Why 'Fury Road' Is The Best-Written Movie of...Ever!

If you haven't seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, see Mad Max: Fury Road.

There's no reason to not see Fury Road. Not a single reason that I would tolerate. It might be too late to see it in first-run theaters, which means it's the perfect time for the cheap seats, where the only thing more stale than the popcorn is the concern for whether or not you're sneaking in tallboys.

Fury Road doesn't need me to tell you how awesome it is. How it's redefined the car chase. How its emphasis on practical effects has reminded us that, yes, we can tell the difference. Fury Road is the movie that dares to say, “Yes, you can name a character Slit.”

But what we might need, what some people might need, is a little bit of talk about just how well-written the movie is.

Indeed, if you looked at all the dialog on the page, you wouldn't find a lot. Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie that the director, George Miller, describes as "visual music," a movie he says can be understood by those who don’t speak English.

Fury Road might seem like it succeeded for reasons other than its writing.

I'm here to tell you that the writing was key. That good technique and innovation in the writing, those things were the keys to it all. Good writing is what has ensured that Fury Road is a movie that will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

First Things First, Yes, There Was A Script

There's a rumor of sorts circulating that Fury Road was scriptless. Let's squash that.

There was a script. It was a different kind of script, a script that started as a graphic novel consisting of 3,500 storyboards. Which is what the actors and crew worked from most of the time.

From that, a screenplay, a more standard script was created.

Let's remember, the "writing" of a movie goes way beyond the words that come out of people's mouths.

If you want to argue whether a script can come in graphic novel format, go ahead and tweet Scott McCloud (@scottmccloud) about it, because he has a lot more interesting, convincing, curse-free things to say on that topic than I do.

'Fury Road' Was Always Meant To Be A Movie

Yeah, we're in the era of book-to-movie. We're in an era, maybe just coming out of it, where it would seem that selling a book is all about selling the movie. Write a book filled with characters that can be played by teens with swoopy hair and washboard abs, stretch it into a trilogy, and make it cinematic as hell. Boom.

It's been a good thing for some movies. But is it a good thing for books?

In a recent piece, Tom Spanbauer talked about his book The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon and what happened when Ross Bell, Fight Club’s producer, tried to turn it into a movie. Bell said the book was the best book he’d ever read. He said the book was great, but he couldn't turn it into a screenplay. Bell said the book was, therefore, flawed. 

What Bell sees as a flaw, I see a different way. A book that's meant to be a book, a story that's told in its intended medium, that's a beautiful thing. A book being "unfilmable" is hurtful to a writer's wallet, but that doesn't mean the material is flawed. It means it was created in the right medium.

Fury Road was written as a movie. It was always meant to be a movie. And that's why it works.

There's something to be said for writing your movie as a movie, your book as a book, your comic as a comic. There's something to be said for writing in a medium such that any other medium just won't work, using a medium to its maximum potential such that your art's translation to another medium means, necessarily, losing a piece of the story. There's a way in which an inability to translate means you've used a medium to its fullest.

'Fury Road' Was Edited Down To .4% Of Its Footage

In my first ever LitReactor class, a novel-writing class with Max Barry, I was kind of horrified when he told the story of editing his book Syrup. Barry said he kept a file of everything he cut. By the time the book was finished, the word count in the scrap heap dwarfed the word count of the final book. 

That was bad enough. The truth that I might cut more than I'd keep, that was hard to hear as somebody trying to churn out a first draft.

If Max Barry had told me to George Miller my work, if he told me that my final draft would consist of .4% of my rough draft, I don't know that I could've survived it.

When George Miller shot Fury Road, he shot 450 hours of film. 450 hours. All of which was condensed into 2 hours of movie. That's .4% of the rough material that made it into the final cut. Not even half a percent.

73,404 is the number cited for words in The Catcher In The Rye, a fairly brief book. If you kept .4% of that book, you'd have 294 words. That's not a lot of room to talk luggage and bathroom graffiti, and you can just forget about solving the mystery of where ducks go in the winter.

It takes guts to cut that hard. It almost certainly means leaving out some very good, very worthwhile material.

Fury Road was edited hard, and the story works, the action works. Everything that needs to be there is. And nothing else.

