, “old school”) feature that feels not as much a movie from a different era, but more a movie from no era. As Miller explains, it combines the fast pace of current American blockbusters with the real deal practical effects from 30 years ago. What we get might just be the perfect purist, raw action movie ever made.
When you meet George Miller, it’s hard to believe that this exceedingly nice 70-year-old man had this movie cooking inside him while he made two Babe movies (he wrote and produced both; he directed the sequel) and two Happy Feet movies. For awhile, it at least seemed like Miller’s filmmaking style had mellowed since his three Mel Gibson-starring Mad Max movies. After watching Mad Max: Fury Road, that assumption proves to be very, very wrong.
In Mad Max: Fury Road, Tom Hardy takes over as the title character, Max Rockatansky (Miller confirms that Fury Road takes place after Thunderdome, but not so far after that Max would have aged much, hence the part being recast – he compares Max to James Bond) and the plot is fairly simple: the hard-driving Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and outsider Max are helping five women escape their tyrant husband, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne); Immortan Joe wants them back. The result is basically a two-hour, insanely elaborate and choreographed car chase. It’s safe to say you’ve never seen a movie quite like Mad Max: Fury Road.
I met Miller on Monday morning at Warner Bros.’ offices in New York City, shortly after the first round of reviews had hit the Internet. Miller hadn’t seen them yet, but reacted like a school kid, cheering and slapping his lap when I told him how positive they were. Ahead, Miller talks about the changing landscape of filmmaking and why he decided to return to the world of Mad Max, why he looked to the past to make a modern blockbuster – and how his foray into animation made him a better live-action filmmaker.
Have you seen the reviews? They just came out.
I haven’t yet.
Last time I checked, it was still 100 percent positive.
Yeah! Woo! That’s big!
You must be enjoying the almost unexpected resurgence of practical effects.
Your brain knows. We are very, very skilled at watching, no matter how good it is. And this is a film that does not defy the laws of gravity – there are no flying humans or spacecraft – so it really had to be old school. We had to do it old school; we had to. It was real vehicles, real people and real desert.
Did someone along the way ever say, “If you use more CGI, you can save some money.”
That definitely was said. Yeah. But you couldn’t do it!
If you did, it wouldn’t get the reaction it’s getting. But there’s a resurgence — the next Star Wars used a lot more practical effects.
Which is great. But you know those guys on the poles?
I never thought – never thought – we could do that safely.
That scene is like watching the circus.
I never thought we’d do it. I thought we’d put the poles on the vehicles, then we’d complement with CGI. And one day I looked up and there were eight of them coming out of the desert. I choked up. It was so safe, we got Tom Hardy up there. He told us, “I’m scared of heights!” Well, I’m scared of heights, too.