Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The American Mad Max: The Road Warrior versus the Postman

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The American Mad Max: The Road Warrior versus the Postman

Article excerpt

You're a scavenger, Max. You're a maggot. Did you know that? You're living off the corpse of the old world. Tell me your story, Max. C'mon. Tell me your story.

- Pappagallo

This you know: the years travel fast, and time after time I done the tell. But this ain't onebody's tell. It's the tell of us all, and you've gotta listen it and 'member, 'cause what you hears today you gotta tell the newborn tomorrow.

- Savannah Nix

'Journalists and movie companies now refer to "post-apocalyptic" films and TV shows as if they were a genre, like cop thrillers or romantic comedies. What does it all mean?' asked David Denby recently (94). His question comes a little late; this well-known genre has been a mainstay of the multiplex for decades. One of the earliest uses of the term 'post-apocalyptic' used to designate the time following a catastrophic event was in Michael Specter's 1982 New York Times film review of The Road Warrior (Miller Australia 1981).1 To the extent that post-apocalyptic denotes a meaningful category of its own, it surely dates from the American arrival of Mad Max.

Despite its Australian production, Mad Max 2 (otherwise referred to here by its American release title, The Road Warrior) has become a foundational exemplar of (post)national post-apocalyptic fantasy. Its tremendous popularity immediately led to imitations and adaptations by filmmakers all over the world. Indeed, one critic has observed that the first three Mad Max productions - Mad Max (Miller Australia 1979), The Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Miller and Ogilvie Australia 1985) - were 'among the most influential action movies' of the late twentieth century (Barra). The Road Warriors influence was especially wide and deep, particularly in the US, where it occasioned a veritable Mad Max mania. The film's post-apocalyptic aesthetics - an instantly recognisable combination of dust, diesel, chrome and leather - spread far beyond cinematic remakes and homages; they inflected the production design of theatrical and television shows, music videos, video games, comic books, novels and short stories emerging in its wake.2 The Road Warrior was not just a major cinematic phenomenon; it was a major transmedia phenomenon.3 It has signified so much beyond its original, reeling 95 minutes that 'Mad Max' has become, in addition to a proper name, a familiar adjective (as in the phrase 'a Mad Max nightmare world').4 Furthermore, the peculiar Americanisation of Mad Max has been a process so powerful that it has even led to a film - Bellflower (Glodell US 2011) - that, rather than serving as a derivative appropriation, features middle-class suburbanites who explicitly fantasise about becoming Max. Such a fantasy is not limited to the fictional characters of Bellflower. An event known as 'Wasteland Weekend', held annually in the Southern California desert since 2010 and billed as 'the world's largest post-apocalyptic festival', allows attendees to 'live for four days in a world pulled straight out of the Mad Max movies and other post-apocalyptic films and games, beyond the grip of so-called civilization?

Because it resonated so deeply throughout American culture, The Road Warrior powerfully affected depictions of convincing post-catastrophe scenarios. It created a specific, bizarre vision of the future that was quickly recognised and accepted as plausible. In other words, the film simultaneously expressed and transformed the Zeitgeist-to-come. Even academic scholarship in post-disaster narratives suddenly flourished in the immediate aftermath of The Road Warriors American appearance.6 The character of Max, received into a tradition of triumphant male American heroes, fashioned the possibilities of national fantasy and shaped the horizons of the post-apocalyptic future. The very meaning of post-apocalypse, so puzzling to David Denby, has become inseparable from George Miller's creation; 'Mad Max' has effectively become a synonymous substitute for 'post-apocalyptic'. …

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