Good editing is indicative of good writing technique.

Wait. Let me take a page from Miller's book and rephrase that.

Good editing is good writing.

Backstory Filled The World

Fury Road feels full. Not "full" as in "filled with stuff." Fury Road is “full" in that it takes place in a real world where people lived and will continue to live after this story ends.

Every vehicle, every character had a backstory.

For example, you can read an entire backstory on the MAN KAT I A1 (8x8) "Doof Wagon". Or you can read the backstory of the wagon's signature rider/player of flamethrower guitar, Coma Doof Warrior (oh, don't worry, we'll get to Coma Doof Warrior).

You can look up a brief backstory for Rictus Erectus. Which is worth doing if for no other reason than the opportunity to type "Rictus Erectus" into Google.

Everything had a backstory. A conceived, written backstory. Everything existed outside of the movie, outside of the two-hours we saw on screen. Everything in the movie was something before we saw it, and it felt like it would be something long after we turned to watch something else.

The world, everyone in it, it all felt like something real because, narratively, it was.

And the best part, all the backstory informed the movie, but it didn't drive the story.

A crappy movie, a badly-written movie, we'd get all this unnecessary backstory. Sometimes it feels like you watch a movie, and the screenwriter has something to prove. They want to show you how much work they did. They wrote a backstory for everything, and that needs to be on the screen. Fury Road left that stuff out. And for good reason.

All the back story filled the world with great stuff. And using that story sparingly meant we got to experience an actual adventure in this world as opposed to a history lesson about a fictional world. Great use of written backstory.

The Movie Lived In The Crazy

I have three words for you.

Coma. Doof. Warrior.

Yes, none other than the pajama-clad "little drummer boy" with the flamethrower guitar.

If you haven't seen Fury Road yet, if you didn't drop this column and get yourself a ticket, damn it, ask someone about the guitar dude. Ask one of your friends. If your friend doesn't know about the guitar guy either, good sign that it's time to drop him as a friend.

Doof is kind of an encapsulation that comes in handy when you're talking about Fury Road, when you want to talk about what makes it so crazy and what also makes it so awesome.

What we got from Doof, we got the idea that we were in a fantastic world that still follows our basic rules. No magic, no dragons, no outer space stuff. But insane cars, hyper-real characters and just enough filth to fill in any gaps.

Very often, when a story has a bizarre world, the entry point for viewers is through a character who is also new to the world. Think Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Think The Wizard of Oz.

It's the fish out of water who guides us through the world, maybe the fish out of water on acid. It's tried and true, but damn, is that the only way to enter a strange world?

The weakness of the fish-out-of-water-as-guide method is, as a viewer, I have the strangeness normalized for me. Because I'm watching a character from my world enter this strange world, I know that what I'm seeing is supposed to be unusual. I know that this chocolate factory is an anomaly, not the norm.

Fury Road presents us, unapologetically, with the weird.

All the characters buy into it. We didn't need someone to say, "Hey, what the fuck with the guitar guy in the pajamas?" We didn't need that because if the characters question the world, if they point out how weird it all is, then the audience is removed from the crazy. When you do that, when you have a character normalize something that way, you take away from the fantastic nature of something, the fantastic nature you're trying so hard to build. By leaving all of that out, by entering us into this world with a narrator who is part of the crazy, we got to live fully in Fury Road's crazy.

The Story Answered The Question: Why Live?

I am the one that runs both from the living and the dead. Hunted by scavengers, haunted by those I could not protect. So I exist in this wasteland, reduced to one instinct: survive.

Fury Road answered a question asked by a lot of other movies. A question that's been inadequately answered thus far.

How many people have told you they would kill themselves in a Walking Dead scenario? How many have read or watched one of the many, many stories of post-apocalypse and wondered, Why the hell does anyone even bother?

The characters in Fury Road live in a craphole. And I don't just mean Australia. (Note to Australian readers: I have an Australian co-worker that I REALLY need to burn every so often. I do not actually hate Australia, and I apologize for being physically incapable of writing this without slamming Australia one time.) The characters have terrible lives. You have the War Boys, diseased young men who won't live into middle age. You have the Vulvani, the women who live their days on motorcycles in the desert. You have the wives, who live in a prison that has some books, and that's pretty much the best thing you can say about their situation.

