The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained.
The Film: The Road Warrior (1981)
The Plot: After the events of Mad Max (1979), in which Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) saw his family murdered by a vicious gang, he wanders the desolate desert wastelands of Australia after society has collapsed. In his continuous search for fuel, he stumbles across a group of settlers who have come under attack from a gang of marauders, led by the hockey mask-wearing muscle-bound psychopath known as Humungus. The gang wants the fuel that the settlers have been refining, and Humungus shows his determination by brutally attacking the settlers out of their compound. Max makes a deal with the settlers that he will help them retrieve a giant truck that can be used to transport their fuel to a safe destination. In return, the settlers agree to let Max have all the fuel he can carry… if he survives.
The Review: Of the three films in the Mad Max series, The Road Warrior (or Mad Max 2, as it was cleverly named outside of the U.S.) is the most powerful and well made. It plays off the classic western archetype of the wandering stranger who comes to town and ends up helping the people stand up to a threat. However, instead of riding a horse, Max Rockatansky drives a suped-up police Interceptor.
Like many post-apocalyptic films, The Road Warrior and the series itself is quite vague on what the actual apocalypse was. Later, in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), there’s some commentary on high levels of radioactivity, but this was a standard thing to find in movies during the nuclear arms race. The first Mad Max focused more on societal breakdown and the characters’ attempt to keep peace in a dystopian society. It’s not until you get to The Road Warrior that the world (or at least this little corner of Australia) is seen in full post-apocalyptic mode.
Like its predecessor, The Road Warrior makes a relatively small budget look phenomenally huge with intense action sequences on the road where real vehicles crash into other real vehicles (and that’s something you see less and less of in the movies today). Using the tried and true story arc of the western hero, The Road Warrior reminds the viewer of Eastwood’s character in the spaghetti westerns, though it puts everything against a unique backdrop.
Director George Miller had more impact on the general look and feel of post-apocalyptic movies with this film than probably any other artist or single movie had. The Road Warrior became the gold standard of this genre, not just in how it presents the anarchy of the world but also the design of the vehicles and the tribal costumes of the antagonists. The film pushes all the right buttons in terms of the characters, giving us a hardened and reluctant hero as well as showing the victimization of the last vestige of polite society.
The villains, who are never presented as deep characters, represent society gone mad. They cannot be reasoned with, and they plan to take whatever they want, no matter how violently it might happen. This leads to a deadly confrontation in the movie’s high-octant, awesome climax where there are no rules and no compassion.
But beyond the characters and the story, The Road Warrior is one of the greatest action films ever made because it keeps throwing the action at you and doesn’t slow down. Miller doesn’t rely on visual effects, blue screens or clever editing to show the battles on the Australian blacktop. He straps the cameras on real cars going at breakneck speed. The accelerator is pressed down to the floor throughout the climactic chase, and it’s a thrill to watch. If you’re lucky enough to catch this movie projected widescreen in 35mm in a theater, jump at the chance. You’ll witness a rich and exhilarating piece of non-Hollywood history.
But why spend 95 minutes watching this film when you only have 413,027 minutes left to live?
No matter how this whole end of the world thing happens, you’ll want a taste of what the collapse of society will bring. Complain about gas prices all you want; they’re about to go up after the Mayan Apocalypse Fairy arrives in December. After the dust settles, you’ll want to know what role you will be playing. Will you be a civilized villager trying to keep a small sense of order? If so, start your stockpile of supplies and begin building the walls to your fortress. Will you be a lone traveler fighting to survive on your own? If so, get to work on your muscle car and have plenty of room for petrol. Or will you be a deranged marauder looking to rape and pillage what’s left of humanity? If so, start making your costume now, ‘cause leather, feathers and hockey masks will be in short supply come judgement day. In any respect, The Road Warrior offers a grim look at what’s to come and how you might prepare, and it also gives us that slim sliver of hope that humanity will survive. (And silly us for believing that.)