Way post-post-apocalypse: Mad Max & The Road Warrior
I have cable television and the VCR to thank for the amount of utter post-apocalypse-inspired garbage I watched in the mid-1980s. Think along the lines of Def-Con 4, Night of the Comet, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Even Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played in the wastelands with their video for “You Got Lucky,” which was in heavy rotation when I was getting into watching MTV.
You see what’s coming, right? Yep – I never saw Mad Max or The Road Warrior, arguably the gasoline and matches that set this whole pile of sun-scorched rubbish ablaze in the first place. Not surprising at all that I missed them on the big screen, since I turned nine years old the year the first one came out, and I was only 11 when the sequel hit U.S. theatres. Both were rated R, though, and I really didn’t know anything about them – I may have heard older kids talking about Road Warrior – until a few years later, when Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was released, and, being PG-13, kind of put the movies more onto my radar. I remember kids my age going to see that one, but I never did because I knew it was the conclusion to a trilogy I knew nothing about other than it seemed to involve battles with cars and trucks with extreme A-Team-style vehicular makeovers.
Since I just saw Tron for the first time last month, I’ve remained in this mood to go back and check out these kind-of-sci-fi movies I missed, so I’ve watched both Mad Max and The Road Warrior over the past week.
Turns out that Mad Max wasn’t anything like I expected, while the sequel was pretty much exactly what I expected.
The two movies kind of reminded me of El Mariachi and Desperado – the low-budget, stripped-down action/vengeance/survival movie followed by what’s essentially a bigger-bucks version that takes a few elements of the original and stretches them to the stratosphere. (According to Wikipedia, incidentally, Mad Max – made for $400,000 Australian and earning more than $100 million worldwide – actually held the Guinness-recognized record for highest profit-to-cost ratio of a motion picture until last year, when Paranormal Activity beat it.)
Where Mad Max‘s world had its zones of anarchy and violence, it also had trees and farmhouses and people who lived lives and went on vacations to visit families and even hung out on the beach for awhile. Road Warrior is all wastelands: endless sand and smoke and rust and scavenged scrap. Mad Max‘s villainy and violence are savage and shocking and entirely without humor. Road Warrior takes that further but also plays for the occasional grim laugh at someone’s expense. And where the gang in Mad Max is genuinely terrifying in its lack of morals, let’s face it: the Big Bad Guy and his hoods in Road Warrior are caricatures and goofs and as over-the-top as they could be without actually being cartoons.
So, the question now is: Do I watch Beyond Thunderdome, or do I leave my impressions of Mad Max’s Australia – unfocused, gritty, brutal, quick-cutting – the way they are, or do I go ahead and watch the even-more-hyped-and-howled and overproduced and probably unnecessary conclusion to the trilogy? (Insert your own Godfather III reference here. I’ll wait.)
Or maybe I’ll just go to the library web site and reserve Escape from New York, since I’m already here in the post-apocalypse anyway, and I don’t need to see Def-Con 4 ever again.