When George Miller wrapped up filming of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, he could have left it at that. The Mad Max trilogy he’d just created, written and directed was cult cinema perfection, launching the career of a young, pre-meltdown Mel Gibson and spawning a subversive genre of post-apocalyptic hellfire deathrace flicks. But then Miller got George Lucas Syndrome and decided to make another sequel, decades later, even though he’s spent most of that time directing touchy-feely PG family fare (see: Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet).
Here’s what’s nuts, though: the new Mad Max movie is good. Scary good. It swaps Gibson’s hangdog for Tom Hardy’s thousand mile stare, doubles down on the explosion-packed intensity and plunges an adrenaline needle into the franchise’s dusty heart. Maybe Miller realizes that his Earth-gone-wrong vision resonates more than ever in this drought-stricken, desert war-riddled era.
Or maybe he’s just been dying to up his badass cred after those pig and penguin movies.
“With 30 years having gone by, not only has the technology changed, so has film language.”
The original Mad Max trilogy is a cult classic. It’s revered around the world. Why deal with the pressure of adding to it by making Fury Road?
It took some time. When you come up with characters in a world like Mad Max, they live in your head like imaginary friends. From time to time, they pop up. I usually push them away. But about 12 years ago the idea for this film popped in my head while I was on a plane flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. The movie played out in my head. By the time I landed, I said, “Okay, this could be really interesting.”
Which is fine, but why wait 30 years to make this movie?
After I made the first Mad Max, I never intended to make a second. I was on a very low budget and spent a year cutting the movie myself. I was confronted with all these things I wasn’t able to do. But then, when the movie made its way around the world, I saw it had some resonance with so many cultures, and I saw there was an opportunity to do the movie right with Road Warrior. And by now, with 30 years having gone by, not only has the technology changed, so has film language. We’re speed-reading movies. The syntax of cinema has evolved. You can do things now that you couldn’t do back then. All of those temptations were there for me. So, like a fool, I took it up.
Mel Gibson’s not too busy these days. Did you ever consider getting him to reprise his role as Max?
We did talk about it. This movie’s had a very long, checkered history. We were about to do it in 2001 with Mel. And then 9/11 happened. The American dollar collapsed against the Australian dollar, we lost nearly 25 per cent of our budget. I couldn’t cut the film to fit that cloth. So the film collapsed. I was also getting a lot of pressure to do Happy Feet from Warner Bros., which took three years. By the time we regrouped, Mel had had many of his issues and he was getting on. Remember that Tom Hardy, who now plays Mad Max, was born just six weeks before we started shooting the first Mad Max. And Mel wasn’t in a good place to shoot Fury Road. It wasn’t a movie like Unforgiven, about an older man dealing with his past. It was a man struggling in the present. I thought putting Mel in it would be strange and confusing.
Did making Fury Road make you want to extend the story even further now?
Well, that came about unintentionally. As we worked through Fury Road, finding out the backstories of the characters, it’s inevitable that you’ll ask: “What happens with the Mad Max characters in the years before?” Pretty soon, you find yourself mapping out a story. And because of the decade-long delay, we wrote two other stories while we were doing other things. One of them is a fully-fledged screenplay, and the other is a novella.
So we might see a Mad Max prequel in the coming years?
We might do that. It’s not the next thing I’ll be doing, but we’ll see what happens.
Maybe a few decades from now.
No, no. [Laughs]. I’d regret it if that was the case. And I don’t have that time.
Read the rest of Sharp’s Guide to Sequels.