For my money, Mad Max: Fury Road remains the best movie playing in theaters, the best movie of 2015 thus far, and the best action movie I’ve seen in at least five years. Director George Miller is at the top of his game, proving that age and a stint producing family films (Babe, Happy Feet) hasn’t smoothed the edge of one of cinema’s most skilled craftsmen.
Of all of the features that make Fury Road such a visceral moviegoing experience, the most critical is Miller’s use of practical effects and stunt work. While digital effects have come a long way in the past twenty years, so has the visual sensibility and spatial awareness of film audiences. CGI has its place, and often successfully transports us to new worlds we’ve only dreamt of. That’s the power of movies. But for action films, no matter how great the CGI may be, the digital effects are often overdone and unrelenting. Filmmakers like Michael Bay move their cameras inorganically through shots in a way that can often make the action onscreen appear frenetic and hard to follow. Not to mention that sense of daring that came from the practical stunt work of action films from the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s is all but lost on today’s moviegoing generation.
George Miller is back to change that. Miller knows that an audience is more likely to engage with a film if they can sense real danger in its action. Practical effects offer so much more than digital cars defying physics across digital landscapes lacking depth. The eye and brain know how to differentiate the real from the synthetic and the heart knows how to beat in pace with a film’s action.
The below video of uncut, untouched b-roll from behind the scenes of Fury Road shows just how skilled Miller truly is. Take a look at the real vehicles; intense, dangerous stunts; and pyrotechnics and actors on location in the desert and you’ll see just how much risk and calculation actually existed on-set. Luckily, that risk paid off.