Last night, the Wasteland took over Austin’s Paramount Theater for a special screening of George Miller’s 1981 cult classic The Road Warrior. Presented in person by Miller himself, Warner Bros. screened a brand-new 35mm print that they struck specifically for the SXSW event. For Miller, who received a standing ovation from the packed house, it was the first time he had seen the film start-to-finish on the big screen in a theater full of people in 32 years. Considering how crisp the print looked and the raucous applause of the audience–myself included–it may be a good thing that he waited.
Afterwards, in a Q&A moderated by HitFix’s Drew McWeeny, Miller seemed bemused. “I felt a lot of emotions,” Miller said. “And then comparing it in my head, kind of twisted in knots comparing it to what we’ve just done on Fury Road and seeing that it’s so similar and so different at the same time.” With a chuckle, Miller told the crowd, “You’re watching a very kind of bewildered man right now. I’m trying to process it”
While many were expecting Warner Bros. to follow Universal’s surprise showing of Furious 7 by screening Fury Road early, such was not the case. (To be fair, seeing The Road Warrior in 35mm with George Miller is much rarer experience. We’ll see Fury Road soon enough.) Not wanting to leave us high and dry, Miller brought along two clips of the upcoming film as a special treat for the assembled audience. Miller also assured us that these clips were hot off the presses as they only finished the film two nights ago.
The first clip he screened was a 6-ish minute sequence that purportedly takes at the beginning of the film’s second act. In a nod to The Road Warrior, it begins with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) bursting up from the sand, his face covered in a metal Hannibal Lecter-esque Max. In chains and with bloody IV tubing sticking out of him, a dusty, parched, and disoriented Max follows his fetters to their source–a pale, battered corpse in the shell of a wrecked car. Finding his iconic shotgun in the ruined vehicle, Max attempts to unshackle himself by blowing off the wrist of the body to which he’s tied. The gun misfires though, emitting a pitiful cloud of smoke–another nod to The Road Warrior. In the distance he hears a vehicle slow to a halt, and stalks off after them with the car door in one hand, and the corpse slung over his shoulder.
The vehicle in question is a massive tanker truck. Peering around the side, Max is stunned to see a group of beautiful women clad in white linen, bathing with a firehose. Standing off to the side with a smear of black makeup across her face is Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Max approaches the group, shotgun raised, and demands their water. Nervously, one of the women brings him the hose, and Max greedily slurps down the life-giving water. The camera pans down and we see that the corpse to which Max is chained is Nicholas Hoult.
With Max’s guard down while he’s drinking, Furiosa charges and tackles him to the ground, prying the shotgun away from him. She puts the gun to his temple, and pulls the trigger only to realize it’s empty. What follows is a brutal fight sequence with Max using the car door as a shield. We soon learn that reports of Nicholas Hoult’s demise were greatly exaggerated as the pale, wiry man springs back to life. He and Max fight the group of elite warrior women from opposite ends of the chain. It’s a kinetic, visceral, bone-crunching fight that ends with Max ultimately getting the drop on Furiosa as we fade to black. There was a moment of stunned silence before the theater erupted in applause.
The clip was largely devoid of dialogue, and Miller revealed that Max’s first spoken line in the scene–“Water”–is actually his first piece of dialogue in the film, apart from expository voiceover. And that doesn’t happen for more than 20 minutes into the film. As for where Fury Road fits into the Mad Max canon, Miller explained, “It’s sort of a revisit. The three films exist in no real clear chronology, because they were always conceived as different films.”
“The way we all thought about it, is next Wednesday, all the bad stuff we see in the news comes to pass, where we have economic collapse and oil wars, water wars and stuff we didn’t even see coming,” said Miller. “And we jump 45 years into the future and in a sense we go back to a dark age without rule of law.”
Miller then unveiled a second piece of footage, a special trailer cut specifically for SXSW that will be screened in a few weeks at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. The trailer begins with Furiosa driving the big rig into an ominous canyon and yelling that she brought the gasoline she had been contracted for. Meanwhile, Max is hiding in the vehicle with a pistol in hand. Scanning the horizon, Furiosa sees a handful of raiders at the top of the ravine, and correctly deduces that it’s an ambush after all. Suddenly, a war party of Wasteland raiders appears and they blow up a rock wall, caving in one of the exits to the canyon. What follows is akin to past trailers–fast-moving cuts of vehicular warfare, tribes of Wastelanders (including some that seem to be worshipping a steering wheel), and tense shots of Max, Furiosa, and our heroes trying desperately to evade capture. It ends with Nicholas Hoult shrieking, “Oh what a day! What a lovely day!”
Needless to say, the film looks tremendous. After screening the two clips, the first audience Q&A question came from none other than Robert Rodriguez.
“I’m an independent filmmaker here in Austin,” said Rodriguez, who has directed films like Sin City and From Dusk till Dawn. “I was inspired by you, I grew up watching your movies. I guess my question is how the hell did you make this? It’s go-for-broke cinema, it feels real.”
Miller graciously replied, “Robert, coming from you, I’m serious, if you want to know how I made it, you just look in the mirror and answer the question yourself.” After collecting himself, Miller continued, “I think what happened is I spent a year editing Mad Max virtually by myself and I thought of all the things that I failed to achieve then, so this was a second chance. But it was so frenetic, this, it kind of came out of my gut.”
Judging by the audience’s response to The Road Warrior and what we’ve seen from Fury Road so far, I’d say Miller has achieved everything he originally “failed” to and then some.
Mad Max: Fury Road opens on May 15, 2015.
Read more of our SXSW review coverage.