Saturday, August 1, 2009

Negotiating between Australia and Hollywood - Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome


It is difficult enough to identify a national character within a body of that nation’s artistic product, but films embody an altogether more complicated dimension to the concept of locating a national identity. Largely, the vast diversity of films produced within a country with a healthy cinematic economy obfuscates attempts to extrapolate universal themes and motifs. More difficultly, though, the sheer expense of film production frequently requires filmmakers to seek financial support from outside their milieu. The result is a phenomenon of cross-cultural product that, by virtue of locations, talent, content, and production history, cannot be situated within the specific confines of a single national identity. The final installation in George Miller’s Australian “Mad Max” saga, Beyond Thunderdome, is intricate in such a way. According to the Internet Movie Database, Beyond Thunderdome is the only film of the trilogy (following Mad Max and The Road Warrior) whose production, not just distribution, was co-financed with foreign money from the United States. The financial interest of Hollywood suggests that certain formal and textual considerations be met in order to secure a return in its investment. This focus on commercial demands generally restricts the possibilities of a specifically Australian vision. However, with Beyond Thunderdome, directors Miller and George Ogilvie and screenwriter Terry Hayes (who co-wrote the film with Miller) manage to create a film that is simultaneously Australian in character as well as Hollywood in convention.

Frequently when filmmakers looking to export their product, rather than stripping their films of cultural-specific references, they will, instead, attempt to package their culture, hoping to appeal to foreign audiences’ sense of exoticism. It is important to keep in mind the difference between cinematic tourism and national character. While films that feature specifically Australian elements, such as aboriginal culture or Australian history, films like Crocodile Dundee or The Last Wave, can be easily identified as Australian pictures, this does not necessarily speak for the films’ identification as works with national character. This would be tantamount to suggesting that films identifiable with the kitschy term “Americana” (such as Forrest Gump and Yankee Doodle Dandy) are descriptive of the national character of the United States. A similar difficulty occurs when considering films free of specific cultural reference points: how can we identify films like the “Mad Max” trilogy, specifically Beyond Thunderdome, as Australian films when they are practically without any specific Australian references?

It’s immediately obvious while watching the “Mad Max” films that Beyond Thunderdome is the most well financed and globally concerned. Its budget shows in every frame, in every extravagant set, and in every exotic and attractive setting. The first two films feature scores by Australian composer Brian May. Beyond Thunderdome’s score is by Frenchman Maurice Jarre, a seasoned practitioner of bombastic, big-budget Hollywood soundtracks. Its plot is bifurcated to include intense Thunderdome-centered action as well as a more sensitive plot involving Max helping a tribe of lost children find their way back to a home they call “Tomorrow-morrow-land.” This exemplifies the Hollywood trend of broad appeal and constant narrative motion, whereas the earlier two films’ stories are more singular and contemplatively paced. There is also the inclusion of Tina Turner, whose casting as the mayor of Bartertown was one of the film’s key marketing focuses, as her Private Dancer album the previous year had gone triple platinum. With her presence also came two songs that bookend the film, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and “One of the Living,” the former of which went on to be a worldwide hit. With her and newly-minted international star Gibson heading the cast, combined with the large-scale narrative and the opulence of its sets and costumes, it is simple to see the picture’s Hollywood influences.


However, despite Warner Brothers’ influence on the film’s production, Beyond Thunderdome still retains an identity that is markedly Australian. It is the third part of a series where the first two films were created entirely within the confines of Australian industry (picked up by overseas companies for distribution post-production). Its cast and crew are largely Australian, with a few notable exceptions including Turner and Angelo Rossitto (who plays the Master half of Master Blaster). Most important, though, are the stylistic and thematic similarities it shares with Australian films of the time. If identifying a national character is even a possibility, Jonathan Rayner suggests that three elements, chronology, style, and theme “are important in the interpretation of national filmmaking, not simply as consistencies which underpin generalizations but as continuities in communication between the subject(s) and object(s) of cultural representation.”

Stylistically, with its canted angles, quick editing, and versatile camera, Beyond Thunderdome more clearly resembles any number of Australian films (such as the films of Brian Trenchard-Smith and Richard Franklin) than it does any of the more aesthetically conservative Hollywood action films of the time (such as the films of James Cameron and Walter Hill). Just as the post-Vietnam era of American cinema ushered in a wave of lone gun action films in the Rambo vein, Australia produced a rash of B-movies in the late 70s and early 80s, sometimes centered on excursions in the desolate outback, often emphasizing vehicular travel. Kieran Tranter observes that the car is “intimately associated with Australian governance” and that the car “structures and rationalizes how Australians are known.” Seen against films like Razorback (1984), about a murderous feral boar, and The Long Weekend (1978), about a struggling couple in the middle of nowhere, a trend of reliance on cars as well as the apathetic cruelty of nature emerges. Beyond Thunderdome also exhibits these thematic traits. When Max is sentenced to the Gulag, what follows is an extended sequence of wandering anguish through the Australian desert. The horse that he is riding falls over dead then is violently sucked underneath the sand. Even after his pet monkey shows up with some water, it only prolongs his suffering the hot sun and sandstorms of the mindless expanse.


