Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

By Edwards, Phil | American Cinematographer, September 1985 | Go to article overview

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome


Edwards, Phil, American Cinematographer


Produced by Terry Hayes Uf Doug Mitchell Directed by George Miller and George Ogilive

Photographed by Dean Selmer

For cinemotographer Dean Semler, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome marks a renewal of his association with Mad Max Rockatansky and his creator, writer/director George Miller. The three first got together back in 1981 for The Road Warrior, a movie both critically lauded and commercially successful.

But where The Road Warrior was filmed almost entirely on one location at Broken Hill in the far west of New South Wales, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome ranged through a variety of interior sets and exterior locations in N.S.W. and South Australia.

The new film picks up on the warrior of the wastelands some 15 years after the events which climax The Road Warrior. The much sought after gasoline which precipitated the action of the previous saga is no more and what remnants of civilization are left in Australia have cither banded together in small groups or wander the post-holocaust land alone. Max (MeI Gibson) is one of these loners - a quietly powerful individual making the best of what can be found in the immense deserts which he travels with his camel train.

"Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome proved far more challenging than The Road Warrior," says Dean Semler. "We were dealing with more varied environments than before and it was essential that each of the worlds created for the film have a distinctly different look." After Max's camels are stolen by a mysterious character, Jedediah (Brucc Spence) he makes his way to Bartertown, a rough and ready settlement ruled by the ironwilled Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) and her elite of Imperial Guards led by Ironbar Bassey, played by Australian rock singer Angry Anderson.

Although the outskirts of Bartertown were filmed near Coober Pedy, a small opal mining town in South Australia, the interior was actually constructed in the unlikely surrounds of a brickworks quarry 1500 miles to the east in Sydney. From the designs created by production designer Graham Walker and concept artist Ed Verreaux, a team of 70 carpenters and builders constructed a walled town, virtually in the round.

In lighting Bartertown, Semler treated the elaborate set as if it were a real town. "I had Johnny Morton, the gaffer, light it with practical street lights, the way you would wire and light a small village. We also required ambience, so we used four brute arcs 70 feet high on scaffolding in key areas. That provided the necessary backlight for night shooting. We placed individual light sources, usually redheads or blondies, within several of the small buildings within Bartertown itself. Wherever there was a window or doorway, we'd put in a light with an amber gel over it to give it colour and warmth."

Towering over Bartertown is Entity's penthouse, an 80foot tall structure of steel topped by a star shaped tent. "We always wanted a glow coming from the penthouse during the night sequences and we achieved this with six mini-brutes inside. Apart from the practicals and the ambience arcs, the special effects department provided several light sources with burning camp fires around the town itself."

Once Max gains entrance to Bartertown, he strikes a deal with Entity. For the return of his camels, he must challenge Blaster (Paul Larsson) to a battle in Thunderdome, the gladitorial battleground of Bartertown, where all disagreements are settled by a fight to the death. Blaster forms half of a character, MasterBlaster, the ruler of Underworld, the source of the town's electricity. Located beneath Bartertown, Underworld is a Dante's inferno - a methane plant created by Master (Angelo Rossitto), a 34 inch scientist who rides around on Blaster's shoulders. Entity has recently experienced a shift in the political structure of her domain, as Master has increasingly required her to acknowledge that he is the real brains behind Bartertown.

To create the hellish Underworld, the art department built a spectacular set within the confines of a bull sale ring in the Sydney suburb of Glebe. …

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