Book Review: “The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road,” by Abbie Bernstein

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The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road, by Abbie Bernstein
 
The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road
By Abbie Bernstein
Foreword by George Miller
Titan Books
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
It can be said without exaggeration that Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action movie of the past fifteen years. It arrived in theaters at an auspicious time. George Miller’s visionary cinematic masterpiece hit the pop culture consciousness just two years after Snowpiercer. Like Joon-ho Bong’s rabble-rousing actioner, Mad Max: Fury Road involved a charismatic hero, a world beset by ecocide and tyranny, and exemplary world-building. While books detailing the behind the scenes stories of pop culture properties is nothing new, The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road by Abbie Bernstein offers a fascinating glimpse at George Miller’s creative process. Also, obviously, awesome concept art for Mad Max’s Interceptor, the War Rig, and Gigahorse. If you are a gearhead, this book is for you. If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction, this book is for you. If you like both, you probably either own or have read a copy.
Let’s put it this way: I bought The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road new at a major bookstore chain. Why? Because it is important to support a cinematic genius like George Miller. (This is coming from someone without a gram of AdBlocker guilt. Yes, supporting people on social media is important, but I’ll be damned if I sit through a shrill ad or have my information sold to a third-party without my consent. Especially given how comically poor security is with gigantic corporate entities like Yahoo!, Target, and others. Soap box filibusters are mediocre. They are not shiny and chrome.)
Mad Max: Fury Road‘s long gestation period and its imprimatur as a personal project make this otherwise standard movie tie-in book stand out. We see how the movie originated as a single storyboard way back in 1999. An extended pre-production process can sometimes doom movies, but in this case, the vision was refined and refined. Then distilled and polished. The end product is an action movie ever bit as distinguished and idiosyncratic as Touch of Evil or David Lynch’s Dune.
Bernstein further illuminates the world with profiles of the main characters. It was fascinating learning about each of Immortan Joe’s five brides. In the action and excitement of the movie, they had the tendency to blur into a single collective character. Hugh Keay-Byrne also explains Immortan Joe’s actions. “I’m faced with the an army of people who are dying at a massive rate from the pollution of the environment. So I have a breeding program, I have blood banks, I have milk banks, I have hydroponics, anything to keep this up.” Because the earth has been so ravaged, Immortan Joe can be seen as having good intentions. Except his good intentions are harnessed to a militaristic, authoritarian, and misogynist regime. He faces the rogue actions of Imperator Furiosa by claiming his brides are his property and wanting to put a bullet in Furiosa’s head. (And here would be an inevitable comparison of the two antagonists to our upcoming electoral choices for president. Mediocre!)
The book also puts to rest where Fury Road falls within the Mad Max continuity. According to Brendan McCarthy, the screenwriter, “The world is so toxic that the human race is collapsing. In the earlier Mad Max trilogy, the first film was a biker revenge movie, the second was about the commodity of oil and the third one, humourously, was about everybody fighting over pig manure. We wanted to take that away and actually make this about the ultimate commodity: the human race itself – about sperm and wombs and women and men.” So technically, Fury Road would take place several years after Beyond Thunderdome, where even Aunty Entity’s attempts to create a stable political situation have collapsed. The world of Fury Road is neo-medieval.
Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won six: Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. Its numerous accolades is testament to George Miller’s visual storytelling style and the collaborative spirit of everyone involved. Despite its fantastical premise, the film felt real and live-in. Miller’s philosophy of using practical effects whenever possible further reinforced the film’s feel and look. The end product is a harsh dystopia, but one that looks beautiful and hand-crafted.
Out of 10/8.5 and 10 for Mad Max fans.
Read even more about The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing

Karl Wolff has been a local TV production assistant, museum curator, and undergraduate teaching assistant. He currently reviews books for CCLaP, the New York Journal of Books, runs his own blog (The Driftless Area Review), and has written features for Milwaukee's own Alcoholmanac Magazine and INFO* Magazine.