Monday, May 25, 2015

Beyond the Max

(More Mad Max spoilers.)

Lots of times I rage at movies that are terribly unrealistic and abuse science.  I do love both sci fi and fantasy though so clearly I am ok with all kinds of things that don't fit well within our understanding of physics.  It isn't raw disagreement with standard physics that gets me, but rather inconsistent violation of physics.  If a world is defined as one where mumbling arcane incantations and waving a staff around can create fireballs I am totally on board.  Sounds fun!  But if the army crossing the great plains takes 1 day to go across one way and then 6 days to go back because the writer or director was too lazy to get it right then it bothers me to no end.  It doesn't bother me if the world requires faster than light travel, but please don't insult me by having someone spout nonsense to support it - just say "turn on the FTL drive Sandy" and go with it.

I am somewhat torn about Mad Max in this regard.  Mad Max clearly tears science a new one in many ways, primarily as it relates to food, fuel, and water.  The movie has people living in a nearly featureless desert driving around in cars constantly.  Somehow they manage to pump, refine, and deliver enough gasoline to have a car centric society without having enough infrastructure to make clothes, or computers, or anything really.  They also apparently have gasoline potent enough that a motorcycle, when fully fuelled, can run for 160 days straight.  It is a good thing their motorcycles can do this because people apparently just drive around the desert for their entire lives without having any access to fuel.

The story is set in Earth's future though so it is entirely reasonable to imagine a fuel has been invented prior to the cataclysm that is 100 times more energy dense than gasoline.  Somehow humankind found a new sort of fossil fuel source, called it gasoline, and they are using it.  That is pretty ridiculous, but for a movie like this it is a perfectly fine assumption.  Super magic gasoline, why not!

Food is trickier.  There seem to be tons of people wandering about the desert with no source of food or water at all.  We see two people opportunistically munch down on critters in the film but aside from one special spot controlled by a warlord no one appears to have a single thing to eat or drink available.  How these desert nomads manage that feat is never quite explained.  Also unexplained is how the awful warlord manages to only give out water periodically, does so by pouring it on the ground, and yet somehow the peasants under his control don't die.

This one I can't explain away.  It is just a magic required by the setting - food is incredibly scarce but lacking it just causes suffering, not death.  At least not right away.  That is fine though as it is clear from the outset and consistent throughout the movie.  Changing it would significantly alter everything in the movie and wouldn't really add anything.  I also approve of the fact that they don't try to explain the nonsense but just build the world and go with it.  People don't really need food that much, fine.

One thing that Mad Max does superbly well though is not breaking immersion within the fight scenes themselves.  The tactics the various villains in the movie employ are absolutely insane (attack the enemies by attaching yourself to a flexible flagpole and twanging towards them with bombs on spears!) but they are all members of a fanatical cult lead by a megalomanic, convinced their antics will guarantee them entry into Valhalla.  Berserkers don't need no stinkin' logic!  The cars and people respond well to things that happen to them like explosions, gunshots, punches and spear wounds.  The heroes are a lot tougher than one would really expect, but other than that the brawling is remarkably realistically choreographed and felt great.

I spent a lot of time thinking "Wow, those people are NUTS" but I did not spend time thinking "Wow, that is so preposterous.  Come on...."  Again, they took a crazy premise and then ran with it in a way that felt natural and smooth.  Obviously people in this situation would do nutty things, but given the world they live in and what they did everything played out in ways that made sense.

That is the ticket, really.  If you describe the world and outline whatever crazy science alterations are required to make it work I should be able to then predict the results of actions.  If you have to come up with bullshit nonsense to forward the plot then I get grumpy because it feels ridiculous and the immersion breaks completely.  Mad Max was so much fun because I could tell that the characters weren't going to magic nonsense their way out of trouble - they lived in a world where they had to win by guts, grit, moxie, brains, brawn, skill, and speed.  And they did, and it was a wonderful spectacle to behold.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Enjoyed this view of story a lot. Especially where you end up - the trajectory of magical or improbable reality should make sense. And when you've invested the time to read or sit through s story, rescuing characters from narrative via some improbable and unpredictable magic (or b.s., I will not quibble over terms) one feels cheated. Duped. -Aino