It’s easy to win over certain audiences with action. Explosions, fistfights, and big-budget special effects have a sort of universal appeal factor (when they’re executed correctly.)
Of course, every movie lover knows that action can only get you so far, especially in an age where damn near anyone can create a “special effects tour-de-force” on their home computer and post it to YouTube. Explosions and gunfights just don’t drop jaws the way they used to.
This is exactly why I went into Fury Road with a load of apprehension that easily exceeded DOT regulations — and I’m glad to say that this old Road Warrior fan was able to dump that cargo into a canyon within a few minutes of fade-in. The film kept me smiling from start to finish.
This leaves an interesting question out in the open, though. Why is it so good? At the heart of it, Fury Road is nothing more than two hours of explosions, chases, fights, and mediocre dialogue. It doesn’t have much in the way of a story. There’s minimal character development. In other words, this movie violates every rule by which I personally judge a movie, and it does it with a baseball bat wrapped in concertina wire.
Yet it’s so damn good.
As media freaks and DIYers, it behooves us to analyze these rare gems and strive to understand why they can be granted exception to so many rules. I certainly encourage you to watch the movie with a critical eye. Pick it apart. Take notes on your emotional reactions to different scenes. Before spinning that DVD again, take a look at my contribution to the analysis. There will be spoilers.
Fury Road is a Triumph of Storytelling
Interesting statement to make about a movie with no actual story, right? Look, Fury Road doesn’t have a deep story, but that has nothing to do with storytelling. Think about how two different people can tell the same short joke; one person can completely ruin it, while the other makes you feel like you just sat through a Mel Brooks movie by the time the punchline drops. That’s storytelling in action. And any story told well is a good story.
Storytelling is largely influenced by the medium being used, a fact that eludes many people who are starting out in the arts. There’s a reason why books don’t translate to movies very well: they’re two opposed forms of storytelling. One’s visual, one’s kinesthetic. A car chase in a movie will always be more exciting than a car chase in a book. A romance in a book will always have more depth than one in a movie. A film is about “let me see it,” while a book is mostly about “let me feel it.” These are the limitations of the formats, nothing more.
I give Fury Road credit for not contorting itself in a futile attempt to shoehorn a story into its two hours of kickassery. It didn’t force us through the “requisite beats.” Max didn’t kiss Furiosa in some awkward takeaway scene; There were no random jumps to Gastown or the Bullet Farm just to spoon feed me an image of what they’d look like; Immortal Joe didn’t have to do something outlandishly violent or vile in the first act to convince me that he’s the bad guy. Much like real life, in the world of Fury Road, the events simply play out.
The fact that all of the events that play out are mind-blowing isn’t a factor of shoving one watercooler moment after another into the timeline. Nope. It’s a matter of world building. The world of Fury Road is one where everything is exaggerated, explosive, and gripping. Even the mundane moments give us something to latch on to, some visual treat, or some Easter egg about the world, so there’s no need to blow up a car in every scene just to keep us interested.
Fury Road Embraces Closure
There are two primary reasons why I’m adding Fury Road to my list of all-time favorites. A) The movie doesn’t assume that the audience is stupid; B) and in taking this position, it actually gave me reasons to think while I watched it.
I’m attributing the awesomeness of Fury Road to a design concept called closure. Closure is pretty simple: you don’t show everything. It’s a tactic we use a lot in graphic design or photography — a portrait of half a face, a knock-out graphic that’s not fully defined, or a high-contrast image that forces the viewer to pull shapes from the shadows. You’ve seen closure in various forms, and it’s powerful because it requires reciprocity from the viewer. Either you think about it, or you don’t get it. You have to work for it, which means that your brain must click out of “coast” mode and engage with the stimuli. Even though this is a largely subconscious process, it’s extraordinarily effective.
It’s also kind of rare in blockbuster feature films. Instead, these films attempt to fill everything in for us. This is why so many have lines of clumsy dialogue written in to explain some element in the background. Instead of letting us think about it or puzzle it out, they drop an answer in our lap so we’re not distracted from the next round of exploding cars.
Here’s an example: When Slit goes to grab a steering wheel, he pulls it from a massive altar. There’s praying, chanting, a beam of “holy light,” and a vague reference to the god “V8.”
That’s some cool shit. These people worship in a way that fits their lifestyle. V8 is their god of war and thunder, a bringer of powers that these War Boys know how to harness — such as combustion and hydraulics — but likely couldn’t explain if their lives depended on it. The War Boys are raised from birth to respect these divine forces and ask for the favor of their war god that they might bring those forces to battle.
The best part is that I got to imagine all of that backstory. The film didn’t cut to a priest up on the dais explaining it for my benefit. My brain got to fill in the blanks, and I love that. The same goes for the film’s many uses of jargon. Black thumb, rev head, organic. Thanks for not having the characters say the words and then awkwardly say what the word means so that my puny brain can understand.
And the “chrome grills?” That’s a really, really cool concept given even more impact by the fact that some dunderhead didn’t get in front of the camera to tell me all about why it happens. Some vague, crazy battle rite? That’s all I need to know.
The Concepts are Well Thought Out
Like many people, I balked when I first saw the whole flame-spitting guitar thing in a trailer. This snippet led many to believe that Fury Road would almost be a mockery, a spoof, of the old classic. I feared the same, until I watched the whole movie.
Then, every time I saw the battle-drum war wagon, it got my blood up. Those drum beats and guitar licks made me want to jump into a spike-covered war machine and haul ass through the desert. The best part is that it all tied into the world building and characterization.
Immortan Joe uses the promise of Valhalla to drive his War Boys into battle. Clearly, these people are not meant to be Vikings, and they’re not adherents to old Norse mythology. They worship heavy metal, the offshoot branch of ancient Norse religion that would most likely survive a nuclear holocaust. This means that the crazy guitar hero would be the equivalent standard-bearer, possibly one of the most revered roles in battle for Immortan Joe’s forces. He brings the thunder. He heralds death. And this is why he’s the only dude in the entire film who warrants red pajamas. In this world, I can imagine that he’s actually considered part of the clergy.
That makes the guitar truck one of the coolest things in the movie. (Unfortunately, the scene where the truck crashes involves the worst effects in the whole film . . . big surprise, it’s ruined by ugly, obvious CG. They should have cut that crap out.)
This observation leads me back to the storytelling and the medium: films are visual. Like it or not, a majority of the storytelling is delivered through costumes, sets, and props. In visual storytelling, design wins. (The story is advanced through the action, dialogue, and the movements and facial expressions of the actors. Again, different.)
I Want More
If the pivotal maxim of entertainment is to “always leave them wanting more,” then Fury Road hit the mark. Do I want more explosions? Car chases? Fights? Sure, but that’s not what this film left me craving. What I crave is more insight into this brilliant world. I want to go further down the rabbit hole. I want to see more killer costume, prop, and set design.
I wouldn’t care about any of that if this movie hadn’t nailed the storytelling the first time around.
All opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deck Ape...or anyone else. Arrr!