So this weekend was the debut of Mad Max:Fury Road, thirty years after the last installment in the Ozploitation franchise. Despite the buzz surrounding this new entry in the film geek community, it was only able to land second place this weekend. Pitch Perfect 2 nabbed #1. To many, this was a failure for the franchise, but looks can be deceiving.
First, the audiences for both movies was starkly different. Pitch Perfect 2 was aimed at the female and child market, a market which was not too divided this weekend. Mad Max was aimed at the adult crowd, skewing primarily toward a male audience. Further was the hard R it carried. Mad Max had to compete against such fare as Avengers and Fast and the Furious, two franchises that are still going strong. This problem was further compounded by the casting of a new lead and the several decade gap between films which has proven disastrous for many sequels.
Second, as stated above, is the rating. An R rating of any kind has been frowned upon by studio execs as well as audiences as of late with only a handful of R rated movies doing well at the box office. It is the very fear of that rating that almost made Expendables 2 PG-13 and finally succeeded in doing so with Expendables 3. The R rating has proven anathema to many films, Dredd being the most visible example, a great film few went to see due to the rating itself.
Yet, despite these two points, Mad Max was able to gross $44 million domestic and an additional $65 million overseas. Those are healthy numbers and the movie is likely to have legs to carry it along with the high scores and reviews it is receiving across the board. Further, despite the cries of American fanboys, Mad Max has always been more lucrative in foreign markets compared to the American market.
What should be lauded as the healthy returns this movie has made and what it might spur on in future cinema. First, the R rated action film has been given new life. There is an audience for it. All it requires is a good story, solid acting, and a decent campaign to get its message out there. For the first time since the 80s, I am excited for the genre unlike the Expendable movies which has been dancing on the line between safe and balls out since its existence. Rambo, Stallone’s epic return to action in the mid 2000s, was a good first step, but Mad Max made a giant leap this weekend. Second, is the return of practical effects. First Mad Max, then Star Wars: it is a good backlash against the oversaturation of CGI which has stripped substance from movies and ruined the experience of filmmaking. Audiences have been numbed to spectacle not only by what CGI makes possible but by what it lacks. Watching Mad Max brought back the magic of cinema from several decades ago. You know what is onscreen is real and wonder at how they do it. You feel the pounding, dread what waits, are on the edge of your seat because you know there is weight to what is happening on screen. That is what needs to come back to moviemaking. A style that requires talent rather than twenty-somethings lazily directing scenes and using CGI to cover up their inexperience and lack of ability.
Mad Max is a return to old school movie making, and dare I say, a benchmark on what I perceive to be a backlash against CGI. Its like the seventies again when directors stole away power from the studios and brought the audience films unlike anything we’d seen. Then it was a return to the real with The Exorcist, Apocalypse Now, and Taxi Driver, a clear rejection of the glossy movies that pandered to our better natures and played it safe, afraid to horrify, titillate, and challenge us. Now, it is once more a coming revolution set against shallow genre fare and shallow productions.
This weekend proved that we want more. We want better. We want the real. It took an old forgotten figure from the wastes to show us what we, who have everything, lacked. The floodwaters of the practical and the gritty have been released. Here’s to hoping we allow ourselves to be swept away once more by celluloid fantasy.