Retro Review: THE ROAD WARRIOR Is the STAR WARS of the Post-Apocalypse and It’s Playing at the Plaza The Day Before Thanksgiving

Posted on: Nov 20th, 2012 By:

THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981); Dir: George Miller; Starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Kjell Nilsson; Wed. Nov. 21 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Presented by Astrodog; trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

George Miller’s THE ROAD WARRIOR is the STAR WARS of the post-apocalypse. The film didn’t invent the genre, but it seemed to perfect it and codify it for an entire generation of fans while simultaneously transforming Mel Gibson into a household name, and it’s returning to the big screen for one night only at the Plaza Theatre on November 21 at 9:30 p.m., presented by Astrodog.

One man alone in a wasteland. A growling convoy of modified trucks driven by thieves and thugs. A shantytown built from spare parts and spare people. We’ve seen these elements before, clichés of the post-apocalypse. Whenever we imagine a world-killing event, we tend to assume that society will give it about a week before we all start eating each other. It’s one of the oldest “what ifs” we have. What if tomorrow there was nothing left of the world but ruins, need and violent men?

But THE ROAD WARRIOR uses these familiar elements to create an action movie that transcends the grim parameters of its subject matter, making the end of the world thrilling, exciting, and even… fun. It’s the apocalypse-as-theme-park, but it completely, totally works, and although the film falls squarely in the middle of a larger franchise—the MAD MAX series—it’s easily the best of the bunch.

Gibson stars as Max, a lone warrior simply trying to survive in the aftermath of an unnamed apocalypse. Max’s world has been reduced to a barren desert (and one that looks awfully similar to the Australian outback), and vehicles have become as essential to survival as food and water. That means, naturally, gasoline (a suddenly non-renewable resource) is more precious than gold. In search of gas, Max enters an uneasy alliance with a rusty settlement of survivors, but he faces a tough choice when the town is besieged by brutal bandits led by the Lord Humongous (Nilsson). Will he abandon the town or put his life on the line to defend them? Hint: running away wouldn’t make for much of a movie.

It’s tough to look at Gibson today without getting tangled up in the headlines and scandals that have effectively ended his Hollywood career. It’s pretty clear at this point that Gibson has morphed into a fairly despicable person behind the camera, but his presence in front of the camera is impossible to deny. THE ROAD WARRIOR leaves no room for Max’s backstory, no tender moments to open up to the people around him. He’s nearly silent, a wandering ronin in the wrong place and time, but Gibson’s haunted eyes tell all the story you need. You can feel Max’s loneliness and pain even during the moments where he’s flint-hard. THE ROAD WARRIOR is a movie that doesn’t need its predecessor, but if you know that Max was once a cop and that he lost his family to thugs like Humongous, the extra layers start popping.

Mel Gibson as Mad Max in THE ROAD WARRIOR. Warner Brothers, 1981.

THE ROAD WARRIOR is also one of the crown jewels of raging car movies, a cinematic soulmate to films like DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) or VANISHING POINT (1971). George Miller arrived on the scene during the peak of “Ozploitation,” a golden age of Australian trash cinema that ran throughout the 1970s and ’80s and produced a slew of genre classics, from WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971), to LONG WEEKEND (1978) and DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986). Miller was playing to an Aussie audience that knew their way around a car chase, and so he doesn’t skimp on the action, stuffing the film full of crunching metal, roaring engines, and cackling villains. The result is entertaining and often mythic. Stripped of its setting, THE ROAD WARRIOR is still a film about one man struggling against unbeatable odds for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. The timelessness of the story has helped the movie age very well, and, if anything, it’s even more relevant today. Produced in the wake of the gas shortages and transportation nightmares of the 1970s, the film feels especially timely in a world of $4 a gallon gas and feasible projections that say we’ve either neared or reached (and passed) the peak of our oil production. The world of the future may belong to the likes of Humongous.

THE ROAD WARRIOR improved on its less-polished, more visceral predecessor MAD MAX (1979), but the series took a nose dive in the third film, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985). After that, Miller’s career went off into a variety of directions. Most recently, he’s been crafting thoughtful (if not entirely successful) fantasy films for children, producing Oscar-nominee BABE (1995) and directing its culty sequel, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998) and both HAPPY FEET (2006) and HAPPY FEET TWO (2011). But that engine you’re hearing is the sound of that changing. Miller has been deep in production on the fourth film in his series, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, for the last couple of years, replacing Gibson with the younger and suddenly very marketable Tom Hardy. Although the new film isn’t considered a remake or a reboot, it will still serve to introduce the franchise to a new generation of fans. For those who can’t wait that long, THE ROAD WARRIOR was born for the big screen.


