The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road
A tremendous book and a worthy addition to any Mad Max collection
A little something to read while you cruise down the Fury Road, sir?
You’ve got yourself tooled-up in the cab of the War-Rig. There’s a nice, cool breeze blowing through the window and the numerous bullet-holes in the hot metal shell. You’ve outrun the spiky Buzzard cars, the legions of War Boys and the contingents from Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, and left the Rock Riders in your wake. Even Nux and his twin-tumours have settled down. But whilst you can afford a little breather from all the chaos, that gaggle of stolen brides on the backseat won’t let up with their moaning.
So what’s an exhausted Road Warrior to do?
Well, you could do worse than toss them a copy of The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road to keep them quiet. Or at least batter them over the head with it!
When those lavish artwork tomes for the original Star Wars trilogy came out, revealing the amazing paintings of Ralph McQuarrie amongst many other talented imaginators, the benchmark was set for what has since become a ubiquitous part of any self-respecting fantasy blockbuster’s merchandising cavalcade. With such high-production feats of filmic conception being a genuine feast for the eyes, it seems only right that fans can have the option of studying the intricacies of creating mythical characters and environments and seeing how initial ideas were developed and cultivated into the spectacle that danced across the big screen. Some are awesome additions to the collective psyche of both the ardent fan and the passingly intrigued – The Art of Hellboy, and the fabulous LOTR series, for instance – whilst others are less engrossing and skimp out on the elements that people really want to see – those for Nolan’s Dark Knight series and for Raimi’s Spider-Man.
Abbie Bernstein’s The Art of Mad Max Fury Road, thankfully, falls into the former category.
Published by Titan Books at £16.99 and boasting 176 absolutely gorgeous landscape pages, bound in hardback, this is an extremely comprehensive visual exploration of the denizens, vehicles and locations of George Miller’s barnstorming fourth Mad Max movie. I am biased, I know. But since I have spent, this year alone, well over £2,000 on Max related stuff – from figures, T-shirts, posters and downloads to the a complete replica costume of Tom Hardy’s incarnation – I feel I am perfectly placed to assess the value of this further indulgence.
A foreword from Mad Miller, himself, and an afterword from his co-writer on Fury Road, Brendan McCarthy, bookend this stunning voyage, the two paying respect to the work of an army of talented artists, designers and craftsmen and women who toiled exhaustively to bring their unique vision to the screen. Thus, every page in-between is decorated with concept paintings, flamboyant comic-style ideas, detailed character studies, powerful stills and production photographs. Each location that we see on the screen is revealed, with examinations of areas that we don’t see much of in the final cut, and it is terrific that we are shown detailed depictions of both Gas Town and the Bullet Farm for the first time.
The characters are introduced and chronicled from intricate costume sketches and paintings to finished on-set incarnations, and furnished with a little backstory too. The vehicles and props can be seen as first passes in which the artists went to town, fully expecting to have their visions compromised in some way once production was underway. Though, if anything, Miller encouraged them to go even further, as the end results certainly testify. Some nice early coloured storyboards illustrate how this particular story was originally to begin.
There are a couple of great shots of the grizzled Max that we only barely encounter at the start of the film, one of which reminds me of the unconventional look of Donald Sutherland’s hippy tank commander in Kelly’s Heroes – Hardy sporting a leviathan beard and huge Rommel-like sand goggles. We get to see the full medical/psychological profile tattoo that covers his back. There are a few nice images of Max that harks back to Mel’s days in the Wasteland, even down to sporting the little blonde streak in his hair, so we can see how the character has evolved to have more of a streamlined and military/tactical appearance.Every page in-between is decorated with concept paintingsThere are details on Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Character art charts how she evolved from a Sith-like Samurai babe with a pincer-arm to the steampunk warrior with the more dextrous bionic limb. Interestingly, Miller’s inspiration for this prosthetic was drawn from images of survivors of the Hutu/Tutsi conflict who had adapted their own customised fake limbs after suffering horrendous atrocities. Several versions were ultimately fashioned, so that Furiosa could grip and hold and move during the multiple and varied action scenes.
The iconic V8 Interceptor, or more accurately Pursuit Special (Interceptor sounds better though, doesn’t it?), is discussed as being something of a security blanket with which to couch Max at the beginning, meshing this newer incarnation with the unshakable glory of the character’s past history. Like Max, the fabled V8 gets a makeover too as the film progresses, and this does, inevitably, serve to cut the cinematic umbilical cord.
