By the time Mad Max 4: Fury Road is released, there will have been a gap of nearly 30 years between it and its predecessor, 1985's Beyond Thunderdome. Fury Road has had a long and complicated gestation, to say the least. Twelve years had already passed since the third Mad Max movie when its visionary director/producer George Miller first spoke informally to U.K. comics legend Brendan McCarthy of his desire to make a sequel. A year later McCarthy moved to Sydney, Australia, handpicked by Miller to reboot the Mad Max franchise and co-write the first draft of Fury Road's while developing storyboards and the core designs.
That takes us up to about 2003. Money troubles then affected the production, as the estimated $100 million budget proved hard to finance for what is essentially an Australian indie movie. When the funding was finally secured, the production was shelved, as the scouted locations in Namibia were deemed a security risk in the wake of the Iraq War. By 2009, it was being rumored the script would be produced as an Akira-influenced R-rated animation, which seemed all the likelier as Miller's animation-producing credentials were proven by the Happy Feet franchise. The Dr D studio Miller established as a digital production facility had also started concurrent development of a Mad Max video game, overseen by Miller and God of War II's Cary Barlog. But just as those rumors spread, the story took another turn. Locations were being scouted in the production's native Australia, cast members were being speculated upon and then confirmed. Work was about to start when unexpected levels of rainfall turned Broken Hill in New South Wales from a suitably post-apocalyptic-looking desert into a verdant oasis reportedly covered in a lush blanket of wildflowers.
The needle skips again, and primary photography finally, officially, kicked off in its original Namibian locations in July 2012. And the set there is as leaky as a sieve. As photographs of vehicles being transported to the set hit the Internet, Kennedy Miller Mitchell productions sought to control the flow of information with a press release that included the film's first official plot synopsis:
Principal photography began 9 July on the dystopian action adventure "Mad Max: Fury Road", a Kennedy Miller Mitchell production written and directed by "Mad Max" creator and Academy Award(R) winner George Miller ("Happy Feet"). The film will be presented by Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Village Roadshow Pictures. It will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures. "Mad Max: Fury Road"--the fourth in the franchise's history--stars Tom Hardy ("The Dark Knight Rises") in the title role of Max Rockatansky, alongside Oscar(R) winner Charlize Theron ("Monster", "Prometheus") as Imperator Furiosa.
According to Miller, "Mad Max is caught up with a group of people fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by the Imperator Furiosa. This movie is an account of the Road War which follows. It is based on the Word Burgers of the History Men and eyewitness accounts of those who survived."
"Mad Max: Fury Road" also stars Nicholas Hoult ("X-Men:First Class") as Nux; Hugh Keays-Byrne ("Mad Max", "Sleeping Beauty") as Immortan Joe; and Nathan Jones ("Conan the Barbarian") as Rictus Erectus. Collectively known as The Wives, Zoe Kravitz ("X-Men:First Class") plays Toast, Riley Keough ("Magic Mike") is Capable, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley ("Transformers:Dark of the Moon") is Splendid. They are joined by supermodel Abbey Lee Kershaw as The Dag and Courtney Eaton as Fragile, both of whom are making their big screen debuts. Also featured in the movie are Josh Helman as Slit, Jennifer Hagan as Miss Giddy, and singer/songwriter/performer iOTA as Coma-Doof Warrior. The cast is rounded out by well-known Australian actors John Howard, Richard Carter, supermodel Megan Gale, Angus Sampson, Joy Smithers, Gillian Jones, Melissa Jaffer and Melita Jurisic.
Miller is directing the film from a screenplay he wrote with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Miller also produces the film, along with longtime producing partner, Oscar(R) nominee Doug Mitchell ("Babe", "Happy Feet"), and P.J. Voeten. Iain Smith, Graham Burke and Bruce Berman serve as executive producers. The behind-the-scenes creative team includes Academy Award(R)-winning director of photography John Seale ("The English Patient"); action unit director and stunt coordinator Guy Norris ("Australia"); editor Margaret Sixel ("Happy Feet"); production designer Colin Gibson ("Babe"); Oscar(R)-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan ("A Room with a View"); and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt ("Knowing"). Shooting on "Mad Max: Fury Road" is taking place in Africa with the support of the Australian government. Originally slated to be shot in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, the production was forced to relocate due to severe flooding, rendering the Australian landscape unsuitable for the film. The rain turned the area into an oasis instead of the post-apocalyptic terrain that is the setting for Max's world.
The influence of George Miller's work upon Brendan McCarthy's is well-reported. The second Mad Max movie, 1981's The Road Warrior, was a clear inspiration to Strange Days' anchor strip Freakwave, which started from a point of being essentially a surfing Mad Max-on-sea in Pacific Comics' Vanguard Illustrated #1 in 1983. Miller always packed his scripts with characters with crazy names (Toecutter? The Humungus? Auntie Entity?), but that cast list seems just as redolent of McCarthy's past work. It's also impossible to look at the leaked vehicle photos and not see Brendan's hand in their bizarre design. Miller and McCarthy: a creative marriage made in a post-apocalyptic heaven.
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For science fiction fans of a certain age, the prospect of a new Mad Max movie is as mouth-watering as a new Star Wars or Alien film, though let's hope it'll be without the crushing sense of anti-climax that came after seeing The Phantom Menace or Prometheus. Importantly for the comic industry, it may be the best example yet that a single comic creator can be an essential influence upon a film, and receive due credit. The movie industry is built around the cult of the director, and Miller will always be rightly viewed as the auteur of the Mad Max films. But we, the enlightened comics fans of Earth Prime, will see this movie and recognize in it the handiwork of one of our own.
(photos via Ain't It Cool News)