The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981), The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)

From Forum with No Name:

Two apocalyptic visions

(Plot discussed in close detail)

Saw The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981) again and it's strange how prophetic all this seems today, the desperate struggle for dwindling supplies of oil.

Loved Norma Moriceau's punk costumes (I used to call it burlap chic) and always will, and really have no problem with the fact that Gibson's Max is mostly passive throughout the picture, that he mainly serves as a doll (sorry--'action figure') George Miller can pose against the ravaged landscape, or torture at will (the film fits in with Gibson's extensive gallery of masochistic messiahs). The movie's real hero of course is Bruce Spence's autogyro captain--he's a go-getter, and eventually we learn that he's also leader material (he becomes chief of the tribespeople Max rescues).

You see the lack of a production budget (which actually works for the film, because it really looks as if everything--their vehicles, their homes, their clothes--were salvaged from a junkyard), and you can spot the footage undercranked to make it all look dangerously fast, but it's such a skillfully shot and pieced-together picture that it gets to you anyway.

Interesting note: halfway through the chase (where Max's enormous Mack truck is pursued by twenty or so motorized marauders, ravenous for his cargo of precious 'juice' (refined gasoline)), there's a shot of Max pinnned to his seat by an iron-clawed punk, the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) whaling away at said punk. Papagallo (Mike Preston) drives up to the side of the beseiged truck and calls to the kid to jump; "We've won!" he says, but both Max and the kid ignore him. The very shot prior to his delivering that line we see the truck on the left and Papagallo's car coming up from the right; you can see the truck's--I don't know what they call it, drain pipe, or release valve or whatever--spewing not gasoline, but dust.

What follows is ten minutes of the most savage collisions between car and car and men and car ever seen on the big screen, an orgy of violently combining metal and flesh that would have given J.G. Ballard multiple orgasms. Then the twist: Max's (Mack?) truck tips over, and you're expecting (ever since the truck pulled out of the settlers' compound with its thousands upon thousands of gallons of what we all thought was fuel) a huge orange-ball of fire to follow, dwarfing the explosion that destroyed the compound earlier (on record as the largest pyrotechnic effect ever set off in an Australian film); instead, it's all spinning wheels and silence. Max walks up to the still spilling valve, cups his hand under the contents: red dust. Turns out the tribespeople had hidden the gasoline elsewhere, and used his truck as bait to lure away the punks.

Which means--what? That the last ten minutes of mayhem was all for nothing? That people died, and others murdered not for the precious fuel, but for the sheer joy of violence and destruction? The punks could plainly see, as we could, that the tanker was filled with red dust--that shot I mentioned earlier was a dead giveaway, and there were several more such shots--but they and we don't notice, or choose not to notice. We must have our share of blood, in other words, and plenty of it.

Final note: Miller, like Lucas, cites Joseph Campbell's "Man of a Thousand Faces" as an influence; if it is, it's an influence on the film's most pretentious parts (the opening monologue about 'world history,' the closing monologue by the same actor over an image of Max standing before a darkened sky (why would he elect to stay behind?)). Miller could have done very well without Campbell, I think (he did well without him in the first "Mad Max"); to be fair, Miller makes a more eloquent case for use of the man's ideas with this film than Lucas does with his Star Wars prequels.

Also saw Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979), after so many years. I could take or leave the director's cut with its comic-book transitions that don't seem necessary, and the Greek-warrior prologue that makes explicit what was implied all along; on the other hand, I've always seen the film in a murky video transfer, and this handsome DVD is practically a revelation: Andrew Laszlo's stylized photography of New York is tremendous, a gallery of beautiful graphic-novel artwork come to full-page life.

A lot of it is dated: the language ("boppers," "rumbled," "can you dig it?"), the relatively squeaky-clean streets (rain-slicked, to reflect the powerful colored lights better), the relatively low-calibre weaponry (handguns, no automatics), the lack of racism or drug use. But it's a handsome-looking action film, tightly structured (twenty-seven miles of city travelled in a single night), expertly paced, with the odd bit of surreal imagery (warpainted gang members with baseball bats) and eroticism (two women dancing sweetly to rock music; two lovers kissing as a subway train roars by (a cliche that--far as I know--was created by this picture).

There is enough characterization to sketch each player as Rogue, Riff, Fury or Warrior; there's not much acting, outside of David Patrick Kelly's punk Richard III. Hill's using these people for their bodies, for the way they run and move and the way light is sliced off by their sharp cheekbones and shines through their halo of hair.

Between the two--I don't know; some years back, I would have chosen The Road Warrior straight off, but now, I don't know. Miller's is the bigger vision, a whole new world risen from the blasted sand, where the cars roar and careen and crash and die almost as memorably as human bodies do. But Hill's has the gorgeous color palette, the classic action photography and fight choreography, the ability to take a familiar setting (New York City) and turn it into something fabulous, a nightmare fantasyland. It's also more moving in its understated heroism (it's clear Hill views these kids as heroes), and there's real pathos in the line delivered by Swan (Michael Beck): "This is what we fought all night to get back to?" (that he says it in a quiet deadpan makes the line all the more suggestive). I'd hate to do without either of these two pictures.

ChrisJ: Road Warriors/Mad Max 2 by far preferred by me but I like the Warriors a lot. If felt like it was in a dated time capsule when it came out... a bizarro world fantasy.

Warriors come out and play a hay...

Randy Wylde: You have no idea how many times I heard that ditty growing up. (Randy Wylde'sreal last name is "Warrior").

DH1: Looking back on it, the only real thing wrong with 'The Warriors' is the soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, it's a good soundtrack, BUT it's a flick with apunk attitude and punk look released right in the heart of the punk movement in the US. Instead, you get lots of Motown and a good Joe Walsh tune at the end, good stuff, but wrong for the movie, IMHO.

Especially with being set in NYC, there should have been boatloads of Ramones tunes.

ChrisJ: There's a whole lotta stuff wrong with the film ...

It coulda' shoulda been much rougher and tougher, without a few pretty boys in the cast a lot more consequences for violence, more gore of course... and if it was made tougher than you should have at least had the Ramones, New York Dolls, maybe Lou Reed and some others on the soundtrack rather than the motown, synth-near disco stuff and Joe Walsh.

There's a couple of real continuity error things...

 DH1: Yeah. Even now, I'm thinking about how much cooler the fight scene with the baseball-themed gang could have been if it had been scored with the Ramones' 'Beat on the Brat.'

ChrisJ: Exactly.

I'll take y'all's word on the music. The violence for me is just fine; stylized, balletic, carefully and simply choreographed.

What was really fine, though, was this scene on their subway trip home. They're slumped on the seats or lying down outright, exhausted; Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and Swan, who have developed some affection for each other through the long night, are sitting next to each other. Then some kids come straight out of their prom night walk into the car (the girl even has a corsage) and sit down opposite the couple. The two girls (Mercy and the prom date) stare at each other, and Mercy is conscious of the fact that she looks like she'd been dragged through miles of underground tunnels and several battles (which, as a matter of fact, she was). She puts up a hand to brush away a stray strand of hair, and Swan catches her hand, slowly pulls it down.

I took that gesture to mean Swan is saying to Mercy: 1) "Don't be ashamed of the grime and disheveled hair--they're a badge of honor;" 2) "Don't feel you're alone--you're my girl."

Not a single line of dialogue, but it's easily the best moment in the picture. Road Warrior is great, with tremendous action sequences, but I don't remember it having a scene as deeply felt as this.

jenniferb: loved that scene too.

DH1: Me too.

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