Matthew Jaffray on why Mad Max 4 is the most cursed film in Hollywood.
Nambia, February 2003. Mad Max 4: Fury Road is in the middle of pre-production. Millions of dollars have been spent hiring hundreds of people, building expansive sets, scouting locations, leasing trailers and developing the film. The shoot is a few weeks away, and Mel Gibson is set to bring back to the screen one of cinema’s most iconic action heroes. But none of that matters because production will soon be shut down.
It seemed like the timing was perfect. The films that were a cult success in the eighties had blossomed into revered classics and Gibson was at the height of his Hollywood clout, meaning this time, there was to be a colossal budget to the tune of $104 million. To put that into perspective, all three previous films cost a combined total of under $20 million.
Security concerns regarding the war in Iraq (hello? Different continent!) saw things put on hold for a year. Ultimately though, things were scrapped altogether a few months later. This was just another disaster in a production history that would make even Terry Gilliam cringe.
In a way it’s a miracle that the now Oscar winning director George Miller even got the enthusiasm to set himself on the long road of creating a new Mad Max film. Close friend and fellow producer of the series Byron Kennedy was killed during pre-production on Beyond Thunderdome in a helicopter crash while scouting locations.
Devastated by the loss, Miller stepped down from the director’s chair to be replaced Geroge Ogilvie, though he was later persuaded to come back and film the action sequences. The result was a noticeably uneven film which remains by far the weakest of the trilogy.
When Miller eventually came round to the idea of doing the third film, there was a lot of wrangling to get the rights. Warner brothers had released Mad Max 2 and Mad Max 3 in America, but Miller wanted to do Fury Road at Fox, who offered him a huge budget, creative control and had a deal with Gibson’s company Icon. Finally, the dispute was settled when Miller agreed to step down from directing Warner’s Contact with Jodie Foster, to be replaced by Back to the Future creator Robert Zemeckis.
With the issue of the rights put to bed, Miller spent the next three years writing a script which would have to be re-written following Gibson’s departure from the role in 2004 citing his age as his desire to further his directing career as the main reasons.
Things seemed dead in the water. But in 2006, Miller declared he wasn’t finished with Mad Max and proposed to do Fury Road with a re-vamped script and a new actor cast in the role of Max Rockatansky. Tom Hardy was cast in 2009, quite a while before Inception made him a bonafide star, as well as Charlize Theron. Production was slated to begin in 2010, this time in Australia.
Yet again no camera’s rolled. Not one scene was filmed. Just days before shooting was to start, the heavens opened and a rainfall of biblical proportions dampened any chance of production. As Miller put it: "it rained the heaviest it had in 10 years. I’ll never forget the first day — we were holed up in a big sort of shed watching the rain. We couldn’t shoot."
Details of the story of Fury Road have been hotly guarded for a decade now. The casting of Tom Hardy suggests it will not be chronologically the fourth instalment but a reboot. All that’s known of Charlize Theron’s role is that she plays a one-armed woman. While the only leak about the production so far has been form a stuntman who said there are 298 stunts scheduled involving 130 vehicles and as little CGI and green screen work as possible.
Will Mad Max: Fury Road ever see the light of day? According to Miller, yes. "All the contracts are signed. It’s a locked-in film. It has been for 18 months now. We will restart pre-production later this year and begin early next year — weather permitting." But similar sentiments have been made before, after the Nambia shoot fell apart. Meanwhile Tom Hardy’s role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises has pushed back production another few months. While the decision to shoot in 3D pushes the budget up significantly. There have even been rumours that Miller now intends to shoot two Mad Max films back to back. That it has taken 20 years to get this far, this seems quite ambitious, but here’s hoping he pulls it off.