You have all this, you have a post-apocalyptic vision that's as bad, if not worse, than most others. And yet, there is a reason for each character to go on. There's a reason they continue. And it's not as simple as "Well, I have this family, so I guess I'll stay alive for them."

Their reasons are insane, they're selfish, and they're bizarre. They're foolish. And sometimes they are nothing more than mental illness. But they exist. A portion of the sparse dialog explains why the characters fight to live another terrible day, and it’s a portion well-spent.

George Miller Picked A Great Editor

George Miller hired his wife to edit Fury Road. She'd never edited an action movie before, which is precisely why he wanted her to do it. He wanted his movie to look like no other movie.

Margaret Sixel set upon the difficult task, and she proved that up to now, she may have been missing her calling.

Fury Road is edited in such a way that you're never confused about where you are in space. Even when you can't see, even when you're deep inside a sandstorm, even when you're blasting through a desert on a motorbike, the movie carries the viewer through what could be some really confusing sequences. It respects the space and the placement of things so well that it really, really makes you feel like you’re there.

And my god is this a welcome break from the frenetic action sequences that come in so many current films.

I unfairly blame the Bourne movies for this, for the way in which action is shot with so many quick cuts that it’s hard for a viewer to understand what's going on. It’s a technique that can work, that can make the pace feel quickened and make the viewer feel involved. But most times, most times I just feel lost, and then it doesn’t take long before I say to myself, “I’m just watching blurs on a screen right now.”

Oftentimes, action movies are cut together the way some choose to cut together a story about tripping on shrooms. "Yeah, it's confusing. Because I wanted you to FEEL what it's like to be on shrooms."

It's a personal pet peeve of mine. I like my stories to be stories. Have your experience, then relate your experience to me so I can understand it. 

Fury Road does a beautiful job of relating what is an impossible experience, and it does so seamlessly.

It's a fine line, to put a story together in such a way that it makes sense, yet the viewer doesn’t feel the editor's breath on her neck the whole time, doesn’t feel a presence saying "I'm here. Let me show you where to look. Let me take care of all this." That’s beautiful editing.

Beasts In Repose

If you cannot imagine a monster in repose, it is a bad design.

-Guillermo Del Toro

Possibly one of the best scenes in the movie, the slowest scene in a movie that's nearly non-stop, comes when the bad guys are camped out, just sort of waiting around. They’re parked, all working on their own little rituals. Prayer, sleeping while suspended from a web of bungee cords, having giant, grotesque feet maintained. You know, evil desert warlord type of stuff.

The bad guys are grotesque and weird, and they take a break. By the Guillermo Del Toro rule, they work beautifully.

It's a difference between a movie like this and a horror movie. What the hell does Freddy do during the day? What does Jason do when he's not taking Manhattan? When the Leprechaun has all his gold in his possession, does he just hang out in his studio apartment all day, sliding coins under his front door and into the hallway in hopes that someone will pick one up and then the Leprechaun will be able to go outside and actually do something?

Fury Road’s bad guys are characters. And they’re characters because they can exist in states beyond angered action.

Intimacy

There was no way George could have explained what he could see in the sand.

-Tom Hardy

A wild, personal vision is a risk. It can work, and when it works, it's great. When it doesn't work, it's a disaster of Birdemic proportions.

George Miller had a vision. He knew what he wanted to make. He knew what he wanted things to look like. He knew, when he made this movie, what he wanted.

Let's face it, you'll never get a Spider-Man movie like this. A movie that plays it fast and loose with a character. A movie that’s driven by a singular vision, a movie that even the actors are unsure about during filming.

If I can make one more plea to get you in a theater, if I can give you one more good reason to sit in front of a screen while Fury Road plays, let me try this.

Fury Road is the most intimate big-budget action movie I’ve ever seen.

I never thought I would describe this kind of movie this way. I never thought a movie with a robot arm and a post-apocalyptic world and an endless car chase would feel personal in any way.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a personal, intimate story, a rare instance where the greatness one person saw in his mind made it onto a screen. It doesn't read like a movie where a dozen of the same ol' people sat around and homogenized something great into something palatable. 

