Thursday, February 18, 2016

An Oscar onslaught for 'Mad Max' blindsides Miller

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure film, “Mad Max: Fury Road," directed by George Miller, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. No film was further removed from the Academy Awards than Miller's apocalyptic fireball "Mad Max: Fury Road." But the 10-time nominated "Mad Max" may well come away with more wins at the Academy Awards than any other film. (Jasin Boland AP) 

New York. (AP). Of the many roads to the Academy Awards, none is as unlikely as the one taken (at ferocious speed, with engines roaring) by George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road." Whatever one's concept of "Oscar bait" is, it does not include action-movie dystopias with face-painting kamikazes and blind, fire-shooting metal guitarists who answer to the name of "Doof."

"There's a great quote from Hunter S. Thompson where he said that when something turned right for him unexpectedly, it was like falling down an elevator shaft into a pool of mermaids," Miller says. "It's been a little bit like that."

Despite "Fury Road" being about as far away from the usual Oscar-friendly costumed drama, Miller's fireball of a film heads into the Feb. 28th Academy Awards with 10 nods (second only to "The Revenant"), including best picture and best director for Miller. Nominated in every technical category, "Mad Max" stands a good chance of being the night's most-awarded film.

It's a gratifying if utterly unforeseen outcome for the 70-year-old Miller, who spent more than a decade trying to get various iterations of a "Mad Max" sequel off the ground, not to mention months of shooting in the Namibian desert and several years in post-production — along with the bad word of mouth that accompanies such delays.

But when "Fury Road" was finally unveiled in May, the response was rapturous. Here was not the average, bloated summer sequel at all. Here was a blisteringly cinematic movie stuffed with allegorical meaning, with much to say about gender roles and power.

"I treat action movies very, very seriously," Miller says in a recent interview between stops on the awards circuit. "It's not something like: Here's a movie with talkie bits and now some action. We were trying to conflate the two.”

The multitude of Oscar nominations for "Fury Road" speaks to the widespread admiration for the movie's old-school craft. Though it includes extensive visual effects, "Fury Road" was shot with real vehicles on a real location. Miller is the rare action filmmaker who speaks of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as inspirations.

But for many, it's the film's story of female empowerment, led by Charlize Theron's one-armed warrior Furiosa, that's makes "Fury Road" exceptional. Some have called it a feminist action film.

"It was really, really gratifying when people did respond and saw all its resonances and really picked up on it," Miller says. "The attraction of something like 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is basically allegorical. You're trying to find those things in the story that seem to be constant in humanity."

"Fury Road," which made $376.7 million globally, was named best film by the National Board of Review. Last weekend, it won four BAFTAs. The American Film Institute named it one of the 10 best films of the year, hailing it as "a journey of fire and blood through which the action genre is razed to the ground and reborn."

Miller has two ideas for further installments based on the backstories of different characters.

"I always thought that you really don't know what your film is until some time passes and it's reflected back at you by the audience," he says. "That process seems to be accelerated now. It's been surprising and gratifying."