I went to see Mad Max Fury Road the other night and I can now safely declare this is the definitive work on crashing dune buggies into each other. It was pretty much the Gandhi or Lawrence of Arabia of crashing dune buggies. Every possible angle, speed, configuration and result has been fully explored and thus any further attempts to expand on what was presented in this film will be simply declared derivative.
This is good.
But I came away realizing we need to redefine what a “movie” is. I love the Mad Max series (or the first two anyway…and Tina Turner in Thunderdome) and had heard some great stuff about this one and you know what? It was great. I mean the vehicles were incredible and the action scenes were gripping and my heart was pounding the whole time. Literally, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so “in” an action film. Nice job there, filmmakers.
What they didn’t do was that whole thing I’m kinda used to where the characters talk and have arcs and we watch them learn and grow and develop. There was no time for that. There was a new set of dune buggies on the horizon, or maybe dirtbikes with grenades or Dodge Chargers that were also tanks or that totally freaking epic giant guitar war-drum truck that looked like someone crossed ISIS with Burning Man. The whole thing was like a video game- everything just kept literally moving with occasional cut scenes to set up the next set of action sequences.
Unlike most people who say “It was like a video game” when describing a film, let me be clear, I don’t mean that pejoratively. I like video games. Video games are cool. But I don’t want to be confused when seeing characters who have historically been in media which had previously adhered to conventions like “dialogue” and “character development” are suddenly thrust into an environment where none of that is taking place and we’re going to just smush a ton of jacked-up war-rigs in the most epic way possible (again, of this I approve).
Mad Max Fury Road is not a “movie” it is a “Mad Max Universe-Based Video Experience.” And a really good one. In fact, I invite someone to make an actual movie based on it because it would be awesome. All it would take is removing a few of the ten zillion battle scenes and adding backstory perhaps by way of a few flashbacks, some expositional dialogue and defining the action into three distinct acts. If done right the two would stand together as equals and I would literally pay money to see both.
We’ve got to get past, however, trying to convince people that intended video experiences are “movies.” The Hobbit was not a movie. Not even close It was a video experience based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel of the same name. Where the book was based largely on the self-reflective journey of a hairy-footed, waistcoat-wearing homebody discovering himself engulfed up in great events, the video experience was more about the characters from the same universe running around being chased by CGI monsters and precariously hanging from things in “Real 3D.”
Doesn’t this clarification help? The sequels in the Fast and the Furious series are not movies, they are video experiences. Everything ever made by Jerry Bruckenhimer is a video experience, not a movie. On the other hand, James Cameron makes movies. Avatar was a movie. The first Terminator, Aliens and obviously Titanic were all movies. The Terminator sequels, not so much.
It turns out most sequels in the action/adventure category are video experiences rather than movies. The Batman films, for instance. Prometheus- totally not a movie. Not one of the characters or any single plot point was believable or had any kind of development or arc. But sure, it was a video experience based on the Alien series. I’ll give it that and there were parts that were enjoyable because of it. But as a movie it gargled dog testicles.
Guardians of the Galaxy? Developing and transitional characters? Check. Hero from humble origins? Check. Tokens, journeys and everything else from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces”? Check, check and chizzeck. A movie. Plain and simple. The Matrix Revolutions? Actually I’m still not sure exactly what the fuck happened in the third Matrix film. Let’s just call it a “video experience” and leave it at that.
So, let’s be happy with this new classification and realize we can have both things, and that way the video experience people can do awesome action stuff and the actual film school graduates can make movies where actors act and people talk to each other. No worries, we can share universes there is plenty of creative terrain to go around.
And thus we should all look greatly forward to someone picking up the screenplay I’m writing called, “The Path to Enmity, a Mad Max film.” Hello Wes Anderson. I’m looking at you.