Tuesday, June 7, 2016
ROAD WARRIOR, THE
(May 1982, U.S.)
Back in 2012, I wrote a special supplement to my blog in which I described the year 1982 as the best blockbuster summer of all time and why I felt my opinion was justified. In short, it was a summer of wide diversity; for in as much popcorn fun as there was in films like ROCKY III, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, TRON and E.T.-THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, there was also the terrifying darkness of POLTERGEIST, BLADE RUNNER, THE THING, PINK FLOYD THE WALL and THE ROAD WARRIOR. Sadly, I didn't get to see the movie on screen when it was in theaters, either because I was unaware of it's content, or perhaps my parents just forbade me to see something as violent as that.
Well, thank goodness for HBO a year later! I must have watched this dystopian, post-apocalyptic nightmare endless times when my parents weren't monitoring my TV viewing. I was simply blown away by it's original concept of mankind-gone-insane in a world where fuel and gasoline are a very rare commodity worth killing for. Then, alas, I learned THE ROAD WARRIOR was a sequel to MAD MAX from three years prior. Not that such a discovery made the film any less brilliant, mind you. It just opened my eyes a bit to how a simple science fiction concept could be introduced with a completely unknown actor to American audiences and then (almost literally) blow itself up to something of not just cult, but even potential Oscar status just one sequel later. However, back in the 1980s, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences never would have voted for such a violent screen display to compete for their precious statue. Decades later, MAD MAX:FURY ROAD (2015) seemed to change those guidelines, but more on that later.
So, THE ROAD WARRIOR begins with a narrated black and white montage telling us how the whole world went straight to Hell and showing us a few key moments from the previous film to give us an idea of where "Mad" Max (played by Mel Gibson) came from, the tragedy of losing his family to road gangs and where he stands now; a shell of man wandering the desolate and depopulated wastelands of Australia with his faithful dog in his black, scarred, supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special, scavenging for food, water, and the precious fuel. Always on the run from road gang members who want his car and his gas, he meets an eccentric pilot known as the Gyro Captain (played by Bruce Spence) who guides Max to a nearby small, isolated oil refinery populated by a community of good people still holding onto their humanity. Max arrives to find the facility under violent siege by a gang of marauders riding a motley collection of cars and motorcycles. The gang leader, known as the "Lord Humungus" (played by Kjell Nilsson), tries to convince the refinery's defenders to surrender the facility in exchange for a safe passage out of the wasteland (he actually almost sounds sincere when he keeps repeating the words, "just walk away"). Like many typical movie heroes, Max is not a man who wants to get involved with the problems and tragedies of others. His sole purpose in life is to survive. Even when he's offered the prospect of a viable future by the refinery leader, he rejects it to seek his own destiny on his own. And like many typical movie heroes, circumstance (or perhaps just plain, ol' bad luck) gives Max a change of heart and inspires him to lead the good people out of the wasteland hell and into the hopes of "paradise" which is only two thousand miles away. I must say, though, despite the film being filled with multiple car chase scenes, the climactic sequence when good and evil face off for the last time on the vast roads of the desert doesn't feel old or used up in any way. By the time it's all over, we come to actually believe that humankind may have a shining light ahead for itself. That's what we think, anyway, until two useless sequels take that dream away.
Let's speak of the evil that occupies this film for a moment. The thought of being unsafe on our roads in a doomed future is a frightening prospect in itself. But I have to say that the character of Wez (played by Vernon Wells) is one of the scariest and most psychotic motherfuckers I've ever seen on the motion picture screen! The man looks like part Devil's reject, part member of The Clash or any other sick punk rock band of the late '70s and early '80s...
Am I right?? Darth Vader, Voldemort, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees...PUSSIES!!! THIS is a guy I don't ever want to run into under any circumstances, day or night! And if you pay close attention to his violent "kill them all" rage when his companion is killed by a flying boomerang/blade, it would appear that he's gay, too (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
While MAD MAX (1979) was a great film, THE ROAD WARRIOR clearly surpasses it. It's bigger, faster, louder, aggressive, relentless and exhilarating without being silly or campy in any way. Mel Gibson is at his finest at a time when he still wasn't quite the stereotypical screen action hero that the LETHAL WEAPON franchise would ultimately turn him into. It's visually striking, particularly the vast openness and isolation of the desert roads implying a frightening vision of what our world once was and how it doesn't exist anymore. I've always personally believed that humans are vicious animals at heart. George Miller's screen future only aids to strengthen that conviction. If we're so open to killing each other to survive, then fuel seems just as valid a reason as any other. Want proof? In the days following Super Storm Sandy in October 2012, I heard news stories of people getting into violent conflicts with each other over gas lines and the shortage we experienced. I believe I even said to someone, "Looks like The Road Warrior is starting now!"
Finally, I briefly mentioned FURY ROAD earlier and I'd like to touch upon that one for another moment. Simply put, I don't get it! I tried to watch the DVD and I didn't get past the first thirty minutes because I simply could not see anything in the story or the action that I hadn't already seen back in 1982. Was this a remake, a sequel, or simply recycled material by the same director of the entire franchise? Well, I must have been the only one with such a scrutinizing and critical attitude because the rest of the world chose to embrace this film with open arms and it was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture of 2015. Well, the world can have it! I'll take MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR and leave it at that!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Max: "Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that'd haul that tanker. You wanna to get outta here? You talk to me."