Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute anomaly. It’s a film - maybe the only one - that disproves the otherwise sound idea that creators shouldn’t revisit their past victories. It repurposes its own legacy, eschewing nostalgia and continuity to emerge as something vital and new. And it doubles down on the previous films’ world-building, doing so artfully and economically while giving the barest hints to a larger universe, an iceberg of backstory under the surface.
That iceberg is chronicled in The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road, a beautiful collection of storyboards, production design and even prose backstory for George Miller’s instant classic. It lays out the director’s original mission, and traces the long-gestating film’s journey to the screen. Paging through it, I was put in mind of marble artists. Sculptors working in clay can introduce and add elements, putting things where they weren’t, adding and revising layer upon layer until the work is finished. Someone working in marble creates art exclusively by subtraction, chipping away bit by bit until their masterful vision is revealed. (I guess this is also true of topiary artists, but you get the idea.) As evidenced by Abbie Bernstein’s lovely book, Miller's amazing film is no less a feat - a lean, muscular work of art carved out of an incredibly dense slab of insanity.
In that regard, the book is full of things you maybe shouldn’t see - roads not taken, obscured and omitted details. They've been rightly chiseled away by the artist; the Coma-Doof Warrior is perfect onscreen, no backstory needed. And who could argue that Miller & Co. didn’t settle on the exact right designs for Imperator Furiosa and The Immortan Joe? No one, that’s who. So surely this privileged look behind the curtain at all the expected character sketches, evolutionary steps and weird left and right design turns taken during the film’s development can only dilute the finished product, right? You could maybe make that argument, I guess. But for lovers of the creative process, this collection of creative sparks from Miller, collaborator Brendan McCarthy and others is a gorgeous and compelling supplemental feature to the film. Sometimes surprising artwork - the vehicles often look right out of Heavy Metal magazine, and at least one sketch of Max looks a whole lot like the guy from Lethal Weapon - is supplemented by bits of the director’s thought process, providing “a-ha” moments that recontextualize crazy creative design as being, also, completely logical. And many of these designs are standalone works of art themselves; certainly they deserve their moment to shine, if only on the page.
Near the front of the book, Miller shares one of the creative team’s guiding design precepts: “Even in the Wasteland, people make beautiful things.” The book proceeds to back that statement up for 176 pages. And it trusts you to appropriately absorb all the ancillary details, then put them away when you sit down to watch the film again. I appreciate the trust.
1: Concept art of the Buzzard vehicle
2: Character art of Furiosa
3: Concept art of the Pole Cats
4: Director George Miller On Set
5: Concept art for the final race to the pass