1 of 6 | George Miller arrives on the red carpet at The National Board of Review gala honoring the 2015 award winners in New York City on January 5. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Australian filmmaker George Miller acknowledged he is surprised, but also quite pleased, by the overwhelmingly positive response audiences and reviewers have had to his post-apocalyptic movie Mad Max: Fury Road.
"The film came out last year in May, and I really didn't expect us to be talking about it all this time later, so that's pretty gratifying, I must say. So, it's good fun," Miller told UPI in a recent phone interview.
The fourth installment – and the first in 30 years -- of the Mad Max franchise is in the running for dozens of prizes, including Sunday's Golden Globe Awards for Best Director and Best Picture Drama. It also has been included on more than 100 Best of 2015 lists and is widely expected to earn several Oscar nods when nominations are announced next week.
Asked if he always knew the movie would be embraced if he could overcome the many obstacles he faced along the way, the 70-year-old auteur replied: "To be honest, no, and you never know. You make a film out of your best instincts and your best knowledge and you finally put it out there, but it's not until it gets some response -- good or bad -- from the audience that you really begin to understand where you may have succeeded or not."
Mel Gibson, now 60, played the title role in Miller's first three Mad Max movies, which are set in a futuristic, desert wasteland. Tom Hardy, 38, takes over the road-warrior character this time around, while Charlize Theron plays Furiosa, a fierce survivor whose job is to collect much-coveted gasoline in this dusty and dangerous world. The result is a visually stunning blockbuster with excellent performances and a visceral, intelligent story.
Miller explained it was essential for him to maintain balance between the tale of human struggle at the center of Fury Road with the thrilling action sequences Mad Max fans have come to expect.
"That's really important," he emphasized. "If it's just action, if it's just sort of a lot of sound and movement, without in any way progressing the characters or the relationship between the characters or in any way moving the story or the experience forward, then it's kind of empty calories. You work very hard in the writing and the execution and, particularly in the editing, to make sure that [balance] happens. The action is a form of dialogue. There is conflict. And, in every way, you need to be learning something, even if it is in small increments. Cumulatively, they take the audience through the experience."
He went on to say he is delighted with how moviegoers are exploring and discussing the film's many layers, which offer a bleak look at an oppressive and violent society forced to fight over severely limited resources.
"I never imagined people would read into the story as much as they do," the filmmaker said. "These stories -- a little bit like the American western -- are kind of morality plays or very, very simple stories, which make some of these issues very accessible. ... To see what people are picking up and reading into this and responding to, I must say, I'm very, very, very pleased about that because you always doubt that it's there and when so many people pick it up, it's really fantastic. Depending on who you are, you're going to pick up different things. It's in the eyes of the beholder. ... For me, the measure of a film is how long it follows you out of the cinema and it seems as though this film is following a lot of people out of the cinema for a long time. So, that's a big deal to me."
Looking back, does Miller think Fury Road might have taken so long to get made because it was meant to be seen by this audience at this point in time?
"I have to say that's true," he said. "Had we made the film a decade ago. I don't know that it would have done [as well.] It certainly would have been a different film in many ways. It would have had a different cast. Technically, the equipment has become even more advanced; the cameras have gotten smaller and more agile. Digital effects have become much more accessible. Just the shooting... the logistics and the technology of shooting have become much more efficient. I don't think it would have been quite the same movie. The essential story would have been there. ... I think it is a kind of a blessing."
Miller appeared happy and surprised to learn his old friend Gibson would be a presenter at Sunday's Golden Globes.
"I didn't know that! That's good!" the filmmaker said. "He was down in Australia, making a movie down there, and I won an award for best director for the equivalent of the Australian Academy Awards and, lo and behold, it was Mel who handed it out. So, that was really nice. He's directing a movie called Hacksaw Ridge down there, but I didn't know he was doing the Golden Globes. That's great!"
Gibson, who is a director as well as an actor, has been supportive of the Mad Max franchise's moving forward without him and he even showed up at the premiere of Fury Road last spring.
"He sat right next to me, with Tom just behind us, and he kept on digging me in the ribs and I know he really appreciated the movie," Miller recalled. "He said some lovely things about it. He's a great guy. I know he's had a lot of trouble and turbulence in his life, but deep down, he's a very, very fine man."
Co-starring Nicholas Hoult, Riley Keough and Zoe Kravitz, Mad Max: Fury Road is now on DVD and Blu-ray.