Posts Tagged ‘mad max’

Quite recently, a writer friend who comes to me for advice told me that he is glad I have standards. I laughed, but denied that the standards were necessarily mine. They’re not, in fact, but the culmination of millennia of oral tradition and tales of heroes. Good stories hit on touchpoints, on lows and highs as they run their characters through the wringers of conflict, and games of emotional tug-of-war.

Stories that are stories have a basic skeleton, or hangar upon which they hang. I can liken this to fashion design. At the minimum, stories consist of words strung into sentences, piled into paragraphs. Think of the words/paragraphs as the fabric. If you are making a dress, for example, you have to follow a certain format—essentially a long garment that covers some fraction of the torso with some type of bodice or halter, of varying lengths of beyond-the-ankles to just covering the crotch.1 That statement itself implies that even though there is a basic structure, the format can encompass many shapes subject only to the designer’s imagination.2 Fashion designers learn the basics of dress construction and then learn how to play with the rules and create bizarre monstrosities only appealing to Lady Gaga… but it’s still a dress. irisvanherpencapriole-0780-682x1024[1].jpg

The writer is no different. He must know the rules and know them well before he can break them.

What is the framework, or hangar, for a story? Well, they have to have beginnings, middles and ends. All good stories have them. But just having these does not a story make. I can tell you about my day, which begins with me waking up, brushing my teeth, continues to the middle where I have lunch (sometimes by myself and sometimes I go out with my co-workers), or the end where I brush my teeth and go to bed. Is that a story? Not really. Nothing exciting happens, nothing that would make anyone feel that their time wasn’t wasted by me relating nothing more than a series of events.

So what else does it need? I hinted at it already—something exciting. Let’s say that instead of waking up and continuing my routine as normal, I had to stop at the bank and on that very day, the bank was robbed while I was in it. That’s exciting, sure (not that I ever want that to happen while I am at the bank, although I couldn’t tell you the last time I was actually in one). But okay, there was a bank robbery and I was there.

The story needs something else. It needs something unexpected to happen. That element, if nothing else, can become the whole reason the story exists, the single point on which the whole story hangs. Let’s keep the above scenario and set it up. Say I am someone of strict routine, who is never late and never varies from that safe, comfortable routine. Only this morning I realized I forgot to deposit the paycheck in the bank and I wrote a check for the mortgage and mailed it yesterday, so if I don’t get funds in the account it will mess everything up. So I am irritated, because I’ve got to stop at the bank (which further messes up my routine and ticks me off even more), and then the customer in front of me is taking a while and leaning in to talk to a distraught-looking teller, and I just have to get moving, and when I vent my frustration uncharacteristically, the customer in front of me turns around just enough to show me his gun, and instead of running or screaming like a frightened little social justice snowflake at the sight of a firearm, I pick up the teller’s ten pound marble nameplate, whack the guy on the head and step over his unconscious body so I can deposit my check with the flabbergasted teller and get on my way.

Where does a story like that get started? It could start with the routine, to establish that I am a creature of habit who is likely to fly off the handle and do odd things when I experience disruptions, reiterating that the routine is tantamount to my happiness, and therefore the desire is to remain in it.3 It could start with my discovery of that item that changes the direction of my day. It has a middle where the tension builds as I come across the bank robber, which also lends itself to a hint at what the twist will be like—something going on with the money in the bank. It ends when I’ve dealt with him and taken steps to repair the normalcy I crave.

Plenty of writers and those who teach creative writing will tell me I am wrong, or I haven’t covered all of the criteria. That’s okay, we all have different ways of seeing the same thing. I will recommend several of these learned individuals who have published good frameworks for stories. They are:

  • Joseph Campbell’s works. Must-reads, all of them, for any writer.campbell-joseph-the-hero-with-a-thousand-faces[1].jpg
  • Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters. Not so much for the characters, but the priceless section in the second half of the book on the Masculine (based heavily on Campbell) and Feminine Journeys.thN6LAS0EA.jpg
  • Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! Yes, it’s a book on screenwriting, but a quick, fun and informative read.save-the-cat[1].jpg

The last two especially have been priceless tools for me. I don’t necessarily write to their format, but when I’ve hit a slump or something feels like it’s missing in my story, I will hold up the scenes to their framework and I usually see that they are skewed to one end or the other (or both!) and ask myself if the “stages” they spell out lend any ideas to new scenes that would help tie the bookends together. I’ve never come away not having a new scene or two that move the story more coherently. Next time you write or read a story (or watch a movie) that seems to drag, or be too talky, or seems incoherent, it could be because it’s missing something from the framework that helps to make it a true story and not just a series of loosely-related or random events.