Because so much work went into it, because George Miller put in the time and the energy and the effort, because of all the ways in which Fury Road is well-written, it manages to be that rare, beautiful confluence of individual voice and spectacle.

Plus, again, just one more time: Flamethrower Guitar.

Image of Mad Max: Fury Road INSPIRED ARTISTS Deluxe Edition
Author: Lee Bermejo
Price: $18.25
Publisher: Vertigo (2015)
Binding: Hardcover, 144 pages
Image of Mad Max: Fury Road: The Prelude to the Blockbuster Film!
Author: George Miller
Price: $10.19
Publisher: Vertigo (2015)
Binding: Paperback, 160 pages

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Comments

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 July 4, 2015 - 3:21pm

Peter, awesome column. You nailed it right on the head. Fury Road is a perfect movie, no doubt.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago July 5, 2015 - 7:38am

A flamethrower guitar and a character named Doof! Who could ask for more.

Fouad Khan's picture
Fouad Khan July 5, 2015 - 9:22am

still a shite movie

Michael Silvin's picture
Michael Silvin July 5, 2015 - 7:46pm

As good as Fury Road was as a cornerstone movie, this read has to be, to me, the equivalent as an article about a movie. Very well written. I read this not as a review or opinion piece but as an opening chapter to a novel. 

Curtis Gropp's picture
Curtis Gropp July 5, 2015 - 11:42pm

A very nicely written piece. I've been a fan of Mad Max since 1980 and approached the new movie with trepidation. I saw the first screening of the assembly cut and thought, "Well, that's a new Mad Max for a new generation." I wasn't really excited to see the final product, but I got caught up in the excitement of my tribe (bunch of Mad Max freaks who attend Wasteland Weekend every year) and saw it on opening day.

I've seen it five times so far.

I'm not angry because it's not the same as before, that it's not Mel Gibson as Max. I consider it Mad Max in name only and I love it for what it is. I don't really get hung up on the technicalities or the logistics because I consider it pure fantasy. However, one thing has sort of bothered me, and it goes against what you talk about in "Beasts In Repose." Why are the war parties just sitting around doing nothing? What are they waiting for? They didn't know Furiosa was going to come back, so why didn't they just return to the Citadel?

Furthermore, what do the Vuvalini (not Vulvani) do during the day? Or the Rock Riders? Or the Buzzards? Where do they live and what do they do all day? (OK, the Rock Riders have mountaintop cookouts. But where do they get food?)

Again, it doesn't really matter. It's fantasy. Pure, supercharged fantasy. I love it.

James Harbinson's picture
James Harbinson July 6, 2015 - 4:53am

Okay... so here are the arguments:

1) it was adapted from a series of storyboards. I'd point out that this is true for ALL movies. So, therefore, Corky Romano is epic.

2) It was turned into a graphic novel when people decided (back in the 80's) that Mad Max was pretty ridiculous and no one wanted a 4th movie. Then they took the storyboards and turned it into a movie, which... is what it was supposed to be back in the 80's anyway. So someone took lemons, made lemonade and then injected the lemonade back into lemons.

3) It was REALLY fucking long and we cut a lot of it out. Wow, who WOULDN'T want to see a 450-hour-long car chase? A single tear streams down Peter Jackson's cheek.

4) There was a ton of "backstory" that never made it into the film. Put another way... nothing makes sense unless you're getting drunk with George Miller on a trans-pacific flight and have 12 hours for him to explain why there was a hooded zombie strapped to the front of a car. "It looks cool" is the version you'll get if you're in an elevator.

5) The movie was weird. Yes... yes it was.

6) The Story Answered The Question: Why Live? God knows I was contemplating killing myself after Max had to crawl to the back of the truck for the third time to fix something.

7) There was a really good editor. Well, in that the movie was originally 450 hours long, it's hard to argue that. Kind of goes against the argument that it's well written though, doesn't it?

8) The bad guys relax. Sorry, so Star Wars would have been better if we had seen Darth Vader kicking back in an Adirondack chair between air-chokings?

