The Greatest Action Film Ever Made

The other day I caught a trailer for yet another upcoming post-apocalyptic thriller called, Doomsday. For starters let me just say that this current wave of end of the world scenarios in films, books and even music, is a bit worrisome if you ask me. Is this some grim foreshadowing for what’s in store in the future or is this just the mainstream media playing into our government’s fear tactics and our doubts about the state of things? But that’s fodder for another column.


What really struck me about the Doomsday preview was how familiar it looked. The film, which is British director Neil Marshall’s follow up to the terrifying spelunking thriller The Descent (2005), appears to have taken, almost literally, the storylines from three genre classics. The plot involves a part of the U.K. (Scotland to be exact. Brits always have it in for the Scots) being quarantined off by the government after an outbreak of some undisclosed nasty virus or plague of sorts (28 Days Later), ultimately leaving thousands of people to die.


Flash forward twenty something years later and a group of soldiers, led by what appears to be a highly attractive female scientist who also knows how to kick ass (where have we seen this premise before?) are sent back to the abandoned cities in search of a cure (I Am Legend treaded these waters). Upon doing so they find a population of survivors who have built up a lawless and wild civilization for themselves that may or may not involve cannibalism (Escape From New York and/or The Hills Have Eyes). Finally towards the end of the trailer we are treated to a barrage of high-speed car chases, motorcycles, creepy punk like villains peppered with elaborate tattoos and crazy hair, and a mohawk sporting underground leader of sorts who says, “We’re gonna catch ‘em, cook ‘em, and eat ‘em!”


Now while I mentioned a number of obvious films that the makers of Doomsday are either paying homage to or have blatantly ripped off I’ve left the most obvious and best predecessor for last. George Miller’s, The Road Warrior, a follow up to his post-apocalyptic classic, Mad Max, may be one of the best action films ever made. I take that back. It’s hands down the greatest action movie ever made because quite frankly nothing had been made like it before its release and since then nothing has even come close to besting it. Let me explain.


The Road Warrior works as a solid action film because of its purity. For those not familiar with the film or the Mad Max trilogy that it is a part of, these were the films that launched the career of Mel Gibson, then still a young, yet to be ‘Passioned’ Australian actor. The film was made on a small budget of four million Aussie dollars that was stretched and stretched but still looks as unique and innovative now as it did then.


The stunts were all performed without the aid of special effects or safety laws and restrictions (many stunt men were injured during the film’s now legendary production) and hold up even today in the age of computers as some of the greatest ever filmed. People leap from moving cars, motorcycles fly in the air, and a massive tanker truck wrecks everything in its warpath, to give you a taste of the film’s action glory.


The film featured no name actors. In fact casting for the project may or may not have included gathering up a group of Australian bikers, body builders and Judas Priest fans that were chosen not for their acting abilities but rather the prospects of saving money on makeup and costumes. Finally the premise deals with an undisclosed crash of industry and the economy and leaves Australia as a large highway of savages searching for the only currency of any worth, fuel.


Gibson’s Max is a cold “shell of a man,” as one character describes him, who drives the empty roads and wastelands in search of nothing in particular, save the occasional high-speed chase and shootout with bad dudes on motorcycles who carry wrist crossbows. There is also a lethal feral child who carries a sharpened steel boom-a-rang, a jittery fellow with a one-man helicopter and a pet snake, a psychotic seven foot tall rival gang leader wonderfully named Lord Humungous who wears a leather thong and a hockey mask (film was made a year before Jason from the Friday the 13th series donned his) and of course a slew of suped up muscle cars, bikes and dune buggies, all of which either get crashed or blown up. Director and screenwriter George Miller should also get credit for one hell of an imagination.


The film’s 15 minutes plus, no-holds-barred climax is one of the finest showcases of finger biting action and stunt work ever seen on film, also joining the ranks of The French ConnectionRonin, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the always classic Bullitt as one of the best car chase scenes in cinema history. Above all, despite a minimalist script and plot, the film’s apocalyptic storyline involving a ruthless dependence on fuel to survive is as believable now as it was in 1981 when the film was released. The messages in this film–vengeance, survival of the fittest, remorse, and justice–are subtle but also present.


The upcoming Doomsday is hardly the first time a film has lifted cues from The Road Warrior. Kevin Costner’s legendary bomb of a film, Waterworld, was almost a direct adaptation of the film only set on the ocean with jet skis in lieu of motorcycles and a quest for dirt rather than fuel (seriously, remember how ridiculous Waterworld was?). Even Tupac Shakur seemed to have been a fan as seen in the futuristic, primitive gang music video for his song, “California Love.” And in many ways The Road Warrior itself borrows themes from other chapters in cinema history, particularly Western film iconography and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, also an extremely influential film.


The Road Warrior is a film that embodies a style of filmmaking that has since become out of fashion amidst modern technological advances in special effects. Now while the film doesn’t have the same smooth, glossy feel of say a modern, action heavy film likeThe Bourne Ultimatum, there is something comforting about Warrior’s low-budget, yet realistic look.


It’s safe to say that a film like this could never be made again in the same way since labor laws and safety regulations would end its production from the get go, which is also what makes it a bit of a time capsule film circa a time when guys could go out in the desert with a crew of funky characters, cool cars, lots of explosives and make a compelling action flick. While I’ll most likely seeDoomsday when it’s released and any other film in the same vein as The Road Warrior that is destined to come out in the future I’m confident that nothing will ever come close to besting what still remains one hell of a wild cinematic ride.