(By the way, years ago I ran my tied-for-first favorite movie of all time,4 The Road Warrior, through Schmidt’s/Campbell’s Masculine Journey and the story rocks it, dead on. Can’t get any better than that.)

1Originally I wanted to say that reached to the thighs but modern fashions have shortened the dress to some fairly revealing lengths… or not to length, as the case would be.

2I have to wonder from where some of their imaginations spring…

3For the record, I am not OCD. At least not most of the time. My closet is about the only place where I have standards. No wire hangers. Nothing but black hangers, all the same shape and size. Call me ‘hangerist’ if you like.

4What’s the other? Fury Road, of course. George Miller is a master director, and a lot can be learned about storytelling from him.

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

Toecutter2-1

There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

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Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

latest Hugh-Keays-ByrneImmortan-Joe-Mad-Max-Fury-Road

So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

With the rise in the last several years of movies and books with dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes, the reporting media (as usual) does not take a careful look at the particular connotation behind these two terms.

Rule #1:  ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Post-apocalyptic’ are NOT synonymous.

‘Dystopia’ refers to the community or society.  ‘Post-Apocalypse’ refers to the milieu, setting, and is essentially a world-building term, of the locale after the Apocalypse.

The latest dystopian work to reach the masses, The Hunger Games, contains both dystopian elements and post-apocalyptic, but the latter only in a superficial and lazy way (never truly defined).  Mostly, it bases its storytelling on the interaction of the people within this society to ‘current’ events.

Rule #2:  Apocalyptic events often create Dystopias.

The society Panem from The Hunger Games could just as well have arisen from modern politics without the intervention of some apocalypse, in that the series of laws created eventually funneled the society into the state where it happens to be at the time of the novels, when the sheeple have given up their power to the government.  (Another aside: note that they tried once and failed, and gave up after that.  If they allow themselves to be so easily trod upon, then they deserve the government they got.)

Rule #3: Dystopias can beget a man-made Apocalypse

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by far the most famous, also has both elements to give it background, but by and large is dystopian.  It is about the people within the proscribed society.

For another example, I would personnally argue that Mad Max isn’t so much a dystopia as a film of anarchy slipping towards its apocalypse hinted at in the introductory montage in The Road Warrior.  Still, it shows that the societies that are created or born from the bad decisions of mad can eventually lean toward the type of mentality that would unleash its own post-apocalypse.

Rule #4:  Not all Apocalypses are created equal.

Zombie apocalypse abounds in our world.  In my youth, during the Cold War, the threat of a Nuclear Apocalypse reigned (and is still, ironically, my ‘favorite’ PA theme and may or may not be the ‘Visitation of the Fallen Suns’ alluded to in the first novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery).  The Road Warrior came from this era, as did one of my favorite games of all time, Wasteland (and its nearly 30 years in the making sequel, as well as the beloved ‘Fallout‘ series.)  The threat of pervasive, mutating radiation infecting everything for decades or hundreds of years, along with the (now-disproven) threat of a ‘nuclear winter‘ seemed just too juicy to not spawn some of the greatest PA works of all time.  (Now there’s also a discussion of a ‘nuclear summer’, for the global-warming hangers-on.)  Of course it had its stinkers too, like World Gone Wild, with Adam Ant and Steel Dawn, with Patrick Swayze, God rest his soul.

But what about all those other ones?  Day of the TriffidsWaterworld?  One of my favorite (and arguably one of the only ‘romance’ novels I will ever read, let alone love) – The Silver Metal Lover?  They introduce their own type of apocalypse (blindness/sentient and malevolent plants and melted polar ice caps for the global-warmers, and pollution/asteroid interference, respectively) and all of these are directly influential on the events that occur in the novel.

