Tag Archives: George Miller

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985, George Miller and George Ogilvie)

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the story of a burnt-out, desolate man who learns to live again. Sort of. It’s more the story of a burnt-out, desolate man who finds himself babysitting sixty feral children who think he’s a messiah. But not really that story either, because Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome doesn’t put much thought into story. Once writers Terry Hayes and co-director Miller, get Mad Max (Mel Gibson) beyond the Thunderdome portion of the film, it’s just a variety on nonsense until the grand action finale.

Only that grand action finale isn’t particularly grand. There’s impressive stunt work and practical car effects, but there’s no animosity between the pursuers and the pursued. While Tina Turner is mad at Gibson, it’s a general anger without much intensity. Directors Miller and Ogilvie, along with Hayes, do nothing to emphasize any of the character relationships in the film. There are always adorable feral kids cloying at Gibson and none make much of an impression. Even Helen Buday, who should be Gibson’s sidekick or dramatic foil, just ends up in the background. Making the feral kids either non-verbal or blathering nonsense means Thunderdome just gets to imply character development without ever having to commit time or energy to it.

Gibson does better with the implied character development than anyone else. Even though the film’s indifferent to his character’s presence, Gibson’s not. He’s kind of blah with hair extensions growl-bantering with Turner, but he does get in a couple good moments with the kids. A lot of the other scenes with the kids are terrible, but there are a couple of good ones.

In addition to the troubled script and direction, Beyond Thunderdome is always lacking in some technical department at some time or another. Half of Dean Semler’s photography is subpar. Even though there’s clearly this elaboration exterior set for Turner’s “Bartertown,” the nighttime scenes in specific locations are always obvious on a soundstage. The film’s got the right grain, but not the right light.

Robert Francis-Bruce’s editing never impresses. Maurice Jarre’s score is overly melodramatic, trying to buy into the film’s goofy feral kid logic.

As far as the acting goes, it’s all fine. The stuff with the kids–the Disney version of a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies–is a complete misfire (though it does feature some of Semler and Jarre’s best work in the film, when Ogilvie shoots white sands like a resort commercial). So when the kids are annoying, it’s not their fault. It’s Ogilvie, Miller, and Hayes’s fault. And Buday is fine. It’s too bad she doesn’t get better material.

But all through Beyond Thunderdome, Ogilvie and Miller never let the film get too long or too unpleasant or too precious. It’s tedious, but there’s a building intensity. That intensity fizzles out completely in the third act and stops Thunderdome fast. There’s no attempt to recover, just the transition into a bad epilogue sequence.

The whole thing feels like a forfeit.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie; written by Terry Hayes and Miller; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Miller; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Mad Max Rockatansky), Tina Turner (Aunty Entity), Angelo Rossitto (The Master), Helen Buday (Savannah Nix), Robert Grubb (Pig Killer), Angry Anderson (Ironbar), Tom Jennings (Slake), Paul Larsson (The Blaster), Frank Thring (The Collector), and Bruce Spence (Jedediah the Pilot).


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Mad Max 2 (1981, George Miller)

Mad Max 2 might be the perfect example of pure action. Besides a couple extended dialogue moments–maybe the only times Mel Gibson’s protagonist gets to talk without Brian May’s music over him or just the fantastic sound effects drowning him out–it’s all action. It’s kind of incredible how far director Miller pushes the idea of not needing dialogue.

Sure, the film has some exposition, but the villains probably talk more than the good guys. Except Bruce Spence. He starts out as Gibson’s prisoner, then becomes his affable sidekick. He doesn’t hold any grudges for Gibson cuffing him to a tree in the middle of nowhere….

Miller gets away with so much in the film–there’s a bunch with these people Gibson’s helping and Miller just knows how to do a short scene then get out. The viewer’s memory of the scene makes more of an impact than the actual scene.

The film delivers amazing vehicular action. There’s time for humor–most of it coal black–there’s time for flirting, but there’s never any confusion. Max is about real cars doing amazing things. The practical effects are phenomenal.

Gibson’s great. Almost silent, his intense and still somehow muted expressions make the film work.

The supporting acting’s all good, but without standouts. Except maybe Emil Minty, who’s perfect as the Feral Kid. That character name says it all.

The film moves quickly, only slowing in the last act… when Miller briefly gets too cute.

Otherwise, Max’s wonderfully lean and mean.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller; written by Terry Hayes, Miller and Brian Hannant; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Michael Balson, David Stiven and Tim Wellburn; music by Brian May; produced by Byron Kennedy; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Max), Bruce Spence (The Gyro Captain), Michael Preston (Pappagallo), Max Phipps (The Toadie), Vernon Wells (Wez), Kjell Nilsson (The Humungus), Virginia Hey (Warrior Woman) and Emil Minty (The Feral Kid).


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Mad Max (1979, George Miller)

While the low budget undoubtedly plays a hand in it, Mad Max is the epitome of narrative efficiency. It should have a big concept–a slightly post-apocalyptic future (but people still vacation and get ice cream and the beaches are nice) where the big cities are (probably) gone and the rural highways are run by gangs, the cops just another one of them–but it doesn’t. The script from James McCausland and director Miller spends no time on exposition… ever.

