Contempalation: Why Mad Max Movies are Ridiculous (but you should watch them anyways)

Last night I wanted to watch a movie before going to bed so I began to browse Netflix Watch Instant, which was kind of foolish since there is rarely anything that I really want to watch on the Watch Instant (Dear Netflix, I think we all agree you could be doing way better with this area of service. Sincerely, Gen. Lordisimo).  Well, after browsing about for a bit I finally settled on “Mad Max: The Road Warrior” (aka Mad Max II).  It had been some time since I last saw this second installment of the existing Mad Max trilogy and so my thought was, “hey, why the fuck not?”  The problem is that I got about twenty minutes into “The Road Warrior” and I was just like, “damn, this apocalypse just isn’t practical anymore.  Also, how did ‘Mad Max’ (the original movie) progress to ‘The Road Warrior?'”

Let me actually approach the second question/point first.  How does the time line of the original “Mad Max” (a wondrous cult film, easily the best of the three, and possibly one of Mr. Gibson’s best works . . . there I’ve said it, Mel Gibson should have called it quits after this one) progress into “The Road Warrior” and eventually “Beyond Thunderdome?”  The original “Mad Max” does a wonderful job of portraying a collapsing society, without wasting time going into the whole apocalyptic scenario and background.  We can draw our own conclusion about the state of the world by observing the lawless violence that saturates “Mad Max” and the inability of the characters who are supposed to represent “order” and “justice” to actually deliver such things.  If anything “Mad Max” may be one of the best examinations, and arguments in favor of, vigilantism in a world that has failed to provide suitable order.  Sure “Mad Max” is pretty cheesy at times, ain’t nobody claiming that  Toecutter is a really well developed and hashed out villain, in fact he just about epitomizes the whole cheesy quality of the film.  Still, even in it’s weaker moments, “Mad Max” has constraint and understands exactly what it was doing.  It presented the opposite of the Totalitarian Dsytopia, such as Nineteen-Eighty Four, in that the rigid order cannot even be realized.  Law and order are the elements that that are lacking, not oil and other resources, but the very fabric of society that keeps people from acting like complete crazies and deviants.  Personally I call that a genius contribution to the plot.

Then a few years later we get “The Road Warrior.”  The problem is, instead of maintaining, and utilizing the strengths of that anarchic portrayal of failed society which makes “Mad Max” successful, “The Road Warrior” decides to highlight those cheesy Toecutter qualities of the first film, and pretty much forgets the message that worked so well in the first.  The conflict of maintaining the intangible resource of order is replaced with the desire for material commodities, specifically oil.  The villains, now with an even cheesier leader named The Humungus, exaggerate the ridiculous qualities of their predecessors beyond much redeemable quality.  Sure the bad guys are quite ruthless and violent, and seem to be related to the lawless deviants of “Mad Max” but they come across as more of a parody of anarchy than an actual worthy examination.  Likewise with the good guys who are holed up inside the refinery fortress.  Unlike the ambitious police force in “Mad Max” who pursue their job with an almost zealous obligation to the ideal of maintained order, the protagonists of “The Road Warrior” lack any really convincing philosophy beyond a seemingly foolish materialism and ultimately a kind of defeatist mentality.  Sure in both “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior” the protagonists are not really able to realize there goals or ideals (even considering the relatively weak ones present in “The Road Warrior”) but at least in the first film, the solution of Max taking the law into his own hands, and thus in many ways being forced to relinquish it, carries a weight.  When Max becomes “mad” in the original movie, we see the real climax in character.  The idealist who wants to maintain that semblance of order must shed the ideal to destroy the opposition.  The moment when Max drops the hacksaw and explains the time frame for cutting through a steel chain versus a human bone is perhaps one of the most interesting looks at dynamic between law and lawlessness in pursuit of the ideal of justice.  “The Road Warrior” does not have a single moment that comes anywhere near that great scene from “Mad Max.”

I could go on and point out the further failings in “Beyond Thunderdome” but truth be told I rather enjoy the concluding film, even though it continues to build that absolute ridiculousness which is in “The Road Warrior.”  By the time you get through the trilogy to “Beyond Thunderdome” you kind of just have to accept that you are not going to see any of the good stuff from “Mad Max.”  Just got to sigh and move on.

Now for my first question or point of whatever the fuck it was above.  The apocalypse in “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome” just doesn’t strike me as that practical or realistic.  Yes, I know, I am talking about the “realistic” qualities of very obviously fictional movies and exaggerated plots, but give me a moment to make my point.

If the world continues to use oil at the rate it currently is then the finite fossil fuel will eventually run out, this is a fact, the supply is not even close to limitless.  Will this cause some pretty serious conflicts in the future?  I’d say it is quite likely.  That being said though, I’d suggest that, considering current developments in alternative fuels and energy sources, we would not see a complete collapse into anarchy where various factions are fighting for limited resources.  People are innovative and resourceful, and if there are individuals who can figure out how to make an oil refinery work then there will probably be some people (maybe the same ones) who could figure out how to, say, produce and use ethanol as a fuel or maybe re-discover the use of steam power. 

Furthermore, even considering a nuclear holocaust which could greatly reduce the population of Earth, I imagine that a general order would be relatively quickly established, and society, through necessity, would re0order itself and begin the production of needed resources again.  Would there be lawlessness and anarchy?  Very likely there would be some, but the problem with this chaotic disregard for order or establishment is that it is not self-sustaining.  You might have wild no-man lands populated by brigands and all around scum, but these individuals would lack the necessary capability to organize to be a real threat to other areas that have re-established a system of law and order.  Even after a real dramatic apocalypse I would think that there would come to be a number of small city-state like areas, which are able to produce and maintain resources and thus support a population.  Now eventually several of the more successful city-states might find themselves in direct competition, and it would be these moments in which real conflict would arise, where two established powers vie for control and rulership.

Still, I will say, for all the general weakness  and ridiculousness of the second two movies, I have to recommend the whole Mad Max Trilogy just because it is a cult classic.  I have heard some whispers about the creation of a new addition to the franchise.  I would suggest, if such a thing was to happen, that the best choice and most interesting option would be to do what many other franchises are doing, in re-starting the story.  Go back and re-make everything which was good about “Mad Max” and try and avoid getting swept up in the cheesy costumes and ridiculous characters.  Sure, some purists might not like this very much, but I think that it would ultimately make for a more enjoyable film.  The original “Mad Max” raised some questions about moral ambiguity and how to maintain order in a disordered world, long before Christopher Nolan did with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” and even before Alan Moore wrote The Watchmen.  It offered the grim conclusion that the only real way to preserve justice was to choose to seek it outside the constraints of the law, even if that made you a monster in your own right.  Quality stuff, which done right could fit in with much of our current interest in dark brooding heroes in a unforgiving world.

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~ by Nathaniel on July 6, 2009.

One Response to “Contempalation: Why Mad Max Movies are Ridiculous (but you should watch them anyways)”

  1. …except the entire point of the police force in the first film was that there was no real dedication to law and order, and that they really were no different than the bikers they were chasing. That’s the thing that scares Max, and it’s the catalyst for his family’s trip to the beach. The chief’s admonishment that they’re going to “give them back their heroes” is quickly revealed as what it is: an empty statement. This is in contrast to the people in the refinery, and that their entire reason for being there is the camp leader’s conscious idealism.

    That society has begun to rebuild itself is the entire point of “Thunderdome,” isn’t it?

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