The Road Warrior

Dir: George Miller, 1981. Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Emil Minty. Science-Fiction/Action.
The Road Warrior

George Miller’s Australian gem, The Road Warrior, is hailed by most as one of the greatest action films of all time, especially since it’s a pre-CGI, stunt and stunt driver, driven thrill ride. Its vision of the post apocalyptic future has been ripped off as much as any film, usually badly (1990: The Bronx Warriors, Resident Evil, Doomsday, etc). It has echoes of Kurosawa’s early samurai films as well as John Ford’s cowboys or cavalry dramas. Here, the fort holds oil production so precious for driving around in your jacked-up automobiles; instead of Indians the attackers are mohawked punked-out brutes. This fairly low budget flick looks and feels like a big Hollywood spectacle (coming at the end of Australia’s golden age of stuntploitation films. See the wonderful documentary Not Quite Hollywood for more on this fascinating era).

The film is a sequel to the ultra low-budget Mad Max (in most of the world The Road Warrior was titled Mad Max 2). Mad Max got some mild play in the States but the strong accents were ridiculously dubbed with what sound like cartoon voice-over actors. The first one takes place "A Few Years From Now...” when the world has not fallen apart but seems to be on the brink and chaos rules. The high-speed police patrol seems to work as its own gang, taking on psychos and bikers. Max (Mel Gibson), a tough cop, is also a tender family man, and when a motorcycle gang kills his wife and child, he takes out his vengeance on them.

The Road Warrior takes place many years later and society has completely imploded. In his old cop car, Max, now a stoic loner, roams the streets with his loyal pooch looking for petrol. It seems that the only other people around are a gang of bondage gear wearing drivers who terrorize anyone they see. Max happens upon a one-man helicopter pilot known as The Gyro Captain (preeminent Ozploitation star Bruce Spence). He shows Max a working oil refinery being protected by a group of settlers who are constantly fighting off attacks from violent gangs. Eventually Max rescues one of them and reluctantly joins their team. In one of the great action scenes in movie history, Max ends up driving their oil tanker in an effort to lead them to a better world.

Like the ex-gunfighter Shane or a number of archetypal Western characters, Max has lost all hope for humanity. He’s seen too much, lost too much, and now feels too little. At first he is reluctant to help, but eventually the community of good people fighting to survive moves him to become their protector. The film does a great job of not falling into clichéd traps. There is an attractive woman, one of the leaders of the good guys, and you expect a romance to spring up between her and Max (the most attractive guy there), but it never happens, never comes close. No time for romance or deep character development here. Actually, one of the most interesting characters is a little jungle boy known as The Feral Kid (Emil Minty) who grunts and growls and is a badass with a boomerang (in a great twist, we learn that he grows up to be the elegantly voiced narrator of the movie).

The style of The Road Warrior is beautiful, in a dusty, dirty apocalyptic way. The cinematography is stunning, shot by Dean Semler who did the crazy Australian horror flick, Razorback, about an irate giant pig; he would go on to win an Oscar for his work on Dances With Wolves. Director George Miller would create some of the most astounding driving stunts ever put on film. Miller has had an odd career; he would follow up The Road Warrior with the third film in the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which was not as interesting and not as good as the first two. He would then go Hollywood with the forgettable The Witches Of Eastwick and Lorenzo’s Oil, only striking gold with his contribution to the otherwise lame Twilight Zone: The Movie, “Nightmare at 40,000 Feet.” He would go back to his homeland and go back to pigs, producing the first Babe movie and directing the second one. And now apparently a new Mad Max is in the works, with Miller at the helm.

Mel Gibson has had a controversial career, becoming a star in Australia with Gallipoli and then going international with the later two Mad Max films. He would do some interesting films like The Year Of Living Dangerously and The Bounty, though next to Anthony Hopkins he would come off as a lightweight pretty boy. But with the first Lethal Weapon film he would show some acting chops, which ultimately faded with all the inane sequels. He would reinvent himself as a director with the way-overrated Braveheart (even winning an Oscar). His strange religious beliefs, drunken racist rants, and apparently misogynistic lifestyle have turned him into a creepy guy, not to mention his hugely successful torture-porn movie, The Passion of The Christ. But I will say one thing in his defense, as unappealing as I find the guy (on and off the screen) his last outing as a director, his Mayan epic Apocalypto, is a mini masterpiece. And the guy was Mad Max. With The Road Warrior, he, Miller, and Semler (and stunt coordinator Max Aspin) have created one of the most exciting and most memorable visions of the future, a truly original work.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Oct 8, 2010 2:55pm
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