We open on the burning sand. A figure rises, buried just under the surfaced. He is in brutal shape, the victim of untold horrors. Encased in a metallic mask from the dark ages, chained to the scene of impacted metal that used to be a car of sorts. He rises and eyes an escape. Whatever happened to destroy the car has given him room to get away from his current predicament.
“When we first meet Max, he’s like a caged animal,” explained Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller prior to showing the clip. He’s standing in front of a mostly full Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas earlier this evening. On a night in which they could have seen any number of independent premieres or attended any number of posh parties, about 800 of the nerdiest kids at the South by Southwest Film Festival chose to see a movie from 1981. A special evening presentation of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior punctuated by a conversation with its legendary director.
You can’t blame us for wanting to spend some time in the presence of a legend. Even HitFix’s Drew McWeeny, who had the honor of moderating the discussion, called it “a dream come true.”
For the appetizer, Warner Bros. cut a brand new print of The Road Warrior that looked absolutely gorgeous. It’s a film with imperfections – a great deal of it looks and sounds like it’s from another era – but there are moments of sheer brilliance. Like the tracking shots of Max (Mel Gibson) in his V8 Interceptor. In his post-screening comments, Miller would go on to tell us that this was his favorite car from the original movies. Within the experience of the film, however, it’s a towering, menacing, furious character on its own. The Road Warrior moves with amazing energy on the big screen, even now. We’ve spent years being desensitized to big action. Hell, many of us quite literally enjoyed the insanity of Furious 7 in the same theater less than 24-hours earlier. Despite all of that, The Road Warrior still looms over us as a godly achievement in action cinema. To see it on the big screen is to feel its relentless spirit reach out and punch you in the chest.
And then there was more. Having finished his latest entry in the Mad Max franchise “only two days ago,” Miller saw fit to bestow upon us an action sequence from early in the second act. It’s a raw, dirty and violent scene involving Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Furiosa. Hardy is the figure rising from the sand that I described above. Max is in some sort of trouble and he’s stumbled upon Theron and a group of young women who are being chased by what Miller describes as “several armadas.” It’s a great close-quarters sequence that leaves mouths agape and action-loving hearts desperate for more.
Shortly thereafter, Miller shows us an extended trailer that was cut exclusively for the audience at SXSW. If you’ve seen some of the previous Fury Road trailers, you get the idea of what played out. This one gave us a bit more of the story: Theron’s Furiosa is a veteran smuggler across the wasteland. When she meets Max, she’s in all kinds of trouble. Cue the destruction.
There’s no sense in me giving you the beat-by-beat. Even the scene we were shown was completely out of context, leaving us with very little additional knowledge of what the hell Fury Road is really about. What we did get – overwhelmingly so – is a sense of tone and scope. This movie, which is due in theaters on May 15, is the work of an insane kid playing in the biggest, most expensive and dangerous toy box in the history of cinema. It looks so fucking cool.
The director’s words were as brief as the footage. He made mention of having to thank everyone who worked on Fury Road for sticking with it, as he has the propensity to pursue perfection in his work to an unhealthy degree. More than 30 years removed from his most iconic work, he is still relentless. Just as we found his past and present work to be wildly entertaining, we found Miller himself to be as enthusiastic as a first time filmmaker who just his first dream project. He loves his big, dangerous sandbox and all the medieval toys inside it. He seems to relish in how much the latest filmmaking technology allowed him to do more – to get the shots that were impossible in the 80s, to put the audience much closer to the action and, as he explained, to put his performers in more peril.
If only a fraction of this man’s enthusiasm ends up on-screen with Fury Road, we’re in for a fun ride. Any more than that and we might get something truly special. Everything we’ve seen thus far indicates that special is the order of the day. And what a lovely, lovely, lovely day it is.