Friday, January 23, 2015

It's a Mad Mad Mad Max World

Hi everyone, let's look at the trailer for Mad Max : Fury Road, shall we?

Okay then!

This trailer makes me very happy, and though I know why, I’m sort of surprised too.

For teenage me the post-apocalyptic world typified by the Mad Max films meant excitement in their Eighties form – fast cars, punks, explosions, anarchy; what adolescent boy doesn’t rally to such vivid imagery? Outwardly they’re irredeemably macho, but offer an opportunity for equality to the clever and inventive, the outsider and loner, and it can make heroes of nearly anyone – but especially these types. It may be the last earthbound incarnation of the Western, relying as it does on themes of transience and dislocation, and the delivery of natural justice in expansive and often barren wildernesses returning to an untamed state (post-apocalyptic films tend to be rarely urbanised in location.)

In many stories there’s an emphasis on the connection between man and beast of burden, where the Western’s horse has become a car or a bike, or sometimes a really big truck - vehicles are big in this world, either swift and lethal cars and bikes or rusting juggernauts of destruction. The nihilism appeals to the teenager inside us – the opening scenes of The Terminator were to my fourteen year old eyes probably the most awesome thing I’d ever seen on the big screen, with colossal tracked vehicles rolling over dusty human skulls. Of course I grew up, and by the time I was an university and the early Nineties arrived, the impetus of desert landscapes, heavy artillery and warfare over oil became a grimmer and actual thing. The same geopolitics had an effect on the Mad Max franchise also, effectively putting it into development hell for twenty years.

The Post-Apocalyptic genre has endured now for well over forty years in film, surviving various iterations – originally a consequence of Cold War and Nuclear Age panic, reasons for the end of civilisation have over the years also included plague, pestilence, rampant technology and, like seemingly every other genre, the post-apocalyptic world has become invaded by zombies too. There’s something inevitable about that, but I feel sorry for this latest addition, as I can’t shake the notion that when zombies enter any genre, that genre is as good as dead – you’re left with a literal zombie, its spark overtaken and driven by a mindless, deathless insatiable shambling mockery of its former living self. I digress.

What's not to love?
The post-apocalyptic movie is a near cousin to the Eighties barbarian flick, being staged in similar epic locations, emphasising brawn and brutality. It’s physicality and Darwinism, and seems to be quite universal – alongside more earnest takes on a post-nuclear world (Threads must be mentioned) knock-offs appeared in other countries such as Spain and Italy (no strangers to the Barbarian genre of course), and of course New Zealand’s very own, beloved Battletruck. And on a side note, Central Otago has never looked so like a desert than now, with its perilous edging towards proper drought. Probably the reason I’ve really enjoyed this trailer then is because it seems to be a return to Max’s world, more tangible now for being removed from the latterday pretenders of zombiedom, Skynet and rampant viruses. At least two of those things could conceivably happen in our lifetimes and pinned social collapse on pure economics – an energy crisis, followed by an environmental one. No mutants, no walking dead, no aliens or killer AIs, just human craziness and an empty landscape. I admire that, as much as the more tribal, less technological aesthetic in Miller’s (re)vision - the spikes and blades which just might be a nod to another Australian predecessor, Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris.

Maybe the other appealing factor of the post-apocalyptic genre is that it’s a social memento mori. When the mundane machines and vehicles of society can be turned so easily into carriages of destruction and brutality when a fragile economy and ecology collapse, it’s a reminder that despite our comfortable trappings, we may figuratively live only two inches of metal away from barbarism. And as I penned this today, somewhat fatefully the Doomsday Clock has returned to its 1984 position of three minutes to midnight.

So now, Mad Max is a nostalgia piece for me first and foremost; an odd place of juvenile thrills. But this trailer’s given me an idea for another modelling project this year – or more than one!

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