One of the great treats for me that came out of this year’s Comic Con in San Diego was the interview with the great George Miller and the preview of the new Mad Max movie, Fury Road. I can admit without shame of any kind that George Miller’s Mad Max films were deep on my mind while I was writing Tail of the Dragon. I have watched the development of the new Mad Max film for over a decade now and remember well when it was first proposed back in 2002. Back then Mel Gibson with all his box office horsepower was behind the project with Miller, but the project still didn’t get off the ground. Then Gibson fell from grace and nobody in Hollywood wanted to touch the project and there were film delays and all types of issues. But Miller—finally—has managed to make the film with Tom Hardy now playing Max and I am ecstatically excited for the project.
I was a bit shocked that the review of the San Diego Comic Con thought that preview of Fury Road was the most interesting thing they had witnessed. I couldn’t help but think of my own car chase story Tail of the Dragon which surpasses car crash wise anything seen in that preview or any of the Fast and Furious movies. The biggest difference was that I set my car chase story in the present as opposed to the future. My character is trying to save society from the kind of collapse that Max is reacting to. But I agree with Miller, car chases stories are essentially westerns on wheels. Hearing his articulation and the general audience reaction to his new Mad Max film gave me encouragement that Tail of the Dragon might someday find the right elements to end up on film. But it would take a really good director to pull off—and people like Miller are not exactly falling from the trees like apples.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about somebody besides Mel Gibson playing Mad Max. I grew up with Max and brought those experiences to my Tail of the Dragon novel mixed with plenty of Smokey and the Bandit. Star Wars is often compared to a western in space, and car chase films are like Miller described, westerns on wheels. Whenever a film has something to say about morality they are usually termed as “westerns.” Growing up with Mad Max I learned a lot about the depravity of the human spirit which was remarkably insightful. The opening of the first Mad Max film with the Nightrider on a rage across the desert with his crazed girlfriend was classic cinema that climbed into the mind of insanity at its finest and took viewers into the essence of a mind gone mad. I watched that movie almost every day from age 12 to 16. Not because of the movie influence but because of what it revealed about human nature, I became Mad Max at age 16 and I have the car chases, races and crashes to provide the testimony. Those experiences then became my own story, Tail of the Dragon—the horse of the western had been replaced by a car and I used mine as a kind of weapon against depravity. And when I couldn’t defeat depravity I out ran it with sheer speed.
I will forever be grateful to George Miller—his films are art with a value into the human mind that goes well beyond what people are comfortable revealing about themselves. The stunts in the Road Warrior, the second Mad Max film were unbelievably intense and I never forgot them. Even after all these years they still hold up as some of the best stunt work done in any picture. The cinematography has never been surpassed even after thirty years by anybody in the business. The dust, the smoke, the blood and violence of the car crashes are both beautiful yet horrific to look at and nobody does it like George Miller.
Miller’s vision of the future is not far off—if the engines of the world are turned off—the minds that drive society forward–people certainly do revert back into a tribal abyss. It is not hard to conceive that they would devolve into the kind of villains seen in Miller’s Mad Max films. Max was a good man during the days of civilization; he had a child, a nice wife and wanted to give up life as a cop to get away from the madness of the people he was holding back from taking over. Miller understood the strange mix of great charisma and madness that Mel Gibson was able to bring to the screen when he was in a 100 MPH stand-off with the Toe Cutter at the beginning of the first Mad Max. Mel Gibson would show throughout his career that his real life was more like Max than anybody would have guessed, and that brought some humor to the 2014 Comic Con that Miller addressed correctly. I share with Gibson some of those traits and as a young man I would discover the real genius of Miller’s Max character when I too had to face off against an opponent traveling at me at over 100 MPH in a game of chicken. Like Max, I didn’t budge even though I had far more to lose than the other guy.
Max couldn’t escape madness and it finally caught up to him and killed his family leaving Max a very sane man bent with rage in an insane world that only devolved from there. Fury Road takes place between the first Mad Max film and the Road Warrior, so there is some rich material there to delve into for Miller as society devolves from a rich industrious culture into tribal nomads desperate for value of any kind fleeing constantly from chaos. In the Road Warrior there was always sadness to Max—an awareness of how far down the drain the world had devolved, but a resolute charisma that refused to join it. It was as if he alone stood against the insanity of the world and was aware that the only way to meet it was by going “mad” himself when pressed by danger. As a result, those still sane in the world gravitated to Max to be saved, which he did in the Road Warrior, then on a more epic scale in Beyond Thunder Dome.
Beyond Thunder Dome was a bit too light for a Mad Max film but was still enjoyable. Mel Gibson was moving into a mainstream actor and George Miller was being lured in to doing more commercial work. It was the weakest film of the series but was still a work of art visually and in concept. I went to see it in 1985 all by myself at a summer matinée. I had some time to kill before work so I went to see it alone, just me and Max and I loved it. It was a wonderful way to watch George Miller’s version of a “western”—like Max himself. All alone.
As much as I am rooting for Fury Road—and I will see it on opening day—it won’t surpass the violence and sheer magnitude of car crash carnage I wrote about in Tail of the Dragon. I am a product in some ways of Miller and I took that into real life then wrote about it with a new perspective. But it is encouraging to see such positive audience reaction from Comic Con as they had toward Fury Road. There may be hope for my own project yet due to the forecasted success of Miller’s resurrection of the Mad Max franchise. Apparently Miller has a sequel to Fury Road already written and is ready to head into production. For that film, yet unnamed, I will be the first to that one as well, and for every film that comes after—because George Miller is a master of the car chase western, and I am grateful to him in ways that are beyond description.
As for Tail of the Dragon, it is a shame it takes a positive reaction from audiences at Comic Con to tell studios that movie goers want car chase movies. I didn’t see anything in the Fury Road preview that eclipses what was done in Tail of the Dragon. So I was a bit impressed that audiences thought Fury Road was the most intense preview coming out of the event which showcased the latest and greatest that Hollywood was churning up. That certainly puts Tail of the Dragon in a class of its own but like Miller’s journey to bring Fury Road to the screen; the trip for Tail of the Dragon will likely be longer and will take just the right personalities—which has not yet been assembled.