George Miller has made pigs talk and penguins tap dance. He’s been a doctor and a film director. Among the bold faced names on his resume are the titles Babe: A Pig in the City, The Witches of Eastwood, Happy Feet 1 and 2 and Lorenzo’s Oil. One name, however, looms larger than the rest.
Mad Max. Over the course of three films—Mad Max, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome—he introduced the world to post apocalyptic warrior Max Rockatansky, made Mel Gibson a superstar, defined dystopian cinema for a generation or two and created the phrase, “Two men enter, one man leaves.”
This weekend, thirty years after the release of the last Mad Max movie, Miller revisits the character in Mad Max: Fury Road, a reboot starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
The seventy-year-old director, who raised money to make the first film by working as an Emergency Room Doctor, says the goal of the new movie was to make it “uniquely familiar.”
After years of “following the CG evolution,” using computer generated images to create beautiful animated films, he was keen to go back to “old school” filmmaking “with real cars and real people and real desert.” That means, unlike the Avengers and their ilk, respecting the laws of physics by using practical effects and keeping the action earthbound. In other words, in a call back to the original films, when a car blows up it doesn’t rocket into space. Instead it explodes spectacularly but organically. The wild action you see in Fury Road are actual stunts performed by stunt men and women and not generated by a clever computer operator in a studio.
“It was like going back to your old home town and looking at it anew,” he says.
Miller reveals he originally created Max’s wasteland world while practising medicine.
“I worked for two and half years in a big city hospital. I stayed registered right up past Mad Max 2: Road Warrior. I never even thought there’d be a career. I stayed as a doctor on the first Mad Max because we kept running out of money in postproduction. Then I stayed through to the second Mad Max because if you are doing stunts you are obliged to have a doctor on set. There weren’t big budgets so I ended up running a clinic during lunch time tending to cuts, sunburns, scrapes and all that.”
His two careers have much in common, he says, adding he was “was privileged with a unique point of view as a doctor.”
“I don’t think I’d be the filmmaker I am unless I had that medical education, in two very direct ways. Both of them have a lot of problem solving in there. But the most important way is that as a doctor you are looking at people in extremis from many points of view. You look inside of people. You see people during birth and death and so on. Through microscopes; a lens. So you’re looking from many, many points of view. That’s exactly what you do in cinema. Huge wide shots with massive crowds or you’re looking right down inside someone’s brain, someone’s head.”
As for plans to make another Mad Max right away, he says, “That’s a bit like asking a woman who’s just given birth if she’s going to have another baby.”