There are still plenty of differences, and I am sure to revisit this post as time permits to add a few more of my observations, and I invite you to research and suggest some of your own.

There are other movies out there revolving around post-apocalypse beyond Mad Max and the Road Warrior. Not all of them are good, however.

Alright, maybe it isn’t fair to use The Road Warrior as a Litmus test for these kinds of movies. After all, it is extremely difficult to maintain that kind of brilliance. And George Miller may have set the bar far too high for everyone else, but let’s overlook that, for the moment, and focus on the basic story. If anyone else has looked into the background of George Miller’s film, they will know that he, like a lot of other directors/writers found their influence in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (not to be confused with the James Cagney film Man of a Thousand Faces) which speaks of the internal journey of the main hero, what he must go through mentally as he goes through the motions physically. Sure, who doesn’t like a good smash ’em up, shoot ’em up film? However, in order for there to be a great story the audience needs to connect and (gasp!) maybe actually learn something about the hero and about themselves in the process. Great writers do this to our subconscious, planting a seed in our brain early on in the story that allows us to connect with the protoganist and carry us on the same journey. At its very basic level, “Mad” Max Rockatansky follows the formula point-for-point.* Miller succeeds in bringing us the real change this guy goes through because he slathers decadent layers of chase scenes and punches-up and all the gooey goodness of action flicks over the character change instead of force-feeding us what the writer wants us to believe through clunky exposition (anyone who’s ever taken a writing class would recall, “show, don’t tell”).

With that groundwork, let’s look at some other movies in the genre. World Gone Wild is a movie I am ashamed to say that I owned from back in the VHS days. I recall being at the mall and I came across this movie about a post-nuclear wasteland featuring Adam Ant. Young girl that I was, smitten by the british pop star at the time and having my pockets full of paper-route money, I found the tape in the bargain bin a little difficult to pass up.

In retrospect, I wish that I’d have walked away. Just walked away.

WGW seems to want to be The Road Warrior meets Star Wars with a septagenarian Harry Potter-esque ridiculous character thrown in for bad measure. The dialogue and situations induce riotous laughter (surely what the movie-makers intended, right?) and remove you as far from the desperate situation most of us would find us in after a nuclear conflict. Good for a laugh, not so good for a story.

At any rate, you’d have to see for yourself how laughable it is. Don’t forget to watch out for lethal hubcaps.

More movie reviews to come…

*outlined in Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s great book on the subject, 45 Master Characters. The book is must-have for anyone wanting to be a writer and to understand what character personality and motives are. Also, for anyone interested, I did a “schedule” style breakdown of the movie when I sat an analyzed it for my own amusement. Sometimes I like to subscribe to the “analyze-it-and-the-magic-disappears” school of thought, but in the case of The Road Warrior, it only enhanced it.

LATE COMMENT:  There’s a character named “Max Rockatansky” in House of God, which is a novel regarding the life of an intern during his residency at the eponymously named hospital.  George Miller went to medical school.  Although Wiki cites a reference to the last name of a procedural pioneer, I believe he read the book and unconsciously (or consciously) filed the name away.  I report, you decide for yourself.

(Originally Published 5 AUG 2009)

…at least for a lot of publishers of entertainment media these days. Fallout 3 certainly made post-apocalyptia ‘cool’ again with its first-person-shooter RPG stylings. Tim Burton is lending his name to relative newcomer Shane Acker with what looks to be the seriously promising ‘9‘ (not to be confused with some other movie called ‘Nine’ mind you). Hell, even Oprah Winfrey put her guaranteed-bestseller mark on The Road which is headed for the theaters soon. At least one other movie slated for next year with Denzel Washington already confused people into thinking of it as a Fallout movie (The Book of Eli). All well and good, I say, for those people (such as myself) who couldn’t get enough of it during their childhood, when the only mainstream armageddon around was Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Wasteland (Electronic Arts video game).

So what about those older titles? Mad Max. Now there’s a gem of a title. While not explicitly post-apocalypse [actually more of a dystopia, but more on that subject at a later date], Mad Max gave birth to the detritus-clad punks on hastily refurbished vehicles spreading mayhem while an equally detritus-clad anti-hero out-spreads the mayhem, only against the evil instead of for it in The Road Warrior – an unforgettable classic storyline and the birth of the look for decades to come.

