Review by Jacob Black, photo courtesy Warner Bros.
More than just an action blockbuster, Mad Max: Fury Road is a car movie. The fourth installment of the Mad Max franchise, this epic chase movie remains true to the original themes of the franchise: lawlessness, apocalypse, and a deep lust for fuel.
Speaking to Colin Gibson, Production Designer for Mad Max: Fury Road, we soon realize that the film is a true old-school production, a relic like the cars in the film itself. He also speaks to one of the burning questions of the franchise – what place do cars have in the wasteland? And why are these all classic iron?
“We worked on the theory that cars were still fetishized and adored at the end of the world,” Gibson says.
“Partly because they were your battle weapons and your only way to commit salvage and mayhem, but also that after the fall you had this great distant memory of the beauty and the power of the car before the fall.
“So we were trying to recreate the love for the vehicle itself; rather than just the idea of a cute car exploding.”
The “love of the car” is a key theme throughout my conversation with Gibson, who was involved in many of the great classic cinema produced in Australia in the ’70s and ’80s. He recalled the wild, steampunk rigs like “the glorious motorbike we built” for Reckless Kelly and telling me that his love of cars in films was first ignited by the cult classic Running on Empty.
“I worked on any number of films in the ’70s and ’80s and I can’t think of one of them where there wasn’t a significant four-wheel object somewhere in the movie.”
Running on Empty involved two main car characters, a Ford Falcon GTHO and a blown 1957 Chevy, Gibson says that’s where his passion first ignited, and it helps explain why the massive supercharger scoop is so ubiquitous in the movie.
“[Running on Empty] is where I first discovered the joy of an actual, beautiful, highly temperamental, supercharged hero car that would roll out at dawn and do one fantastic shot and then take the rest of the day to get refinished and primed to do one more at sunset,” Gibson says.
The main production crew involved in Mad Max: Fury Road were instrumental in the development of Australian popular culture in that period, and the nation’s relationship with cars too.
“The Wide Open Road is the name of a documentary that is coming out soon about Australian car culture and how it’s shaped who we are and how we think – and that Wide Open Road is definitely part of the psyche – and the car is the best way to be a part of it.”
You can imagine then, the pressure of that legacy carried over to his latest work. No longer an “Australian film” but a world movie, filmed in Namibia and produced with American funding from Warner Brothers, Gibson had to find a way to engage the “trope of post-apocalypse”, a trope he recently said “has been beaten to death by a whole bunch of B-grade knuckleheads who think welding some barbed wire to a Camaro gives you the future of civilization.”