Book Review The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road by Abbie Bernstein

Every bit as vivid, eye-popping, and gut-punching as the film, but slowed down enough that it can sit on your coffee table.
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Having spent the better part of the year revisiting a familiar galaxy far, far away and allowing it to consume our hearts and minds as well as nearly every waking moment of our lives, it’s easy to forget that it was just last summer we paid a trip to another landscape quite reminiscent of one we had spent a great deal of time in during our youth.

Of course, the trips we took to the post-apocalyptic wasteland George Miller created weren’t nearly as idyllic as our jaunts to Hoth or the Death Star; if the Star Wars universe which sprung from George Lucas’ fertile imagination was a trip to summer camp, complete with fireside songs and trips to the swimmin’ hole, George Miller’s Mad Max series was more like that bad acid trip when you broke the cardinal rule of “never look in the mirror while tripping” and ended up trapped in the bathroom for two hours that felt like a lifetime. Nevertheless, we made it out alive and probably even look back fondly on those days and the lessons we learned.

Or maybe I’m just really bad with metaphors. Or similes. Whatever.

At any rate, the Mad Max films were every bit as groundbreaking, genre-defining, and trendsetting as the Star Wars films and unlike that time we took way too much acid, this was a world of speed, rage, and style that we were more than eager to step back into with the release of Mad Max: Fury Road. And with Abbie Berstein’s The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road, we can delve even further down the rabbit hole, exploring this world and how it came to be in much greater detail.

The Devil, as they say, is in the details and nowhere is this statement more accurate than in the Mad Max film series. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, nothing is wasted; a can of dog food becomes dinner, one of those foot-measuring things from the shoe store becomes a gas pedal, and old muscle cars from a bygone era become relevant again as more modern vehicles with crumple zones and airbags are rendered obsolete due to their weakness. Details like this are part of what makes the films a joy to watch and a big, fat coffee table book exploring the vehicles, sets, and props of the newest entry in the series allows us to take a closer look at such details, rather than have them speed by at 150 mph.

But The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just a collection of sketches and storyboards; as the back cover suggests, it’s a true companion to the film, offering a closer look at the inspirations and motivations of not only the filmmakers and designers, but the characters and vehicles themselves. Each character, every vehicle, and even every set piece and costume is explored in great detail, adding layers to the various stories that couldn’t be told within the harrowing, two-hour timeframe of the movie.

And while I stand by my statement that the tiny details in the Mad Max films are a big part of what makes them so enjoyable, it’s also true that the lack of detail plays a part (perhaps an even larger part) in that joy as well. We don’t know exactly how the world got to the point it’s at when the movie starts, but looking around us, we probably have a pretty good idea of what set it on that path. The backgrounds and minutiae of each characters’ lives aren’t explored, but their motivations are clear. But that lack of knowing plays a huge part in making the world of Mad Max so vivid and realistic. We’re given the basic building blocks and our imaginations are allowed to fill in the rest.

But if you’re imagination isn’t up to that job, this book takes care of it for you. For example, remember that old lady covered head to toe in tattoos? In a world with no books, historians become living parchment, tattooing the history of the world on their bodies. And the dude playing the flamethrower guitar, setting the tone of the War Boys' march to Valhalla? His mother was a musician and after she was murdered, her head was dropped in the young boy’s lap. His battle mask is quite literally the screaming face of his dead mother. Nearly every character was given this level of detail by the film’s creators and all of it is explored in this book. The motivations and histories only hinted at in the film were fully fleshed out prior to shooting so that the cast and crew could better realize them and bring them to life. 

Of course, Mad Max isn’t just about the characters, as engaging as they may be. Every bit as vital as the living, breathing components of the film, the vehicles of Mad Max: Fury Road are characters unto themselves and they too are exposed and laid bare in this book so that the reader may gain a better understanding of what makes them tick. Hell, every vehicle in this movie has a name. From the symbolic use of masks to the fetishization of car culture (with emphasis on "cult"), everything in this film has a two-fold tale and each of these tales is depicted in vivid glory in this book.

And when I say “vivid”, I mean that it’s every bit as eye-popping and gut-punching as the movie. In addition to the storyboards, pre-visualization sketches and in-progress pictures of the creation of the set and vehicles, we get a lot of enormous two-page spreads depicting various scenes in the movie. It's a big, beautiful book and after reading it from cover to cover, I continue to spend a great deal of time thumbing through it. 

Mad Max: Fury Road was an "action movie as art" and a film that demanded to be seen in the theaters and a movie screen was barely enough to contain it, yet somehow Abbie Hoffman and Titan Books have managed to do just that in this fantastic hardcover volume. The movie set a new standard for visual storytelling and balls -out excitement and The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road serves as a further exploration of the ideas, themes, and visual style depicted on the big screen. If you liked the movie (who am I kidding? You know you loved it), then you’ll like the book. Plus, it’s big and heavy and would make a decent weapon when you’re fighting for gasoline in the inevitable future depicted in these films. 

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