When I go to the grocery story for ice cream, I know exactly what flavor I want. Maybe I’m flexible on who’s making the flavor but in general, give me what I know I already like.
Ice cream makers aren’t the only ones in on this truism; advertisers are well aware that once consumers find something to our liking, we keep going back to it. Then movie executives got on the bandwagon a few decades back and boom - we’re awash in remakes, reboots and sequels.
Of course, when you’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a two-hour entertainment venture in an industry that’s slowly leaking customers, original vision and story is not high on priority list.
Last week, the latest edition in how this tale plays out hit the press. On Thursday, Sony Pictures announced it would remake the 1996 supernatural cult favorite The Craft to much wailing and moaning among people who feel it’s a touchstone. (Confession: I have not seen, and I have no opinion on the remake.) Then on Friday, Mad Max: Fury Road premiered after a three-decade hibernation of the franchise.
Remakes and reboots and sequels, oh my! It’s easy to see why they get the studio executives excited; they’re a proven favorite flavor. It’s also easy to see the dismay in potential consumers, who’re left bewailing “why?” And while it’s less easy to see, I imagine there’s a significant disappointment in the creative screenwriters whose fresh stories are buried once again under the same stuff we’ve already seen. Hiring writers for remakes and reboots must appeal to those who like the strictures of fan fiction: Here are your borders, your canon, and a beloved lead character. Go!
The moaned “why” is not important here. Why is easy, why was decided by the accountants who saw that Craft made $55.6 million in worldwide box office with a budget of $15 million, and that the last entry in the Mad Max franchise, “Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) earned $36.2 million with a budget of $10 million. (And that one had Tina Turner in a skimpy mesh dress!)
The “why” that comes next, however, does interest me. Clever writers who avoid aping the same movie again can make or break the good do-over film. And while I can’t speak for Craft (though there’s hope in the indie horror director Leigh Janiak and screenwriter Phil Graziadel, who worked together on her film “Honeymoon”), I can address why Fury Road is the best kind of do-over film possible.
There are a number of reasons to ignore Fury Road, including:
- No Mel Gibson, perfect as the haunted title survivor. (Pretend the last decade of his behavior never happened.)
- The “Fast and Furious” franchise already has a lock on two hours of racing cars.
- Dystopic sci-fi largely has gone beyond shoot-em-ups.
- Ain’t nothin’ wrong with the first three Max films (aside from the absurd replacing of Australian voices with American ones in the 1979 original).
But having seen Fury Road, there are even more reasons to go see it. Fury Road is exactly what you want from a big, loud (very loud), dumb (not entirely dumb) summer action picture. The movement is nonstop, the dialogue is minimal but effective, and the visuals are jaw-dropping and original. It succeeds because:
- Original director and screenwriter George Miller has remained fully in the driver’s seat.
- He’s not cashing in on his creation; he’s re-crafting it for a new age.
- He understands that women watch action films - and has weighted not just his cast but his story in their direction
Was there a screenplay for Fury Road? Ostensibly yes; writers (including Miller) were deployed at some point to craft at least a skeleton of a story. But what they did best was not in the line-by-line readings, it was in the world-building of a post-apocalyptic landscape of little water, acres of sand, plenty of grinding metallic engines, and an abundance of shell-shocked, possibly insane survivors. The film is predicated on a brilliantly realized, layered world of intertwining backstories - white-faced creatures exist to serve with religious fervor underground; women are sequestered as breeders for the leader (or used as milk-producing cows); there’s a determined, take-no-shit female leader (Charlize Theron) who makes a bold break for freedom that propels the plot; and there are multiple factions of differently-motorized tribes scattered around the blasted landscape. Each calls out for its own film, or at the very least more explanations and explorations, but none of those are forthcoming. You are in this story, and the story owns the viewer from the first startling moments.
And the payoff works, for the most part. Angst, loss, determination, conversion, reunion, loss, survival. Max (played ably if not electrically by Tom Hardy) is almost beside the point. Instead, for this go-around Miller has used his Mad Max creation as a Trojan horse to tell a story today’s audiences will lap up like ice cream - a brilliant packaging switch that more than justifies the need for whatever this film is: reboot or sequel.
“We don’t need another hero,” Tina Turner sang in the theme song to “Beyond Thunderdome.” And she has a point - most remakes feel like a chance to capitalize off of an established franchise and ring that cash register again. Fury pulls off a magic trick with this new edition, expanding its universe and providing several new, unexpected heroes. That it will more than make its budget back should comfort the accountants, but it’s unimportant to those who care about story. Fury Road gives us the heroes we didn’t know we needed.