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Methane cometh from pig shit.

I watched Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. I guess when I said I wasn’t in a rush to see it, I didn’t mean I wouldn’t say no to it being suggested!

The first two Mad Max flicks were unified in their rather bleak environments – the first one still had an infrastructure, but if you lived in the bad zones, you were easy pickings for the motorcycle gangs, and although the second one had a rather cosy outpost of people living together comfortably, they were hounded day and night by another motorcycle gang intent of stealing their fuel source. The third one, in theory, is even more bleak – the landscape itself now is now trying to kill you (freakin’ quicksand!), and the one real town the film focuses on, Barter Town, is a wretched hive of scum and villainy where most of the people have to shovel pig shit for a living.
But instead, this film has a more optimistic vibe to it, a more colourful and lively atmosphere going on. Yes, Barter Town is a corrupt place you wouldn’t want to spend the remaining years of your post-apocalyptic life in, but it comes across as a kinda fun and crazy place. It’s like Mos Eisley in Star Wars – yeah, we see some bad eggs there, but wouldn’t hanging out there and just observing the day-to-day goings-on be interesting? It also helps that while the outpost from the second movie had some intriguing characters running the place… well, it was just an outpost. Barter Town is a proper town – it’s a got a bunch of buildings and locations, it’s got an entire underworld ruled by a muscle-bound mute piggybacking a dwarf, and the whole place is run by Tina Turner in a chain mail one-piece.

So, yeah, this isn’t just a repeat of the previous movie.

Like the other movies, the first hour basically serves as an exploration of the landscape, and then the real plot is set in motion for the climax. Max goes to Barter Town to do some dirty work for Tina Turner so he can get himself a new set of wheels, but after refusing to kill his opponent due to a flash of humanity, he’s gulag’d to the desert outskirts. He’s taken in by a group of jungle kids who believe he’s a captain of legend who’s come to take them to “Tomorrow-Morrow Land” where there’s still skyscrapers and bridges and shit. He knows that no such place still exists, but he’s willing to help them find a new place to live and rebuild civilisation, but first, they’ll need to rescue a couple of people from Barter Town…

I talked about the different vibe to the film, and to be quite frank, the film could very well be presented as a movie for young audiences. Most obviously because of the storyline having an abundance of spunky kids getting up to mischief, but also due to the reduced emphasis on death and violence. Yes, some characters still get killed and there’s still a lot of murderous intent going on, but it’s simply not as front-and-centre as the other films, and instead presented in a more comedic manner. The climatic train chasing scene is practically a slapstick interpretation of the previous film’s climax.
Everything in general just appears more light-hearted – like I said, Barter Town is just a lively place that comes across as more fun than villainous, the film starts with a number of small corny gags, and for a tribe of kids who’ve had to rough it out in the wilderness ever since the apocalypse, they seem to have it pretty good. When it plays to these strengths, it makes for a really fun ride. Things get a bit spotty once Max gets dropped in the desert, but it’s absolutely worth sticking around for the climax.

I’m not sure if it’s mentioned in the special features, but I’ve heard that the film was originally an entirely unrelated movie that focused on the jungle kids (I keep calling them jungle kids even though it’s more of a cliff side they reside in, but whatevs), and then when thinking of what character could help them reach the promised land, they thought of Mad Max. I was wondering throughout the film, could it have worked without Mad Max? Besides Max himself and a questionable reappearance of the Gyro Captain (he’s got a name now, he no longer has a gyrocopter and it’s not clearly implied if he and Max properly remember each other or if it’s only from him robbing him at the start of the film – an event where the two don’t even get a good look at each other. It doesn’t help he has so little to do that you can’t even judge from his attitude, personality or actions whether the two are the same. Vexing!), there’s otherwise no continuity with the previous films. Even the first two movies had some connections, however superfluous they were.
Admittedly this movie does help tie up Max’s personal development, with him becoming more human after his stint in the Thunderdome and encountering the jungle kids. However, one gets the impression if they added a scene or two at the start just to establish what a de-sensitized lone wolf the protagonist is, it could otherwise function well as a standalone film. I mean, I won’t deny it took quite a while for me to settle into the different tone of the film.

It’s a great film, but I think the sheer contrast between the familiarly-styled Barter Town scenes and the jungle kids plot can make thing shaky – I won’t deny I was falling asleep during the whole sequence of Max meeting the jungle kids, and it takes a while to really start warming up again, but like I’ve said, the climax is so worth it just for how ridiculous it is. It’s the kind of film I imagine I would’ve loved as a kid. I mean, ignoring the fact it’s a sequel to two grim and gritty films, I’d say it’s got a great level of whimsy and strangeness that’d just appeal to me as a kid. Heck, the scenario is practically begging for some kind of Saturday morning cartoon – Max, the kids and the Gyro Captain travel the post-apocalyptic landscape in search of a new home while Auntie Entity and the Barter Town thugs try and cause mischief. And maybe give them a talking monkey, just for kicks.

One Comment

  1. MightyKombat wrote:

    We do have Mad Max to partially thank for Fist of the North Star.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink