‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Attention to Detail: A Flame-Throwing Guitar & That Chrome Paint


Photo: Warner Bros.

After I walked out of Mad Max: Fury Road over the weekend, I was impressed by a lot of things. The performances, namely Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. The absolutely insane practical effects that were filmed in-camera. The fact the film was made by a man whose last three directorial credits include Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. Don’t get me wrong, I like dancing penguins and city-dwelling pigs as much as everybody else, maybe more, but let’s agree the War Rig in Mad Max: Fury Road takes viewers on a ride that those animals, cute as they are, simply cannot.

Perhaps two of the biggest highlights of the film, however, are its stunning attention to detail and the way it embraces the world around it, to the point its world doesn’t feel created so much as it just exists. There is a sense of realism in Fury Road that few blockbusters these days are able to attain, though not for lack of trying. From the costumes worn by the characters to the props they wield, from the vehicles they drive to the wasteland they travel across, everything has its place in Mad Max: Fury Road. Exhibit A: The movie features a character, Coma the Doof Warrior (played by iOta) whose chief responsibility is to shred guitar during battle, and strangely that seems normal when it happens in the movie.

Part of why it seems so normal is because his flame-throwing guitar, like so many other things in the film, is real. That’s right, it actually works! “George [Miller] — unfortunately — doesn’t like things that don’t work,” production designer Colin Gibson told MTV regarding the flame-spewing prop. He continues:

I have in the past built him props that I thought were just supposed to be props, and then he goes, “Okay, plug it in now.”

The first version of the guitar which — I think I put too much into the flame thrower, not enough into the reverb. And yes, the flame throwing guitar did have to operate, did have to play, the [public address] system did have to work and the drummers… Unfortunately, I did get practice in all positions and I’ve got to tell you, the drumming was very uncomfortable at 70 [kilometers] an hour, eating sand.

Further, it seems Gibson shares Miller’s penchant for real, functional things, as he also told MTV, “I’m a bit of a fan of real physics, and so as long as I can make it believable, and logical, as to what they could do, I was happy to go ahead.” Everything about the Doof Warrior character, from his flame-throwing guitar to his bright red onesie to the bungee he swings from, everything is real and has a purpose, which makes Mad Max: Fury Road all the richer. If you’ve got time, I encourage you to read the rest of the interview over at MTV to learn more about the process Gibson went through to build the world of this film, it is quite a treat and well worth it.

Something else that comes across as normal in the film: the chrome paint the War Boys spray over their mouths before they head into battle to sacrifice themselves. It’s a much smaller detail than the Doof Warrior’s guitar, but it’s one Miller carefully choose to include, as every square inch of this film seems to be. So, why the chrome paint? According to an interview with the director (via Movies.com):

“I saw a documentary where young [Cambodian] soldiers would go into war, they had little jaded deities — and before they ran into battle, they put them in their mouths and just held them with little straps.”

The documentary Miller speaks of is David Bradbury‘s Front Line, an Australian film from 1981 that was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars that year. According to Miller, Bradbury’s doc inspired him to have the War Boys spray their mouths with chrome paint before they ran into battle.

The flame-throwing guitar and the chrome paint, those are just two details in a film filled with them, built from them, aware of them. Some things, like the Doof Warrior’s guitar, leave us wondering how, while others like the chrome paint leave us wondering why. At this point, I get the feeling you could stop Mad Max: Fury Road at just about any frame, ask Miller the reason behind any one item in the picture, and be hit with an immediate, thoughtful explanation. Maybe I’m giving the film too much credit, but when a film is as good Fury Road, I’m okay with that.

The love for Miller’s latest Mad Max adventure is pretty well-documented on this site, and I get the feeling that love will continue to be expounded upon throughout the year, but for now I’m just sitting, waiting for the day I can be finished studying and go see Mad Max: Fury Road again, so I can enjoy the ride for a second time and pick out even more details I missed on my first go-round.

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Weekend: Feb. 21, 2019, Feb. 24, 2019

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