Waterworld at 20: We need to Parley about Mariner

The Mariner sinks - Waterworld at 20

It’s the summer of resurgent dystopia – so how could Jokerside ignore the 20th anniversary of Waterworld. Blockbuster folly, by the numbers, laugh-out loud… It’s the masthead film that has everything.

AHOY! YES, THIS POST COMES TO PRAISE KEVIN COSTNER’S SLIPPERY ANTIHERO NOT TO RECYCLE HIM TO DIRT!

What better time to have a big birthday than during this glorious resurgence of Hollywood dystopia. The Apes may be having a year off, but they’ve led a charge that’s dodged the turgid eco-sci-fi of Oblivion and Elysium to lead Mad Max and Terminator back to the multiplexes. In case you’re wondering, one of those last two was a classic.

Many films have been hit by the curse of water, but of the two most notable examples James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) rose to unprecedented success and… Kevin Reynold’s Waterworld (1995) will never lose its disaster tag. For all the wrong reasons. Of course now we all know that it wasn’t the “Kevin’s Gate” critics were quick to label it – that “Kevin” being interchangeable between Reynold and star/producer of the moment Kevin Costner. It made some money, it really did. But somehow, that was even worse, forever banning it from pity lists, a true cult following and even sneaking into snobbish, art-house speakeasies of dumbing down.

It’s a film everyone loves to hate, and that’s precisely why those immensely watchable two hours are bloody great.

Above Board – Emerging from Sherwood

How could they follow that myth-compounded action spectacular?

The two Kevs had recently emerged from the forest of ebullience surrounding Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Yes, a great film: It even had Brian Blessed in it. How could they follow that myth-compounded action spectacular with its huge sets, rather uncharismatic gruff leading man, stellar comic violence, dash of supernatural, mind-wrenching end credit song and iconic villain?  Waterworld of course! It had all the above. Just without the song.

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Escape Back to the Planet of the Apes: Page to Screen

Planet of the Apes Part One

Last year Dawn of the Planet of the Apes navigated its change of cast and director to match the critical acclaim and exceed the box office of its predecessor. Already raking in more than the original five film cycle, Fox’s key apocalyptic franchise is clearly back to stay. And Hollywood is richer for it.

In the first of four simian long reads, Jokerside looks to the far future of Pierre Boulle’s original novel and the two Charlton Heston starring adaptations that kicked off one of Hollywood’s major franchises by ending the world…

THE APES ARE BACK. IN SO MANY WAYS THE ARCHETYPAL ACTION FRANCHISE, PLANET OF THE APES IS ALSO ONE OF THE STRANGEST. It’s the first two scenes of 2001 all wrapped up, when it wants to be. It’s humanoids versus humanoids, but not one of them is an invader from outer space. These aren’t machines from the future, but ambassadors from hummanity’s past. Man’s destruction may lie in his own hands, but the winners aren’t built by them; it’s anti-robot to the point of schadenfreude. Not only are apes waiting for man at the end of time, but against all odds, technology in the thrall of the cosmic joker, serves up a man of our contemporary to witness it. It’s one thing that man is destined to destroy himself, but quite another that he’s forced into subjugation, robbed of almost everything, even language, only for a cynical, desperate forefather visit the future to witness it. That just rubs salt in the wounds of our mute, enslaved, distant ancestors. There’s no simple extinction to offer man an easy way out of this universe. The apes are coming and it’s a good thing that Creationists will have stopped reading by now…

Post-apocalyptic action-fiction has never waned since its inception – around about the publication of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man in 1826. And she was no one hit wonder. 189 years later, this year has seen George Miller’s Mad Max bring the genre resoundingly back to the cinema. But a few years ago, Fox’s greatest franchise found a less bombastic way to drag its own brand of dystopian horror back to the big screen. That’s proved a great success. In creating two superb, intelligent and brilliantly produced films during this ‘reboot’ Fox has somehow managed to gross over a billion dollars. It elevates a franchise that burned so brightly through the late 1960s and early 1970s before floundering for three decades – and just about disguising the fact that the Apes films were never riddled with quality as much as they were ambition. Still, on their celluloid attack, the real strength still comes from dipping into the marvellously broad canvas painted by a trinket of a book published in 1963.

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Mad Max: “The Long Road to Hollywood”

Mad Max Even further beyond the Thunderdome

As Mad Max roars back to the cinema, the second of Jokerside’s glimpses back at the original trilogy. As the gas ran out on the Road Warrior he reluctantly found himself in the middle of a highly influential, lean second film and then an extraordinary stab at Hollywood excess. (Like the man himself, a few mild Fury Road spoilers fade into the mix near the end). 

“Ruthless…
Savage…
Spectacular”

SO RAN A TAGLINE FOR MAX’S RETURN TO THE BIG SCREEN IN 1981. IN SO MANY WAYS THE FIRST FILM WAS PERFECTLY SELF-CONTAINED… BUT IT ALSO LEFT A WIDE OPEN ROAD IN FRONT OF THE ROAD WARRIOR. And George Miller, feted by a Hollywood that offered him the reigns to films like First Blood, couldn’t resist exploring that world with a higher budget. The first part of this retrospective looked at the essential Max Factor, those crucial bits of legend that feed through the entire franchise. It took an extra-long look at that opening 1979 film, an extraordinary piece of revenge with a proud place in the grand tradition of the Australian road movie. That first film could have gone anywhere, where it went was beyond expectations.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

“Only One Man Can Make a Difference”

This is it, the film that all other Mad Max pictures need to live up to. It set the template from the middle of the trilogy, the leanest and most influential of three different visions… Remember we left him a broken man without hope? Now, he’s fully set, cold and survivalist. This is the cue that Fury Road picks up, rewriting the second instalment more than others. Like the James Bond comparison that keeps coming up, Max can lose his Interceptor twice in part two and four, just as Bond meets Blofeld twice in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. And if there’s any part of this diverse trilogy that Fury Road should mimic it’s the second one.

