Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Near Future" : Mad Max

Near-Future movies are a cool subgenre which Aussie director George Miller helped create with helped create with Mad Mad in 1979 and essentially killed with The Road Warrior in 1981. In fact, there are only three Near-Future movies I can categorize. That's how small a blip they were, despite their enduring popularity: Mad Max and The Warriors in '79 and Escape From New York in '81. The Road Warrior killed it, which makes this definition very Mad Max-centric...but I will get around to illustrating Near-Future's echoes in stuff in more overtly futurist stuff like Robocop.

Like Music Movies" this is not so much a subgenre as a genre between two others. If Music-Movies are the split difference between rock concert films and musicals, Near-Future nestles between the oft-assumed dystopia of the future (Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World) and films set in the present during times of lawlessness.

This effectively removes the technology from futurism and imagines a future opened up by anarchy. The details of futurism are more subtle. Note especially the costumes of the Main Force Patrol...

Essentially, in this type of science fiction the police or lack thereof are the main futuristic feature.

The fact that the only police in a future "A FEW YEARS FROM NOW..." are saddled with an old school Fascist handle like the MAIN FORCE PATROL and the fact they ride around in solid Black leather invokes a lot of imagination towards how things have changed. No laser guns required. Only the inevitable loss of one essential service of government.

SOMETHING is amiss, though it took a sequel to retroactively offer an explanation. Here in the original, nothing.

The MFP officers do not wear uniforms as such, but instead wear black leather suitable for motorcycle riders. The leather imparts a harshness to the officers, who display a callousness toward their target. In this world the officers appear far more menacing than their off screen counterparts; they seem uninhibited by such details as Miranda codes, but seem to focus only on getting the bad guy. They do not stop to ensure that citizens whom they happen to punt off the highway are uninjured, and do not seem to follow any standard procedure for high speed pursuits...They are a product of a harsh version of our reality, when law is declining despite all attempts to save it."

- From an excellent disseration on the Near Future subtleties of MM by Mr Chris Crockett

To paraphrase Back to the Future: in the near-future there are roads, but you won't want to use them.

Obviously the low-rent futurism was inspired by the limitations of budget. George Miller filmed the first Max for about $400,000. Was setting the film "A FEW YEARS FROM NOW..." a necessity? Was the level of increased lawlessness Miller wanted only plausible in the near-future?

Given that The Road Warrior takes another quantum leap forward in depicting a destroyed and re-primitivized world, I'd venture that it was. Road Warrior created the full on "Post-Apocalypse" as it exists in pop culture, leaving Near-Future behind in the dust. There's no subtlety about declined conditions when the people driving around are dressed like Atilla the Hun, but we'll get to that later.

And yet Mad Max before it was already etching out the trend, in the quasi-warrior garb and manner of the primary villain, The Toecutter...note the stylized of the gang member to the right.

The funny thing about Near-Future as Mad Max invented was that the film's American distributor, the great American International Pictures (AIP) really didn't get it. First of all, they redubbed the entire film from Australian English to American English. Nothing to do with futurism, but a hilarious reminder that Australia hadn't yet captured American pop culture's imagination as it would throughout the 80s, softening our ears to their guttural dialect.

The futurist thing they didn't get was that this thing wasn't post-Star Wars hyper-futuristic. Hence this radical but inaccurate AIP poster:

Fuck yeah, he's the maximum force of the FUTURE! He looks like he's walking around fucking MARS and wearing a special mask just to BREATHE! (Obviously modified from the Toecutter gang and tweaked) Check out that badass metallic cyber-car!

Compare that to this more understated and truly near-futuristic French poster.

And this Aussie poster, which gets the point across just as well about the lawlessness.

The Australian trailer adds primitive synthesizer score, the type that would become ubiquitous with action films in general during the 80s, which isn't in the actual film but does it's part to convey the inferrence of the future...

The world only needs so little modification to imply a plausible, timeless representation of an alternate world. Science fiction, after all, is a parallel shift into another world, like our own but transformed. What if that shift is almost in the present tense?

The absence of technology and law creates the breakdown of society in the form of the under-funded MFP and their loss of order to the gangs of the near future. And that's just Mad Max.

Master of horror John Carpenter and Master of thrills Walter Hill were about to make their marks before George Miller brought the concept full circle and beyond with Road Warrior.

Next installment: The Warriors

1 comment:

Alex said...

Great little essay.