The Good, The Bad & The Badass: George Miller
George Miller has had just about the most atypical career of any director I can think of. Before directing his first movie at age thirty-four, Miller was a medical doctor in Sydney, Australia, who made experimental short films with his producer pal Byron Kennedy on the side. According to legend, Miller's time as an emergency room doctor inspired him to make MAD MAX after he'd seen so many horrific car injuries be brought into the hospital. Independently financed, the resulting film cost between $350,000 and $400,000, with Miller raising money by doing house calls on the side as a doctor, with Kennedy as his driver.
The film was a legendary success everywhere but in the U.S, where it was dubbed (the distributor thought the Aussie accents were too thick) and consigned mostly to the drive-in circuit. Nevertheless, the worldwide grosses assured a sequel, THE ROAD WARRIOR, would be made and that movie not only made star Mel Gibson a household name all over the world, but it established Miller as the action auteur of his time.
And now's where it gets even crazier. Miller went on to make MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, but the tragic death of Kennedy cast a long shadow on the production, and outside of the action sequences, Miller took a hands-off approach, only taking a co-director credit (with George Ogilvie being the other helmer) and allowing the film to be watered-down to a PG-13. Following that Miller took a huge change-of-pace, directing the delightfully crude horror comedy THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. Yet, while it was a blockbuster, Miller's troubles with the producers turned him off from directing for awhile, and when he came back he did it in a very unconventional way by making the stark medical drama LORENZO'S OIL (a film that gave me nightmares as a child). After that, he returned to Australia and became known for his cuddly family films, including two movies about BABE, the talking pig, and the two HAPPY FEET films. At seventy-years-old, Miller making a long-awaited comeback to action film-making seemed unlikely but that's just what he did with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Better than anyone could have ever expected, FURY ROAD has made Miller, in his seventies, one of the town's hottest action directors and – dare I say it – maybe even an Oscar contender?
While MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is my favorite film of the year and a masterpiece, I can't say it's better than THE ROAD WARRIOR – yet. It'll take years before we can look at the two movies in context and truly decide what's the superior film. However, I'll say this – thirty-three years on THE ROAD WARRIOR has rarely been beaten as an all-out action flick. One of the great examples of the genre, it's brilliantly-shot, adrenaline-charged film-making at it's best. Miller's creativity dominates every scene, and Mel Gibson really comes into his own, giving a legendary performance as Max that's still one of the most iconic action heroes of all time.
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is usually only talked-about for one reason. Actor Vic Morrow's death, alongside two child extras made the film into one of Hollywood's most gruesome scandals and cast a permanent shadow over director John Landis' career. It's amazing that the film ever wound up being finished and I'm sure when it came out no one wanted to see it based on what had happened behind-the-scenes. However, the Morrow-Landis segment is really only one piece of the pie, and Miller's closing segment (all were filmed independently), a big-budget remake of the William Shatner-episode 'Nightmare at 20,000 Feet' is masterful. John Lithgow gives a bravura performance as the crazed passenger who's convinced a gremlin is going to crash the plane, and Miller, working with more money than he had on THE ROAD WARRIOR, directs with an insane amount of creativity and style while the Jerry Goldsmith score ramps up the tension to such an insane level it's crazy they were able to get away with a PG-rating (although there's not really any gore). The movie itself is only so-so but Miller's part of it is a mini-masterpiece.
I don't much care for BABE. Don't get me wrong, the Miller-directed sequel, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, is a demented work of art, but the first film (which Miller only produced) is maybe the most over-praised movie in Hollywood history, with it even getting a best picture nomination in 1995 at the Oscars! How did that happen? It's a movie about a talking pig! It's cute but not much of a movie if you revisit it now. But that sequel – wow.
To me, the climatic tanker truck chase in THE ROAD WARRIOR is one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed. A mammoth, dangerous undertaking, watching it now it seems crazy anyone was ever able to pull it off, but Miller not only managed, but he came pretty close to out-doing himself with FURY ROAD. Close.
Hopefully, Miller's going to go right back out and do that FURY ROAD sequel he's been talking about, but now the buzz is WB wants him involved in the DC universe in some fashion, which would make sense as back in 2007 he came very close to directing a JUSTICE LEAGUE-movie (it was even fully cast). While I'm sure people would love Miller to finally get to make his superhero opus, I can't deny I'm hoping he stays the course with Max and Furiosa, as those are stories only he can tell.
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