This is the film that makes the favourites list of directors like Fincher, Del Toro, Cameron and Rodriguez. A film that followed one of the greatest budget-to-box office success stories of all time, and somehow managed to extend the story, drama, depth, action and potential of the franchise. It had a budget 10 times the original, built the biggest film set Australia had ever seen and managed to film its script in order. Oh, and only gives its leading man 16 lines of dialogue.

Here Max comes into his own. Gibson cuts an iconic figure in the Frankensteined leather, cuts and mismatched clothing explained by the injuries that concluded the first film. Striking, solitary, threatening, stunning. It’s a deep, dark study of a man with heart-felt character touches. The film raises its game to match, allowing not just for broad sweeps of the desert outback, but the mass of converging vehicles the original couldn’t stretch to. Chasing, sparring and locking spoilers. It all creates a heady mix revolving round the impassive Max.

The Silent Type

“If you had contract it was with him – and he died with it”

The dark figure of Max has been condensed, and the film feels no pressure to recap the events that created him. Very few concessions are made to explain his actions and general self-serving, self-survivalist nature. But there are sparing and effective glimmers that play with it. One of those comes with a music box mechanism, much like one that was set to appear in Fury Road but seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. Left alone, after watching quietly main villain The Humungus articulate his offers to the refinery outpost at the heart of the film, Max passes the mechanism to the Feral Child who had inflicted the most damage on the marauders though secret passageways. Resolute for much of the film, Max doesn’t show emotion at thee death around him, nor even at the loss of his Falcon later on. He’d equipped it with a booby trap, so would never have let him become too attached to even his precious wheels. But when he impassively considers this Feral Kid and passes him the mechanism he took earlier from a crashed gang member, he almost manages a smile – albeit a mirthless one. It’s superbly carried by Gibson, taking a firm grip of one of cinema’s great men of few words. But it’s also so much more. Set five years after the first film, the Feral child isn’t far off the age his own child would have been. And like Max, the child’s left without anyone – although lucky enough not to be saddled with the knowledge or tragedy of the previous world. And tellingly, this scene comes just after Feral Kid has inflicted the kind of emotional trauma on villain Wez that helped to create Max. So the tragic cycle of this world keeps turning.

Yes, it’s five years later and society has moved on, even if not up. But also, Max is far from the urban decay and loose infrastructure of the first film. In that time, deep in the outback The Humungus has amassed a gang of berserkers. A far more formidable crew than Max encountered half a decade before.

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Mad Max: “That other George Franchise” and its Essential Max Factors

Mad Max - The Essential Max Factor

Mad Max roars back to the cinema this week, with the kind of high-budget epic that’s far removed from its budget-constrained, gritty beginnings. Although if anything, Max madder than he ever.  Simultaneously complex, mysterious and furiously simple – a look back at the franchise built around a man’s mental collapse. First Up, a (spoiler-filled) look at the 1979 original and those essential Mad Max Factors.

“You don’t want to make Max mad,
Because when Max gets mad,
He gets even”

WHAT IS IT ABOUT GEORGES AND THEIR FRANCHISES? George Romero has his brilliant Dead trilogy, now of two parts after expand it in the last decade with a looser follow-up trilogy.  Then of course, main beard George Lucas saw the turn of the century as the perfect time to expand his original Star Wars trilogy. Being very kind, neither of those extensions matched the heights of the originals. So it’s left to one other George to right the record. And as Australian visionary George Miller heads back to his Mad Max franchise 30 years on, he’s certainly not running on empty.

All those original ‘George Trilogies’ ended between 1983 and 1985, and while Max’s return comes later, having escaped a great deal of production, it stands a good chance of writing a wrong. To fulfil the franchise’s potential as one of Hollywood’s major properties. Miller always had higher blockbuster ambitions for his main work, last seen limping slightly from Hollywood in 1985. Amassing awards for other films, from drama to animation, he’s certainly not lost the passion for his first cinematic son.

The Originals

Every film has a different flavour

So what of that original trilogy? It’s an incredibly varied work, released over six years but crossing 20 years of narrative chronology. It hardly sits unique in the genre of Australian road movie, but it’s surprisingly un-repetitive. Maybe it’s tracking the disintegration of humanity, maybe through time passed or distance made from an apocalypse. But really it’s about the destruction of one man. The first film took its time defining and then breaking a legend in waiting who would haunt the next two films like a ghost as the world found new ways to fall around him. If there’s redemption on offer he falls on it by mistake and never sees it to fruition.  It’s astonishing that the first film is dedicated to Max’s origin, but more so that once he’s created and voyages further into the dark heart of dystopia he’s resolutely fixed. It’s a study of a man who has everything taken away, and becomes a single stable point in a new world that’s often bustling either for hope, anarchy or a new capitalism. But it’s open to interpretation. He’s an anti-hero, but no longer either the good man he professes to be in the first part nor a villain, despite his clear homicidal criminality at the end of that same film. Perhaps not so much a good man than a broken man in waiting; a fragile personality that simply can’t accept change or loss.

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