The Road Warrior

In the spirit of the Road Warrior, where every bit of working technology is Frankensteined together from odd discarded parts, I've decided that today's review should be a few random bits of texts that I've cobbled together and decided to pass off as one whole review.

  • One of the best bits of narrative advice I've ever heard comes from the South Park guys: when you look back at your plot outline, make sure that every scene is connected by a "therefore" and not an "and then", because you want everything to flow together logically and with a strong sense of purpose. If that's the way they look at plot, it makes sense that they'd like the Road Warrior so much. It's script is remarkably efficient, establishing it's character's personalities and it's stakes very quickly and with very little dialogue. Max wants to keep his car operational so he can continue to outrun the violent madmen who roam the countryside; therefore he needs gas; therefore he has to make a deal with the only working oil refinery in the country; but if he makes a deal with them then he's going to become a target to the madmen who want that oil, too; and so forth. Each plot complication feels inevitable, and it moves through scenes briskly and logically. For a film with no big emotional arcs and a lot of huge visual set pieces this is a remarkably well written film - especially when you compare it to other exploitation films from the same era, which might have had brief runtimes, but often times still had a lot of fat in them.
  • There's a Jay Z line on the Black Album where he describes what he felt when he went to his estranged father's funeral by saying "Damn, that man's face looks just like my face." When you watch the Road Warrior you get a similar sort of deja vu. All of the Mad Max films have a very strong design aesthetic that can be seen in a lot of movies and video games that followed, even classier projects that don't seem like they would have cribbed from such down and dirty thrillers. George Miller's production team did a great job of giving each of the muscle cars enough personal touches to make them feel like they were cobbled together from scraps by their drivers, but also co-ordinating them enough that they make sense when you see them together as a whole fleet. And the same goes for the costumes, which seem random at first, but when you see the biker gang in contrast against the oil refiners it's obvious who is who. The aesthetic manages to be coherent even though it looks very slapdash at first, and the specific balance they set between those tones obviously did a lot to set the visual template for what the post-apocalypse would look like in the popular imagination in the decades that followed.
  • Mad Max and the Man With No Name played by Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's westerns are both really interesting protagonists. Neither of them are heroes, really. They might risk sacrificing themselves to help someone else, but for the most part they are loners who act out of their own self interest; you could easily imagine them abandoning someone in need of help if it was convenient for them to do so. But they aren't villains, either, because they clearly follow a strong moral code. Neither one of them would actively hurt an innocent person for no reason, and they both have enough integrity that they would probably keep their word once it was given. (Max moreso than the Man With No Name, but that would vary based on who the Man was giving his word to.) Nor are they traditional anti-heroes, since their justifications for their consistently hard assed behavior are legitimate given how demanding their environments are. More than anything else this moral ambiguity marks these films as  being from an older era of filmmaking. There's a feral child in the Road Warrior who tries to get Max to be his father figure but Max is a loner through and through, kicking him out of his car and telling him that he has to fend for himself. That's a touch that would never fly in today's modern action films, where any waifs you see are are there so they can humanize the gruff hero,

When you combine those three things you got a strong picture of why this film's legacy still endures even as it's star's legacy has been tattered by his repugnant behavior. It's rare to find a film which is well written, visually impressive and full of interesting characters; there's almost always a trade off between the style and the substance somewhere, but Mad Max manages to fire on all three cylinders at once. I hesitate to call it a perfect film because calling any film perfect would be a bit hyperbolic, but the Road Warrior does come damn close.

Winner: Me

The Road Warrior on IMDB