9) It was intimate. So was Tom Rubnitz's "Pickle Surprise".

So what you're really telling me is that if I sat through all 450-hours I would understand how people can drive for three days on a single tank of gas, or survive in the middle of nowhere without food (or having any of that pesky fuel) and most importantly how re-blowing up the entrance to a canyon can now HALT an army that on a previous attempt had merely slowed them down for an hour or so.

 

ken's picture
ken July 6, 2015 - 9:21am

Best written movie ever? Really?

So you've basically insulted every screenwriter that has actually given a shit about explaining backstory ON SCREEN. I don't want to go research backstory asshole, I want to see it in the movie. 

Just a few points:

So you're telling us that the editing is so amazing because A) it was edited down from 450 hours of footage - did you ever stop to think there may be reasons for so much footage? Maybe the focus puller sucked and kept fucking up. Maybe they were having trouble pulling off the stunts? Maybe camera malfunctions were happening? Maybe because they were out in the desert and sand kept fucking up the vehicles? Maybe he's a perfectionist, who the fuck knows? and B) it's so amazing because you have trouble following the Bourne Movies - really? and C) it's so amazing because you don't feel the editor's breath on your neck? That's what an editor's SUPPOSED to do idiot. And every good editor out there does that. 

And WTF is this intimacy BS? It's intimate because he had a vision and made it into a movie? Is that what you're saying? That NO DIRECTORS ever do this? Is that what you're saying? So you're insulting writers AND directors now. Oh wait, writers, directors AND editors. What's next, the craft service is the best because they served cold drinks on set.

I can continue to list how ridiculously terrible this article is but I don't want to waste my time. Fuck you.

dantes342's picture
dantes342 July 6, 2015 - 9:42am

I thought the article made a lot of great points, I do believe the movie was amazingly well written (everything you need to know of the backstory is implied: there's neither too much nor too little to enjoy the story or impede its flow, unless you're some kind of weird logic freak. 

But what I mainly wanted to say was that this guy Ken posting right above me is a real asshole. 

 

Christina Re's picture
Christina Re from the United States is reading something a friend wrote July 6, 2015 - 12:10pm

Peter,

Great article, as always. I've been saving my pennies lately but I will be going to see this movie now. (although instead of tallboys I might put my new flask to use)

You're an excellent writer, I really enjoy your work here on LitReactor.

Maria Hong's picture
Maria Hong July 6, 2015 - 9:14pm

wonderful and exciting when I known what useful things you bring, Kizi 4

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies July 7, 2015 - 3:45am

Fuck a back story, nobody needs that.

Vislav Horvat's picture
Vislav Horvat July 7, 2015 - 5:57am

Yeah, the writting is good but the realisation is not so good. To many situation that no one in real life would survive, Mad Max here is more superhuman than human unlike in previous movies. I know it's 2015. and everything has to be pumped up and shiny but that doesn't mean i have to like it more than realism, desperation and tragedy of well, at least first two movies.

And Fury Road is the only movie in franchise with more or less happy ending. I guess too many kids would be unsatisfied if it weren't so.

 

Jas Mic Schuu's picture
Jas Mic Schuu July 7, 2015 - 9:05am

Agree, but I don't think the editing was what the author describes. The difference between this movie and other action movies is that every single shot is spot on center. What makes it less confusing, your eye never has to move. The editing is fine, but made a lot easier for a first time editor because of the cinematography. No need to to think "okay how can I draw the viewer's eye from here to there", she could just cut cut cut cut cut and it looks perfect every time.

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman August 19, 2015 - 11:51am

Howdy,

Thanks to all the people who commented and shared. I wanted to do some quick responses just to let you all know it really does mean a lot to me.

 

@Chris:

Thanks!

 

@Tom:

Agreed!

 

@Fouad:

Haha, well, thanks for reading, and hopefully you got something out of this column even if the movie didn't sit well with you.

 

@Michael:

Too kind. Thank you.

 

@Curtis:

I'm glad you've had a good time with it. On a second viewing, I definitely wanted more of that same stuff too. Working on this piece really made me wonder, are movies that become classics ones that hold up to multiple viewings? What's the value of the initial experience versus the 10th viewing? Any way you slice it, I'm going to be really curious to see how this movie fits in with the Mad Max canon down the road.

