George Miller says ‘Furiosa’ puts new spin on ‘Mad Max’ series

Following his groundbreaking Mad Max: Fury Road, the high-energy desert-hunting action film that won six Oscars, Australian filmmaker George Miller will once again surprise audiences with Three Thousand Years of Longing.

The film, which opens nationally on Friday, was adapted by Miller and his daughter Augusta Gore from AS Byatt’s 1994 short story The Djinn in the Eye of the Nightingale. Tilda Swinton plays Alithea Binnie, a narratologist (she studies storytelling) who has traveled to Istanbul from her home in London for a conference. There she meets a djinn (Idris Elba), a magical being who tells her about his encounters over thousands of years. She is reluctant to use his power to grant her desires, further complicating her dynamic.

For a recent interview, Miller was on a video call from his home in Sydney, Australia, where he was in the middle of production on the upcoming Fury Road prequel, Furiosa, which stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Charlize Theron. Making one film while promoting another sometimes leads to confusion, such as when Miller inadvertently referred to the main character of one film by the other’s name.

“Sorry, I always mix up names and call it Alithea Furiosa,” Miller said, laughing. “When we were making a movie, I sometimes called Furiosa Alithea.”

There is something elemental about many of Miller’s films, from the Mad Max series to his Babe and Happy Feet films, including a longstanding interest in how stories are told and retold. So it makes sense that he would adapt a story like Three Thousand Years that has the art and importance of storytelling at its core.

“We make stories out of everything. We’re looking for signals in the noise,” Miller said. “And some of our stories are delusional. Some of our stories are nurturing and healing. And some of our stories are very, very toxic. But whatever it is, that’s the only way we can deal with this thing we call experience and existence. So it’s very, very central to who we are.”

A man and woman look upset as they sit inside a house.

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in Three Thousand Years of Our Lives.

(Metro Goldwyn Mayer)

With the success of Fury Road, do you feel pressured to somehow surpass yourself with Furiosa to do something even bigger and wilder?

That’s not a question I really asked myself. You strive to make every film better, but not necessarily more. You’re not looking for more, you’re looking for the best it can be. You definitely don’t want to repeat what you just did and you want to make it uniquely familiar if you want to. It has to be its own thing.

After doing the first Mad Max all those years ago, I didn’t want to do another Mad Max movie. Then I made a second one. And for me personally, it was on condition that I could overcome whatever mistakes I thought I learned from the first film. So the second film had to be different than the first. So it was a different film in tone, in style and everything. The only real similarity was that it was Mel Gibson. The third movie, the same, and that was Thunderdome. They had to be different.

Otherwise we just repeat ourselves. And then I remember “Fury Road”, that had to be different again. People were like, ‘Oh, can you do it like Road Warrior? ‘Road Warrior’ was really the best of those movies.” And I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that was 30 years ago. Everything has changed. Not only have I personally changed, the world has changed. Cinema has changed, the way we read cinema has changed, the way we make cinema has changed. If we just went back and I did a remake of that movie, we’d be idiots.” So it had to be different. [“Furiosa”] is the first that had to allude in its design, in its characters, in its world, to an earlier film, Fury Road, because it was a prequel. And so we were much stricter in that regard.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is a story about storytelling. Did that appeal to you about the original short story?

Very very much. That is certainly the heart of it. It’s about stories and how stories create meaning for us and how those meanings often have to do with the really big questions or problems of our existence: what is real; what is not real; this dichotomy between a character who is a being of reason, Alithea, Tilda’s character, and a creature driven by emotion, desire and passion. You get the idea of ​​a character who is mortal like the rest of us and someone who is supposedly immortal to live indefinitely. You get the idea of ​​love, desire, all those things. And above all, you get a story about stories, someone who tells stories within stories, but also really tries to understand what the function of stories is. Why are we wired to tell each other stories?

And here’s someone, I’m talking about AS Byatt herself, she’s a literary character but she’s also a scholar who’s really interested in why we tell stories and how stories unfold all the time. And I found this topic really appealed to me. So yeah, it’s really interesting trying to make a film that’s as much about storytelling as it is about anything else.

A woman holds an object up to a mystical beam of light

Tilda Swinton in “Three Thousand Years of Our Lives”.

(Elise Lockwood / Metro Goldwyn Mayer)

The film deals with the culture of the Middle East and ancient cultures. When you were writing the screenplay and also working on the production, such as design and casting, were you concerned with issues of cultural appropriation or what people would call Orientalism? That you don’t exoticize these foreign cultures or make them “different”? How did you deal with the cultural elements of the story?

