JJ Needs to take The Force Awakens to the MAX!!
I always known 2015 was going to bring one of the most amazing cinematic experiences of my life. However what I never realised was I was going to get it on a Sunday afternoon in May rather than December 18th. And it has made me rethink everything I have come to expect from Blockbuster action movies. After a few weeks of being out I finally took my kids to Max Max: Fury Road. The trailers have been amazing and the reviews very strong. So I went in to this movie with fairly high expectations. I was expecting frenetic action on a grand scale. However nothing prepared be for just how amazing this movie was. As I left the theatre I really felt the genre had been redefined and a new standard set. I suddenly became worried that no movie on the horizon, including The Force Awakens, can be as good as this. Should I be worried? Has JJ taken on too big a task that could never live up to expectations? There are a few aspects to Mad Max: Fury Road which I dearly hope make it in to JJ's movies.
1. Practical Effects
Fury Road is probably the first major blockbuster Sci-Fi movie to fully realise this new trend towards practical effects with minimal CG. A lot has been written about how The Force Awakens will do the same. We have heard stories about the reproduction of the 'Falcon. We have seen a real BB-8 on stage at Celebration and every set visit has come back with stories of real sets and real explosions. So in this regard I think JJ is going to get it right. What Fury Road proves is that real, in-camera effects have a palpable realism and heft to them that can still not be replicated by CGI. I felt every explosion, every clash and clank of metal. The action sucked me in and there was an ever present sense of danger. I really hope JJ can capture a similar feel to his movie. From what I have seen the signs are good in this regard. He wants to recapture the vibe of A New Hope, and what better way than to go practical as much as possible.
2. Clean, Concise Storytelling. Minimal Exposition.
Fury Road is a masterpiece in minimal and clean storytelling. We are dropped right into the nightmare world and Millar challenges you to catch up. One of the great things about the Original Trilogy was the fact Lucas took a similar approach. We start in the middle of the story, in the middle of a battle. The opening crawl is all we have to go on, and it is a great device to draw us right in to this world. By contrast, what dragged down the prequel trilogy for a lot of people was the seemingly endless exposition. Everything had to be laid out and explained with dialog. I really hope JJ drops us right in the action again. Although it has been 30 years since the events of 'Jedi, just drop us right in the thick of it. People will catch up. I do have faith that JJ gets what makes the Original Trilogy great and will take a similar approach to A New Hope. He has the opening crawl to use which makes this fairly easy to accomplish.
3. Genuinely Thrilling Action
Although Mad Max: Fury Road had a mindboggling amount of visuals in each frame, the action was kept truly thrilling for a number of reasons. From the start we are highly invested in the stakes of the main characters and the danger they are in. There is a very clearly defined sense of good and evil and we know who to cheer for. In addition to this the action is handled with such skill that we always know who everyone is and where they are at any given time. The story is also propelled using the action. In so many effects laden movies these days the action is bolted on purely for the spectacle alone. The time is not taken to truly care about is happening and it is used to try to mask weak storytelling and characterization. Although I am not a Prequel hater I do think George Lucas fell in to this trap a bit. He was greatly excited about the possibilities of the CGI he had available. The opening battle of 'Sith is a case in point. It is such a sea of ships that it just seems to lose all impact. Contrast that with the space battle in 'Jedi. I still find the sight of the 'Falcon flying in to the Death Star as some of the most thrilling action of the whole saga. And there are only a handful of ships involved. I compare this to the action in the second teaser for The Force Awakens of the Falcon over Jakku being pursued by two Tie Fighters into the belly of a crashed Star Destroyer. It is truly thrilling again. Simple, clean action. I really hope we see more of this in the movie. In many ways pulling the action back a bit from the CGI madness will actually give it more gravitas and power. Millar has shown us how it can be done well.
4. Satisfy the Expectations of Your Inner Child.
This is a lot less tangible, but something I felt leaving Fury Road. I was a fan of the original Mad Max movies but not fanatical. The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) was when I was first introduced to the franchise. It was when it really hit its stride and found a look and feel which broke through and made it so popular. The movie really blew me away as a kid and the frenetic action and pace hooked me from start to finish. The world he created was so cool. In actual fact I have not even seen it since I was a kid. And I am quite sure if I watched it now it would seem very low budget and stilted. My feelings of the movie are still that of the 10 year old who saw it back then. What Millar did in Fury Road was something amazing. He totally made me feel like that kid again. He made a new big budget movie which met and exceeded the memories I have of the original. JJ really has a huge task ahead of him to try and accomplish the same thing with The Force Awakens. The nostalgia element alone of having the old characters back as well as the 'Falcon, Tie Fighters and X-Wings may just make this happen. What gives me hope is the fact that I agree with every interview he does on what make Star Wars great, and he gets it. In fact this is really the first ever big budget Star Wars Fan film. As with lots of the current generation of Filmmakers Star Wars is probably the reason he makes movies, so this just has to be good. There is no doubt the bar has been set very high by Mad Max: Fury Road.
5. Faster, More Intense
This may just be the deal breaker for most people, and just too big a leap for some people, but The Force Awakens has to be better in every way than any of the Original Trilogy movies. As a followup to point 4, Mad Max actually surpassed the trilogy of movies which made the Character an icon of cinema. And Millar knew he could not just coast along on the reputation and following of the Original movies. As fans we are very forgiving of the faults of our beloved franchise, and love it so much that we do not even see them anymore. The Force Awakens will have to be a better movie than any of the Original Movies just to live up to our rose-tinted memories of them. It has to actually surpass them in every way just to be accepted as being on a par with them. Better action, characters, plot, fun. JJ really has taken on huge task here. Will he succeed? We will all know on December 18th. However he is amazingly talented, full of energy and passion for Star Wars, and the natural successor to George Lucas.
There is no doubt JJ Abrams is under enormous pressure to pull this off and lay the groundwork for a new trilogy and bring several generations of fans along for the ride. Overall I trust his instincts but remain worried. He has not always hit the mark (Star Trek: Into Darkness) but when he gets it right he nails it. I really hope Fury Road is my second favourite movie of the year by the end of 2015.