 

@JamesHarbison:

I hear what you're saying. I suppose my thoughts are that it's not any one element that makes something great. It's confluence of lots of factors. No single one of these elements is going to save a bad movie. Most movies engage in at least one of the things above, and they can still be terrible. Additionally, just like writing anything, there's no set of factors that guarantee something will be good.

As for Darth Vader, I always found the scene where he's interrupted in his weird pod chamber thing to be kind of fascinating. It's brief, but we get just the tiniest glimpse of what Darth Vader is doing when he's not force-choking a dude or deciding to take down a squadron of X-Wings. This is what makes a villian like the guy in Ant-Man not work for me. Why is he being such a jerk? What's motivating him? Is he just a constant cauldron of seething evil?

Perhaps something I didn't express, for me, Fury Road was a very different experience from a lot of the movies I've seen lately, and I wanted to highlight some of the possible routes that brought it to its final product.

 

@ken

Needlessly mean. Let's start there.

I think the mistake you're making is assuming that I decided to praise something as a means to actually critique something else. In other words, saying what I think is great about Fury Road as being a backhanded way to insult other films and writing. Believe me, if I want to talk smack about movies or screenwriting, I will do so directly. 

It seems that, in your comment, you're allowing for a lot of happy accidents, which I think is fairly insulting. It's like when you go to a reading and someone asks an author, "Did you intentionally put Deeper Meaning X into your project?" 

For example, I'm not going to ask whether your comment was meant to be personally hurtful or if that was just a series of coincidences. You calling me an idiot, telling me "fuck you", and so on. Your intent is pretty clearly to misread what I said and then be a jerk about it. 

So I guess we all delivered. Fury Road did what it meant to do, and the end result is a great movie. I did what I intended to do, and I'd like to think I put in the effort and entertained and informed a good number of people. You delivered on your intent, which was to hurt my feelings and raise the flag to let people know you're not a very desirable personality. What we're all left with, George Miller has his movie, I have my column, and you have made a brief and negative impact on a stranger's life. 

 

@dantes:

Thanks! And thanks!

 

@Christina

I hope you got out to see the movie. I think it's totally worth the ticket price. And thank you for the kind words.

 

@SCConley

I can't help but feel myself repeating that mantra when I hear about the third Spider-Man reboot...

 

@Vislav

I don't disagree with you. The first two movies are a lot more realistic and grounded in reality as it is today. I'm very glad those movies exist as well, and they really are a good contrast and tell a very different, very good story as well.

 

@Jas

That's a really good point. The way something is shot really does change the difficulty in the editing, and the square-in-the-face look of the movie might make it easier to create a strong through-line. Good point!

 

If I can make a recommendation to anyone who was mad about what I said, it's that you read this article about the difference between fact and opinion. What you read above is, very strongly, my opinion and the facts I used to explore that opinion. It's nearly-impossible to make a factual, qualitative judgment about something. What's the best movie of the year? The Academy Awards will be given out, and one film will earn the Best Picture award, but the FACT is that it won Best Picture, not that it was, unequivocally, the best film made in 2015. Mad Max was a singular, great experience for me that I don't remember having in the movie theater as an adult, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about it.

Brian Oliver Straw's picture
Brian Oliver Straw September 9, 2015 - 4:29pm

This is a great example of hyperbole, which is awfully popular with bloggers these days. Everything good has to be the best ever, and anything bad has to be worse than Hitler.

Fury Road is a pretty great action movie, and the unique approach to writing it certainly helped that.

We live in a world where movies, even action movies, have had some impossibly well written entries, though. Is Fury Road better written than the original Die Hard? Is it better written than Terminator 2: Judgement Day? I don't think it is.

But hey, you don't get attention on the internet by being reasonable and realistic. You get attention being radical and ridiculous. So, to get attention, I will say that Mad Max Fury Road was, in fact, the worst written movie ever made. Its writing was so bad that it caused the worldwide rate of literacy to drop considerably just by the fact of its existence. How's that for hyperbole?