In the Wastelands

In the Wastelands

I apologize in advance if this seems rambling, but the whole thing sparks up different thoughts at various times and maybe a bit of reflection on other things. But I am, as always, getting a bit ahead of myself. What is it we are talking about this time? Max, and just how mad he is. Or something like that.

Yep, I finally caught Mad Max Fury Road. It came out in May of 2015 and I realize I just don’t see movies in the theater nearly as much as I would like to. I think this one would have looked great on the big screen. But, and this is a personal preference, only if it was in one of the old style theaters. I don’t really care for these new stadium seating style theaters. They lose a bit of the magic that the experience once engendered.In the Wastelands

There was a time when movie theaters were designed to give people a bit of choice, but with a cost. Sure if you were one of those types that preferred the back of the theater because you didn’t want to crane your neck and what not, you could do that. But you lost a bit of the experience that the big screen offered at the same time. See, the theater was designed around the first six rows. It is in those rows, for me the third row was optimal, where you are situated in just the right viewing of the screen that it takes up your entire frame of vision. What this means is, you become part of what you see. It is in this that the whole experience becomes entirely immersive and you really experience the movie you are viewing. But stadium seating changes this and you lose this aspect of the movie. And this might have been one of those divergences I warned you about. Other than to say that this movie was designed and shot to take advantage of that type of situation. (I really need a billion dollars so I can set up this type of experience in my house.) Anyway…

I have been a fan of the entire Mad Max franchise since I saw the first movie on video in the ‘80s. Of course, if you haven’t seen the first one, you really should. You owe it to yourself. The storyline is pretty simple really. The first movie is a bit outside of the others that have followed in that, society hasn’t completely fallen apart yet. Max is essentially a cop fighting to maintain order in the collapse and stuff happens.

Stuff happens is the theme of all the movies. Max is just doing his thing, trying to get by in ugly situations and he always seems to be thrust into the worst possible situations. Aside from the first movie, the situations are essentially what the movies are about, and Max is basically just the lynchpin that ties all the stories together. The first movie was his part of the stuff that happens. (I feel a bit odd not swearing here should we just assume that I am saying poop though dirty any time I say stuff happens?)

But basically, the movies all have that post-apocalyptic thing going on and if that isn’t your scene you probably won’t give a rip about the movies to begin with. I happen to love that stuff so it stands to reason that I can get into the storylines and feel at home with it all.

This probably doesn’t tell you much at all though does it?

Really, this latest iteration boils down to what is essentially a long car chase in a desert wasteland and lots of stuff going boom. That alone is a great thing and why it pays to watch it on a very big screen where you can really feel all the action that is happening in front of you.

Okay, with all of that out of the way, I want to dig into some other aspects of the experience. See, this isn’t one where I am going to praise or denigrate the telling of the tale. The movie itself is what it is, you will either love that sort of thing or hate it. This isn’t something we need to spend too much time with.

Instead, I will get into a few other aspects that are a bit more important to the generalized thoughts of what transpired, or something… We don’t view, read, or experience things in a vacuum. Most of the time when we encounter something we view it through the filters of everything else we have experienced before we saw it.

First and foremost, I am struck by one of the biggest things that happened while I was watching this. I realized that I had experienced a movie very similar to how this one was playing out. You may or may not remember the movie Waterworld. It was a Kevin Costner post apocalyptic piece about the world being covered entirely by water. This one was not well received (I liked it but that isn’t saying much and a story for a different time). There was a strong resemblance in there even though it didn’t play out exactly the same, it was still possible to see that influence within the storyline itself.

Next, in the history of this storyline we can see certain pattern to the growth of the world that Max inhabits. This isn’t necessarily a thing within the story itself but in the telling of the story. Granted the first movie was produced as an indie with a limited budget and that has a huge impact on how we experience the picture.

And then we move into The Road Warrior. A slightly bigger budget with a bit more refined viewing experience. This one still tied pretty well into the roots of the franchise. Sure they had a bigger budget but at the same time you could feel the dirt and grime of the world at large. There was an insanity in the world but it hadn’t slipped over the edge. (This seems a bit vague right now but I will be working on this analogy as we move on)
Along comes Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. This movie hit the big time. They brought in Tina Turner even. So big budgets, big screen time, this movie was essentially the pinnacle of the run of the movies. And everything went over the top. They traded in a bit of what made the first couple movies the gritty, sloppy, messes that made them run for something a bit more streamlined. Sure the movie still followed the themes and patterns of the others but it stood just slightly apart from the others. At the same time, it still had a bit of the darkness that the first couple movies contained.

