Filmmaker Retrospective: The Diverse Cinema of George Miller

6. Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)

LORENZO'S OIL, Susan Sarandon, 1992, with her son

The same intensity that Miller brought to a ninety minute car chase in The Road Warrior is brought to the medical battle Augusto and Michaela Odone waged in finding a cure for their son’s brain disorder in Lorenzo’s Oil.

The disorder, ALD, was so unknown and rare at the time of the story that the medical field was completely unable to offer any help and the disgruntled parents (played with heartbreaking emotional commitment by Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) had to take it on themselves to research the disease and find a cure/solution for themselves.

Told in a grandiose style of filmmaking with non linear edits, spinning cameras, and classical sound cues, Lorenzo’s Oil is a grand depiction of the ultimate parent’s nightmare: having to powerlessly sit by and watch as your child suffers immeasurably. Miller’s ability to instill this feeling into his film and over empower his audience with it makes Lorenzo’s Oil a painful and unforgettable addition to his fascinating resume of films.


7 and 8. Babe (1995) and Babe: Pig In The City (1998)


Perhaps the intensity of Lorenzo’s Oil broke his heart, perhaps the pressure of finding endless ways to make cars creatively collide finally got to him, or perhaps the idea of dealing with another Hollywood cast and all their egos forced George Miller to re-examine his career. Or, perhaps, the softness behind Babe and Happy Feet was always there, and he had just finally reached a point in his career where he could explore it.

For whatever reason, things changed drastically for George Miller in the mid-nineties when he cowrote and coproduced (but passed off directing duties to Chris Noonan) the very imaginative and family-friendly Babe, based off of the children’s novel by Dick-King Smith.

Babe is a very special pig raised by sheep dogs, and eventually becomes an expert (and town-famous) sheep herding pig. The story, which has the wonderful moral for children to avoid being put into any kind of box, was a sweet and optimistic departure for Miller, and one of the best children’s films ever made.

The sequel, Babe 2: Pig In The City, however, was a fascinating and bloated mess that was solely directed by Miller himself. Part Fellini, part Jim Henson, part Terry Gilliam, part Terry Gilliam, and part of the part of Miller’s brain that had locked it’s craziest bits away and were apparently ready to explode, Babe 2 is hard to categorize as any one thing. It’s by no means a bad film, (it’s actually quite ingenious and surreal if viewed with the right eyes) but it just doesn’t feel like much of a sequel to the (much kinder) original.

Depending on whom you talk to, Babe 2 is either a colossal failure to a grand first effort (the first one is one of the few children’s film’s ever score a Best Picture Oscar nomination) or a risky, artistic adventure that tries to do something new in many (probably equally) successful and unsuccessful ways.


9 and 10. Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet 2 (2011)

Happy Feet (2006)

Miller returned to more standard children’s fare after the financially failed experiment that was Babe 2: Pig in the City with 2006’s Happy Feet and it’s 2011 sequel, Happy Feet 2. Perhaps wisely, he also co-directed each film with Warren Coleman and Judy Morris (the first time) and Gary Eck and David Peers (the second).

Like the Babe films, the first Happy Feet seemed to catch on: an outcast penguin who can’t sing like the rest of the penguins in his group instead learns he has the gift of tap dance. It’s another wonderful story for children that teaches them to embrace their differences and turn them into strengths. Producer Miller won the Oscar for the best animated feature of the year, and it became the family hit everyone loved.

Five years later, the sequel came out. While not as polarizing as Babe 2, it certainly had a fairer size of detractors, and many wondered if the series’ (and Miller’s) creative juices were running out. With both the Babe and Happy Feet films, Miller had done some fantastic, surprising, and hugely successful work.

By the end of his work on both franchises, however, you got the sense that there were other, more complicated ideas brewing in Miller’s head. A future project of his that would come to fruition in the future would provide plenty proof that some of these ideas were just waiting to come exploding out.

Four years after Happy Feet 2, like the explosion of cherry pits out of Veronica Cartwright’s stomach in Withces of Eastwick, we finally got the fantastic results of that explosion in the form of Mad Mad: Fury Road.


11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

mad max fury road

It was a long road for Miller to make Mad Max: Fury Road. Every film he’s made, every frame he’s shot found it’s way into informing and making this film into the brilliant creation it is.

In this day of remakes, reboots, and retellings, it’s refreshing to see Miller (still at the helm of his own creation) do it right: he’s kept the heart of his world and only used modern technology to enhance what he was already doing with it over thirty years ago.

With his years of experience in filmmaking since making Mad Max, in the chaos of the Road Warrior and the precision of animation with Happy Feet, Miller was able to top himself and give us a controlled, glorious, and beautiful chaos in Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s why it works, that’s why it’s brilliant, and that’s why it’s special. It’s the film we want our favorite films being remade or rebooted to be: The heart of everything we loved about the original told in a new and modern way.

Mel Gibson is certainly not forgotten, but he’s also not missed in the titular role taken over with perfection and attitude by Tom Hardy. Charlize Theron is a new iconic hero to the Mad Max world with the character of Furiosa, a hardened savior out to screw the bad guys in power just like we’ve seen Max do time and time again in every one of his films. And Nicolas Hoult provides energetic comedic relief as the character of Nux in a similar fashion to Bruce Spence’s work in The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome.

The story of Fury Road is the story of any Mad Max movie: Mad Max just wants to be left alone, but is somehow thrown into the lives of innocents who are continually trying to escape masked perverts on motorcycles. Because he’s secretly a good guy (it just hurts him to care, you see, because he lost his wife and child like Batman lost his parents…. You get the idea), Max can’t help himself and decides to put himself in harm’s way to save the innocents once again.

What makes Fury Road stand out, however, and what makes it every bit as great as The Road Warrior is that it pushes the boundaries we have today in the same way the first Mad Max sequel did back in 1981. The Road Warrior still stands up splendidly today, but the ingenious mixture of digital painting and in-camera effects that defines the gorgeous modern look and feel of Fury Road is truly a monumental and breathtaking accomplishment.

George Miller has proven every arrogant critic, filmmaker, and audience member wrong who thinks that aging filmmakers lose their edge after a certain point in their careers. Mad Max: Fury Road is all edge, and it’s proof there’s a lot more left in this gutsy, quite presumably mad filmmaker. We can only hope he’s given the opportunity to show this wonderful, mad brain of his a few more films to come on film. We can only hope…

Author Bio: Matt Hendricks is an independent filmmaker with several projects currently in development.