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Weekend Update, April 1-3, 2013

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2011 By:
Sorry not to get this post until Saturday this week. Away this weekend and was more challenged than expected finding wifi yesterday–maybe that was the April Fool’s joke on me! Hopefully you got a chance to read This Week in Retro Atlanta, and didn’t miss any of the cool events Friday night. If you didn’t get to Chris Hamer’s BIG IN JAPAN opening party, you should still hit Octane to see the exhibit which runs through April 30. Also, new in the update: another rare chance to see DEATH RACE 2000 on the big screen at the Plaza Theatre, if you missed last week’s Splatterday Night Live.

Friday, April 1

Terribly talented artist Chris Hamer recycles Tom Waits with the solo art show, BIG IN JAPAN, at Octane Coffee Bar & Lounge, opening night party from 7 to 11 PM. Works inspired by Waits songs will be on display until April 30, but isn’t it more fun to see them with Blast-Off Burlesque and other surprises. Read more about Chris and how Waits helped conjure some personal monsters in this week’s Kool Kat. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of THE LAST ROCK ‘N ROLL DOCUMENTARY and support an Atlanta retro treasure at tonight’s Plaza Theatre Foundation fundraiser with tickets just a bargain one buck. Film Love‘s Yoko Ono: Reality Dreams short film series part 4 is Flux Fly Body Music at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center. A highlight is the enigmatic FLY, “a collaboration with John Lennon, which features the human body as landscape, with an improvised vocal soundtrack – one of Ono’s most engaging musical works.” Curated by last week’s Kool Kat Andy Ditzler.

Swing dance to Joe Gransden‘s big band at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX. New band Please Pleaserock Me teaches Beatle-ologoy at Eddie’s Attic.

Saturday March 12

Classic train fans and their kids will dig Caboose Days this weekend from 10 AM to 5 PM at the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth featuring train rides in restored cabooses, oodles of kids’ activities and a chance to tour and see 90 pieces of retired railway equipment, including vintage steam engines, a private car once used by President Warren G. Harding and much more.

Get down to a Spring Soul Party with The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle at Star Bar. The fabulous Talloolah Love presents her Thank You/Vegas or Bust Party starting at 10 PM at Bart Webb Studios in Avondale. Drink Love Shots, dance to DJ Doctor Q‘s fine tunes and enjoy live performances, all to thank everyone who voted for her to nab a prestigious performance spot at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend next month. Watch for an exclusive report by Love on the Southern Fried Burlesque Fest soo.

Don’t miss another rare chance to see one of the craziest, best black comedy cult movies of all time DEATH RACE 2000 at the Plaza Theatre at 9:30 p.m. Come on! David Carradine as a race car driver called Frankenstein! ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL’s Mary WoronovSly Stallone! And everyone in America is road kill. Read why Mark Arson thinks it’s a better ’70s SF/action flick than STAR WARS here.

Better Than The Beatles pays tribute to the Fab Four at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno.

Sunday March 27

Caboose Days continue at Southeastern Railway MuseumChickens and Pigs serves up blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl.

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Retro Review: DEATH RACE 2000: It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose, It’s How Many You Kill Along the Way

Posted on: Mar 24th, 2011 By:

By Mark Arson, Contributing Blogger

DEATH RACE 2000 (1975); Dir: Paul Bartel; Starring David Carradine, Mary Woronov, Sylvester Stallone; Sat. March 26;  SPLATTERDAY NIGHT LIVE Stage Show at 9:30 pm; Screening at 10 PM; Plaza Theatre; $10.

DEATH RACE 2000 is one of my favorite films of all time, and I could probably stop at that. But I also could talk about this movie for hours, so I’ll meet you wonderful readers halfway. I was tempted to watch the recent remake with Jason Statham just as a reference point, but having heard about the differences between the two films beforehand I decided to skip it. Why? Because killing people for points has been removed in the remake, entitled simply DEATH RACE. Now, the concept hardly even seems to make a difference in the original film (it is implied that finishing first means more than scoring the most anyway), but DEATH RACE 2000 is first and foremost a dystopian sci-fi film, and in this case, the point that drives the state of the world home is that people are watching other people being run over by cars on TV.

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