Anyone who gamed in the early 80’s on that lovely machine, the Commodore 64, could probably tell you a little bit about Wasteland (What? You mean it was published for other platforms? There were other platforms?). The game drops you into the action with no more information than you play a team of soldiers that trained in a military compound re-purposed from a federal prison completed when the bombs dropped and there’s a disturbance in the desert. Go find out what’s going on. Sure the game consisted of a whopping 4 colors, and a sprite hopped its way mannequin-style across the desert to towns no bigger than you on the main screen, but the storyline engaged you and really pulled you in. Ditto its “spiritual successors” Fallout and Fallout 2 – while the graphics are certainly better, the rich and involved storyline proved thrilling and darkly humorous.

The moral of this story is: Let’s not forget the good predecessors to the current Post-Apocalyptic hits. Without them, the current hits just may not exist.

(Originally published at the Meltdown Cafe on 5 AUG 2009)

I’m going to start right off by saying I haven’t even purchased the game yet. Do you know why? Because it’s so deliciously yummy looking that there’s NO way I couldn’t head right for the “dessert” of playing for days on end instead if getting my Ennid out on schedule. Brian Fargo, you and your team have outdone yourselves with eye candy alone.

I used to be a huge gamer – addicted. I’ve since weaned myself and haven’t been too excited about anything in the last several years, until I heard about this one. I even dig out my original Wasteland copy just to have the orange cover nearby. And I reread the entire paragraph book again. (I’m going to admit that when I played the game as a kid, over and over, it didn’t take me long to memorize all the correct passwords revealed within it.)

What I’ve decided to do is reward myself only when it’s done. I’ve been waiting for this game for 26 years. (Yeah, I’m old enough to have played the original on its original platform. It’s what sucked me into the genre in the first place, next to The Road Warrior.) So what’s a few more days?

Besides, I have a feeling after playing it for awhile, I’m going to throw a tactical nuke at my schedule to rearrange it for the second Umbra novel, I’ll be too immersed and inspired to let Vera and Shaw and Harris go for long.

Bottom line is, I’m already sold. I’ll add my thoughts later, when I’m playing. If I remember to pull myself away long enough.

Here’s the trailer that’s got me pumped: Mad Max: Fury Road.

Anyone who’s followed me for any length of time knows that my obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with Wasteland and Mad Max. When the announcement that Fury Road was underway, I grew unbelievably excited. Then that excitement waned when there were all kinds of setbacks, talks about it being done as anime (yeep!!!) and eventually it faded back into obscurity, and a near non-existence in my brain.

Until now. Wow.

I’d heard Tom Hardy was taking the role of Max, and I reacted with my customary “meh.” Then I saw the trailer and the poster and couldn’t be happier that they are keeping Max’s signature look. Charlize Theron’s character appears to be the “victim” of George Miller’s insistence that someone sport a medical prosthesis, with her robo-hand, and of course the customary reappearance of a previous cast member in a different role made me chuckle.*

This marks a very rare event for me personally, as I have been extremely underwhelmed by movies in general, but I’m actually excited to see this one, despite the silly girls in virginal white. One friend remarked he hopes he doesn’t see any asses hanging out of chaps, though. My thought is that it’s going to get much, much weirder than that.

But… It’s about time. The Zombie Apocalypse has worn thinner than a cotton t- shirt on a fifty-year old carcass. Time for Max to get back out there and kick some ass.

If you’re a fan of post-apoc fiction, tired of the zombies, check out Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery. Already available for Kindle and coming soon to other platforms near you. I promise, no zombies.

*They are:
Max Fairchild as Benno Swaisey (MM) then Broken Victim (TRW)

Bruce Spence as The Gyro Captain (TRW) then Jedediah the Pilot (MMBT) (although there have been long-standing debates that he IS the same character, and some inconsistencies in his behavior keep that debate alive).

Hugh Keays-Byrne as the Toecutter (MM) and now Immortan Joe (MMFR)