There is definitely a Darth Vader-esque appeal to the film’s hideous mutant warlord, Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. The breathing apparatus that is designed to also look intimidating is hugely reminiscent, and Miller has long admitted the influence of George Lucas’ franchise. However, to counter this, Joe is a pallid, pasty, pot-bellied ogre with long straggly wisps of white hair – a necessary evolution from intriguing early designs that gave him a darker, more armoured, feudal and muscular stature. We see clay molds for the toothy maw of his breather, and some great imagery for Joe’s awesome ride, the Gigahorse, a monstrous construction of two ’59 Cadillacs, one on top of the other, twin tractor tyres and sporting a double engine.
Splendid concept art for the spiky Buzzard vehicles impresses with its fabulous viciousness. Very reminiscent of the cult killer car from Peter Weir’s 1974 The Cars That Ate Paris, these motorised porcupines are genuinely fearsome creations. The gorgeous blue vista of the night-time sequences at the bog, and on the dunes under the stars, with Furiosa’s long-lost people, the Vuvalini, are recalled with some sensationally moody artwork and jaw-dropping stills. Furiosa on her knees and screaming to the heavens is spellbindingly captured here. A particularly awesome two-page spread has the Many Mothers striding towards us across the plains like The Wild Bunch marching towards destiny. One incredible still depicting Megan Gale’s Valkyrie making a stand looks almost sepia-tinted, like some vintage pictograph from the Old Wild West. Just beautiful.
The many action set-pieces are also covered with photos and artwork. Especially cool are the overwrought images of Max hanging down the side of the War-Rig and skirmishing at the end of a swinging pole. The toxic storm could not be filmed practically, of course, but detailed storyboards and artwork show how close the visual effects of Andrew Jackson came to bringing the dust holocaust to choking, lightning-spewing life.
Fan-favourite, Coma the Doof Warrior, is played by Australian musician/playwright iOTA. We learn of his tragic background and his rebirth as the musical call-to-arms for the War Boys.The performer says that idea for this bungee-swinging thrash-guitarist was to be a cross between Keith Richards and a scarecrow. He also maintains that the guitar/flamethrower (which actually worked as both) was “the sh*ttest guitar” he has ever had hanging in front of him! We get a good look at Miss Giddy (Jennifer Hagen), too, the aged crone whose body is tattooed with the history of the new world. Close-up pictures reveal just how intricate and detailed those tattoos really are.
The Wives get their chance to shine with sections detailing each of them and their individual value to Immortan Joe, but perhaps the most startling imagery remains that for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), the War Boy denied entrance to Valhalla and forced to accept that the Immortan is not the deity he once believed. Early designs for him were colourful and very future-punk, and there is a definite influence from the likes of cult British SF comic, 2000AD, about them. Personally, I would have liked a little bit more on his car, the uber-pimped hotrod, with some attention lavished on the bizarre accoutrements he has amassed upon it, such as the steering wheel fetish and the shivering poles... and especially the rumours surrounding whether or not that skull mounted up front and hanging over the head of the lashed Max is indeed that of the Gyro-Captain from Mad Max 2!
Sections dedicated to the props, masks and weapons examine the philosophy behind this warped Wasteland survivalism – the four P’s... purpose, position, piety and polymorphous. Everything had to look as though it had started out as one thing and then, after damage, say, was salvaged and modified into something else. But everything had to be practical, or customised into some totem of devotion. Everything had to matter. We are treated to some great images of such ramshackle equipment, from the small effigies and mascots that adorn the vehicles or the costumes to the outlandish firepower bolted onto vehicles or hefted by the likes of the enormous Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones).
Text-wise, you shouldn’t expect too much. This isn’t a “making of” book, remember. But, that said, I was surprised at the amount of insight and interview material that is presented. There are also tantalising scripted pages of what amounts to a mythical telling of the Fury Road saga, as though passed down from another future generation. The production gets a pretty lengthy overview , as well, with contributions from production designer Colin Gibson and artist Mark Sexton, as well as Miller and McCarthy, fellow screenwriter Nico Lathouris and stunt coordinator Guy Norris, who worked back on Mad Max 2.
Overall, this is a tremendous book and a worthy addition to any Mad Max collection of mementos. I would have liked something on Rictus Erectus, who seems curiously absent from these pages, and maybe a little bit more on some of the vehicles, such as the celebrated Doofus Wagon... but the sheer quality of the images presented here is second-to-none.
The marketing for Fury Road has been a veritable onslaught, but it is great to know that the merchandise – what with comic prequels, a deluxe downloadable soundtrack (for which I will provide some deep coverage) and a staggeringly beautiful Inspired Artists offshoot (which I may take a separate look at) – has been of a consistently high calibre. George Miller spent a long time coming back to where he belongs... and this has also paid off with regards to the movie add-ons, with none more appealing than this exquisite book that will reward dipping-into for an even longer time to come.
Very highly recommended. Just don’t let the Wives keep hold of it!
You can buy The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road here
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