Instead, Max opens with a pursuit, quickly introduces the good guys, and moves on. McCausland and Miller’s narrative structure is very plain. Good guys Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley go after bad guys, things happen, then more things happen. The beauty of Max, besides David Eggby’s photography and Cliff Hayes and Tony Paterson’s astounding editing, is in the scenes. Even when they’re poorly acted (the main villain, Hugh Keays-Byrne, is laughably bad), Miller’s basing them on Western scene templates and they’re extremely engaging.

But the film’s not entirely Western–Brian May’s score is half Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock homage (to fit Miller’s similar style of certain scenes) and half sublime.

Playing the titular character, Gibson doesn’t even become the protagonist until over halfway through (Bisley’s closer to it in the first half). For a fast and cheap action picture, Miller’s telling a distressing, human story.

Nice supporting work from Joanne Samuel and Geoff Parry helps.

Max is sometimes excessive–not to mention homophobic–but never slow; it’s masterful work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller; screenplay by James McCausland and Miller, based on a story by Byron Kennedy and Miller; director of photography, David Eggby; edited by Cliff Hayes and Tony Paterson; music by Brian May; produced by Kennedy; released by Roadshow Entertainment.

Starring Mel Gibson (Max Rockatansky), Joanne Samuel (Jessie Rockatansky), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter), Steve Bisley (Jim Goose), Tim Burns (Johnny the Boy), Geoff Parry (Bubba Zanetti), Roger Ward (Fifi Macaffee), David Bracks (Mudguts), Bertrand Cadart (Clunk), Sheila Florance (May Swaisey) and Vincent Gil (The Nightrider).


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Lorenzo’s Oil (1992, George Miller)

I’m not sure when Lorenzo’s Oil lost me. The opening credits are set in East Africa, the focus is on Lorenzo–for those who don’t know, who don’t remember the previews if not the film, Lorenzo is a kid who gets a rare disease–and the film takes a lyric quality. George Miller was a good, straightforward workman on the Mad Max films, but on Lorenzo’s Oil, he adopts camera angles and lighting techniques out of an early Hitchcock film and applies them–in color–to his film. At times, these methods are successful, but that opening scene promises something more than Lorenzo delivers. That opening scene suggests the film will have some enthusiasm for film and for the beauty it can display… and Lorenzo’s Oil (and Miller) never deliver it.

The problem, of course, is the reality. In reality, Lorenzo’s parents had passion for their son and they fought and these (somewhat) average people developed a treatment for the disease. The film latches on to those people’s struggles and triumphs and doesn’t create anything for itself. It manipulates the audience. The scenes with the kid in pain are excruciating to watch, so excruciating I wonder if Miller used them to compensate for the flatness coming from Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon for the first quarter of the film. As Lorenzo’s parents, Nolte and Sarandon spend the first quarter as the film’s peripheral subjects. They guide the audience through Lorenzo’s diagnose–since the kid’s pain is so intensely displayed, it’s for the audience, not for the audience to see the parents react to… Only in the second and third acts does Nolte get any personality. He’s playing an Italian and for that first flat quarter, it’s Nolte fighting against having to do an accent. Eventually, he gets it and just in time, since Sarandon finally gets a personality too–she goes somewhat nuts.

Since Lorenzo’s Oil is based on a true story and it’s based on an inspiring true story and it’s informing people about a disease affecting kids, there’s no chance it can really examine what’s going on. Sarandon’s mother abandons everyone in her life (except the husband), throwing out her sister (an excellent Kathleen Wilhoite), and instead of looking at the real human conflicts going on, Lorenzo’s Oil does a lot of fades to black. Because those have a lot of emphasis. Sarandon isn’t any good, but I’m not sure how much of the performance is her fault. It’s impossible to imagine her and Nolte–as a married couple–doing anything but what they’re doing at each and every moment in the film. They’re automatons, moving in the film to make it go where it needs to go. Nolte’s best scenes are the ones with Wilhoite or some of the other supporting cast members, whenever he gets away from Sarandon and Lorenzo’s Oil begins to feel like a narrative again.

It’s a piece of propaganda and it’s propaganda for a good cause, it’s just not a particularly good film. At times, with some of Miller’s camera angles, I kept thinking of Scorsese’s Cape Fear, especially since Nolte was occupying the same space… until the end, when Miller ripped of The Elephant Man, which I found unbelievably bold.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller; written by Nick Enright and Miller; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce, Marcus D’Arcy and Lee Smith; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Doug Mitchell and Miller; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Augusto Odone), Susan Sarandon (Michaela Odone), Peter Ustinov (Professor Nikolais), Kathleen Wilhoite (Deirdre Murphy), Gerry Bamman (Doctor Judalon), Margo Martindale (Wendy Gimble), James Rebhorn (Ellard Muscatine), Ann Hearn (Loretta Muscatine) and Maduka Steady (Omuori).


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