Which brings us back to Fury Road. It felt to me like they had stepped over what Thunderdome had done by turning it up a couple more notches. See, there is a level of cheesiness that comes with this type of movie and Thunderdome had hit level 9 on the cheesy meter. Fury Road turned it up to 11 or 12. It isn’t that the cheesy is bad, but you hit this mark and you have to stop for a second and say to the screen “Really?”. I had a number of moments like that while watching this one.

And now I am not done bringing up references to other pop culture areas.

Are you ready for some Inception type thoughts?

There is a series of games based on the thoughts of the ‘50s nuclear fallout shelters creatively named Fallout. The way these games start in their cinematics is a play on the way the Mad Max movies start, the voice over talking about the fall and the state of the world. Granted I haven’t played Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas so I don’t know if they followed the pattern of the originals but still it is one of those things that makes you wonder where the line of who is influenced by whom. They are playing off each other and tying the geek worlds together in subtle ways.

And then of course there are the crazies. All the minions, the canon fodder in this story that resemble the canon fodder in the Borderlands series of games. Heck, when you really compare the two you can see quite a few similarities. The world of Pandora from Borderlands is a desolate desert type experience similar to what you would find in this type of apocalypse storyline. Add in the crazy minions assaulting our hero in every direction and it all comes back to moments in a video game fighting our way to a big boss mob.

And now for the last thoughts of this movie. I remember around the time that it came out, the perpetually outraged threw a fit. (When I speak of perpetually outraged I refer to any of the groups that are going to fall prey to such interactions and I don’t really care what their political affiliations are.) So apparently, this time it was a screed that this movie had feminist undertones and Max would never have reacted or acted the way he did in the movie. At the time I read the plotlines and synopsis and my gut reaction was, they were just being outraged to be outraged. The movie appeared to be exactly what any other Mad Max movie would be. He finds himself in a strange situation and has to work through it all to survive. The greater story is always the greater story of the world doing what it does and Max is caught up in that. My gut was then and still is sure that this is still just a Mad Max movie without any of the extra crap people want to attach to it. But your mileage may very, because we all have different baggage in our lives that filters the world around us.

But, and this is probably one of the biggest things to come from this, we have a bigger issue to think about. I ran across a post from John Scalzi recently that helped bring to mind the issue at hand. In his post he mentions that the kids today aren’t reading the books of their parent’s generation and blah blah blah. Yeah, we get it, kids don’t want to read, do, think, act like the previous generations. But at the same time, we lose a frame of reference when we try to bring in not only continuations of stories from older generations but also remake those stories from older generations. The stories from those older times without that frame of reference lose something of the story that made that story great.

Which is why I also want to add the next two references to this thought. In the first, Cedar Sanderson takes the complete opposite view to Mr. Scalzi. Her fight is the need to understand and know the classics, know the giants whose shoulders we stand upon. Which is a good reason to know and study widely and profusely. The world is filled with a rich history through stories but at the same time, there are so many it can be difficult to figure out where we want to spend our time.

Which brings me to the third way, Brad Torgersen makes a more realistic plea in my view. We may never read everything under the sun. But at least take the time to learn about and understand what it is that is out there. When we ignore the work that has come before and try to build or repurpose we lose the history that has allowed us to reach the level we are at now.

Which is why we run into this crap like those who wanted to cry about this movie at the beginning. They seem to have lost what the original movies were about or what they were like. They want to make it entirely about their current generation. This is a disservice not only to their generation but also the generations that came before in the birth of these stories.

We find ourselves in a place that these new waves seem to think they are the only ones who have ever acted or done anything that goes against the mainstream. A good example of this is the current belief that women were ostracized from science fiction and fantasy. Kristine Katheryn Rusch has been working on a book series that showcases the women who helped set the foundation of what science fiction and fantasy is today. It has never been just men working in these stories and these worlds. It has always been men and women who love to explore the boundries of the mind and time and space, writing the things that make us think and imagine that there can be other possibilities to the world around us.

The sad thing is, we are being fed by a mainstream that has taken the path of least resistance. Instead of searching for new worlds of wonder, they broker their existence on rehashed crap that does little to stretch and reach for more. The worst crime has been the switch from new stories to essentially fan fiction. Not to say that there is anything wrong with fan fiction per se. But it is not new and original fiction. Instead we are force fed what if stories that play on all the stuff that has already been said. Instead of saying something new, they restate the old in a new way because of REASONS. These reasons can only be taken as a cowardly way of saying that they are too afraid to look into the world outside of what they know.

And this is one of the sad points of this new Mad Max movie. They are trying to remarket an old franchise that had its last story told in 1985. So 30 years for a new story, 30 years and a chance to reignite something older done in the past. At least this time they told a new story with it. Or maybe as I noticed, they tied together all sorts of pop references to make it relatable to people who never knew the source of where it came from.


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