SCI-FI MOVIE PAGE PICK: THE ROAD
THE ROAD WARRIOR
Mel Gibson Max
Bruce Spence Gyro Captain
Vernon Wells Wez
Emil Minty Feral Kid
Mike Preston Pappagallo
Kjell Nilsson Humungus
Virginia Hey Warrior Woman
Directed by George Miller. Written by Terry Hayes, George Miller and
Brian Hannat. 1981. Running time: 94 minutes.
The Western didn't die - it just, well, sort of mutated
. . . or that's what I thought watching The Road Warrior on
video the other day. Let's tackle the plot: a loner who speaks little (played by Mel
Gibson) comes across a peaceful settlement that is being besieged by bad guys. Somehow he
becomes involved with the people at the settlement and helps them out against the bad
guys. Yup, that's the plot all right. But if you exchange "peaceful settlement"
with let's say "peaceful community of farmers" and "bad guys" with
"Indians" (in the Hollywood movies of yesteryear they weren't called native
Americans) or "bad cattle rustlers" or whatever and you exchange Mel Gibson with
Clint Eastwood perhaps, then you have a Western.
Of course, you'll have to make them all ride horses instead of all kinds of outlandish
trucks and cars, but you get the drift. Although the Western has been pronounced dead many
times, it has simply been sublimated into the Hollywood collective consciousness. In fact,
many times old Western plots have simply been retold with a modern even sci-fi, sheen
nowadays. We often watch Westerns without realizing it - they just ride cars instead of
horses and fire automatic rifles instead of old six-shooters. In the recent Soldier
movie starring Kurt Russell, Russell comes across a peaceful settlement being attacked by
bad guys and, well, helps them out. It's the basic Shane plot being redone once
again . . .
Even if movies don't always steal the Shane plot, they can't resist putting in
some other Western element. Take the Mos Eisley canteen scene in Star
Wars: exchange Luke Skywalker with some similarly green character and Ben Kenobi with
the older (and meaner) gunslinger and you have a scene which has been replayed numerous
times in countless Westerns.
The plot of The Road Warrior may be old hat,
but what its director George Miller came up was totally unexpected. The first Mad Max movie's plot was a standard revenge tale: bad motorcyclist
gang kills cop's wife and kid (is there any other kind?), cop kills them all. So what to
do in a sequel? Let some other bad guys kill off yet more of Mel Gibson's relatives? Like
those endless Death Wish sequels in which repellent criminals will inevitably wipe
anybody who comes within a few meters of Charles Bronson out - thus inducing Bronson to
kill them off once again?
No, The Road Warrior steals another Western plot - but wisely spends it bigger
(than the first movie's) budget on more lavish car stunts and special effects. If some of
the action sequences in Mad Max reminded you of a demolition derby, then Road
Warrior will drive this analogy home. The end chase is one over-the-top demolition
derby, filmed with the same grittiness and surrealness that marked the previous film. People seeing The Road Warrior for
the first today may not be too impressed with it: in the meantime we have seen many
imitations and its (inferior) 1985 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
sequel. It isn't, for example, as spectacular as Costner's Waterworld.
Some of today's epics will no doubt look more like a music video than Road Warrior,
with faster editing and more "artsy" camera angles. Also, Brian May's relentless
Bernard Hermann-like music score may seem archaic to today's audience. But despite this,
the sheer realness of all the stunts, the camerawork and landscapes will pull it through.
I saw it again as a double bill with the first (and still best) Indy movie, Raiders
of the Lost Ark. As an action double bill it can't be surpassed and both feature what
must be the most exciting chase scenes ever committed to celluloid. (Others? Try The
French Connection for size, the first Speed and the obligatory Bullitt
and The Great Escape.)
James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page