Well, that’s always an issue. If you go back to Sheba’s time, there is no historical record of Sheba. Depending on what culture you go to, some people say it’s from Eritrea, some people say it’s from Ethiopia and still others from some parts of North Africa, but no one really knows. It’s in the biblical stories in the Old Testament that Sheba visits Solomon — I’m not even sure if it’s in the Bible, but it’s in the religious stories — and as the jinn tells the story, Alithea says, “Wait times . Didn’t Saba go to Solomon?” And he says, “No, he came to her.” And she says, “But it’s in all the holy books.” And he says, “No ma’am, I was there.” So we were basically warning ourselves that on the one hand this was the Jinn’s interpretation of the story. And then again, it was very Alithea’s idea of ​​the story. We invited the audience to hear the story of the Djinn through the eyes of Alithea.

Now when we turn to the stories of the Ottoman Empire, they are based much more on historical facts. So obviously the designs of history are much better known. And then we go to Istanbul in the 19th century and thus to the modern age. So we are telling the Djinn version as perceived by Alithea.

AS Byatt is particularly interested in the cultural evolution of stories. And she pointed out how we reshaped those stories and adapted them to European culture. Well, that’s common throughout humanity, if we get into the monomyth that Joseph Campbell basically explained, that these stories are shared by humanity in one form or another, it’s sort of a monoculture. And we see it manifesting now that information is being spread around the world so quickly. So there was no problem mixing cultures. They continued as part of cultural evolution. One didn’t negate the other, I say. So this is my way of explaining how Alithea interprets the stories on our behalf through her experience. And this is how I would explain my dealings with cultures. Whether people want to call it cultural appropriation is up to them.

People know you for the Mad Max movies, the Babe pictures, Happy Feet, but then you have these other kinds of movies that people sometimes forget you made, like Die Witches of Eastwick” or “Lorenzo’s Oil”. .” And I wonder how you see how “Three Thousand Years of Longing” fits into your filmography. Will it be one of those that people have a hard time recognizing as a George Miller film?

It’s something I haven’t really given much thought to other than saying that the story itself drives me, whether the story pops into my mind and germinates over time, or is it something like “Lorenzo’s Oil” that I do first read as a newspaper article and saw something in the story. When I first read the book [“Babe”] by Dick King-Smith, back then it was called “The Sheep-Pig”, the story grabs you. You feel its attraction, that’s the first thing. But second, it always takes something – it’s a secondary concern, but it’s a major concern – that basically moves with the technology as it evolves in cinema.

For example, going back to Babe, we had this story written for about five or six years before it was possible to do it in the way that made the most sense. We wanted animals to talk, but we wanted to make it as real as possible. And it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the early digital work at ILM became apparent. And you actually had the firepower to do it. When Andrew Lesnie, who directed the Babe films, made the first The Lord of the Rings in the early 2000s, he showed Gollum the first motion capture. And I remember having the story of the penguins for Happy Feet and thinking, ah, the penguins can dance. We don’t have to rely on the entertainers to be good dancers. We can get real dancers, we can get Savion Glover to play a virtuoso tap dancer. And so it goes hand in hand.

When we made Fury Road it was a whole new world of filmmaking. They could use multiple cameras and not have to worry about starting a shot and only had 10 minutes before the magazine of celluloid ran out. And most importantly, you could flex all your stuntmen, you could flex your actors — when Tom Hardy is hanging upside down between the wheels of a vehicle, Tom Hardy was as safe as he could be because he had harnesses and cables, and you could put them out. It sounds simple, but you can drive vehicles through the desert and erase all tracks beforehand. Otherwise you would have to move on through the desert. All of those things were very interesting, an action film that was driven by story at first but then leveraged technology. And that is the inherent richness of the story. There has to be a lot more to a story than meets the eye.

I would say if you want to make a film – I’m not saying that happens, but that’s the aspiration – you want to make a film that involves the whole person. By that I mean it has to work viscerally. It has to get you in your belly. It must touch you emotionally in your heart. It has to get you in your mind and intellect. It needs to understand you in terms of the collective, what you recognize within yourself as part of a larger human experience, and we might call that mythological or spiritual. It has to do all of this at the same time. That’s the hope.

And that goes for every story. Every great sporting story encounters these patterns. Every fairy tale you tell your children has to relate to them. Therefore, they are the ones that endure. So I’m becoming more and more aware of this in my thinking.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-08-25/george-miller-furiosa-three-thousand-years-of-longing George Miller says ‘Furiosa’ puts new spin on ‘Mad Max’ series

Sarah Ridley

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