Illustrating the divide between the Australian notion of a brutal natural world and the more Hollywood ideal of an optimistic harmony with nature are the film’s two central stories and locations: Bartertown and the village of Lost Children. The depictions of both societies in the film are that of societies regressed to a “natural” state, although their philosophies about this naturalism differ. The people of Bartertown live by random chance, with no room for compassion. The Thunderdome exemplifies the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” code. Compassion is ideological, and ideologies don’t occur naturally. Whereas in the Lost Children’s village, they practice a productive relationship with nature, making clothing out of natural objects rather than junk and refuse, the way the people of Bartertown do. Not unlike the conflict between the pirates and the Lost Boys in J.M. Barrie’s story of Peter Pan, Miller and company use that basic conflict as a template to dramatize the tensions between nature and civilization, innocence and brutality, a peaceful history and a future of war.


It is useful to note the film’s heavy reliance on aboriginal culture and its popular filmic representation. From an American perspective, many of the accusations of esoterica or exoticism are rooted in the film’s aboriginal slant. The film opens with an expansive traveling aerial shot of a seemingly endless desert. After a few moments, as the camera moves closer to the ground, the viewer begins to see the shape of a caravan. Then, as the camera gets even nearer the object, a didgeridoo begins to play on the soundtrack, punctuating the emptiness and wildness of the image with an unmistakably aboriginal sound. That it is the first sight and sound of the picture (save the Turner-scored opening credits) impresses a specifically Australian cloud on the rest of the film. A few moments later, after Max has been knocked off the cart by Jedediah the Pilot’s airplane (whose point of view it is in the opening shot) and his caravan stolen, there is a series of shots featuring Max against a sky at the break of twilight, also accompanied by the didgeridoo. This image of a solitary figure in the wild is a trope of Australian cinematic aboriginal representation (as seen in films like The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Walkabout). This focus on aboriginal representation is highlighted by the Lost Children sequences. During the scene where the Children explain their history to Max, the storyteller holds up a frame made of sticks so that their audience views her within the frame. This apparatus ostensibly resembles a movie or television screen, with the Children (and Max) witnessing a primitive form of cinema. Although there are no aboriginal actors within the film, Miller and company are likening aboriginal Dreamtime with cinematic storytelling.


What occurs, then, is a coalescence of cultures. In native terms, the aboriginal culture, here represented by the Lost Children, melds with a post-technological culture through its use of a cinema screen proxy. This highlights the conventions of aboriginal representation, which ultimately, in conjunction with the film’s heightened style and bleak disposition, works towards the marriage of Hollywood and Australian cinematic traditions. On the one hand, it clearly demonstrates Australian attributes with its emphasis on the hazards of the natural world, its focus on cars and demolition, and its heavy reliance on aboriginal representation. On the Hollywood hand, you have a bombastic score, flashy production values, and Tina Turner. To say the film is one or the other denies the possibility that a film can belong to two cultures simultaneously. Beyond Thunderdome understands this phenomenon: in its final sequence, Max leads the Children into a sandstorm-beaten post-nuclear Sydney, whose famous opera house is the only diagetic indication of the film’s location. This last minute revelation squarely fixes the film with an Australian character. However, where this despairing vision would befit a film like The Road Warrior, where in the end Max is manipulated by the village of survivors and left on his own, the emphasis on the hope conveyed by the Children at having at last found a semblance of their history is much more characteristic of a happy Hollywood ending. The film exists as a Hollywood product as well as a fair representation of Australian character.

George Miller w/The Filmist, part II


    Recurring Visual and Thematic Motifs, et. al.

(and, immediately from where we left off previously -)

Sven: Well, I think that it would not be a stretch to say that one of Miller's pet symbols is that of flight, if that can rightly be called a symbol. More a technique. But in the latter two Mad Max films, there's a flying character, there's aerial dynamics in Babe: Pig in the City with the bungee at the end, the witches of Eastwick fly sometimes, penguins are naturally flightless (although the camera in that is frequently soaring, sometimes into outer space), Lithgow is stuck on an airplane with a gremlin...


TheFilmist: Also in Babe: Pig In the City, those wide panoramic shots near the middle of the film with Ferdinand soaring over the animal control vans.
Sven: Ah yes. "Fair well, noble duck..." Love that line.
TheFilmist: In "The Road Warrior," and "Beyond Thunderdome," I think it has a more overt thematic relevance. Rob Ager, in one of his only sane pieces of film analysis, said of the Gyro Captain:
"The gyro captain provides a stark parallel throughout the story, by which Max’s wounds are laid bare for us to see. Emotionally maimed by the loss of his family, Max is unable to accept an invitation to join the camp and hence rejoin humanity, while the gyro captain leaps at the opportunity. The image of a naked woman pasted onto the rudder of the Captains flying machine shows that his fantasy of a female partner is still alive. Of the two most attractive females in the camp, gyro captain quickly snatches up a new mate, while Max walks away from a glaring opportunity for love - perhaps he was wise to do so (his admirer is viciously killed in the final battle scene). Gyro Captain is the most inspired man in the film and his flying machine enables him to be free of the hellish landscapes to wonder the open skies. In many ways he could even be seen as the real hero of the story. He replaces Papagallo as leader of the tribe and filling the tanker with dirt to trick the villains was most likely his idea. If Max only had faith enough to accept Gyro’s offer of friendship perhaps his own spiritual healing would begin."
Sven: Hmmm... interesting. I don't know really anything about this Ager fellow. I would say that his appraisal is a bit of a stretch, even if the Gyro Captain does end up the leader of the pack. That doesn't seem to be the point. But still, given Miller's evident passion for weightlessness, it's not a stretch to call the Gyro Captain the most inspired. Even in the context of the film's narrative, it seems like everyone concedes that his gyrocopter is freakin' awesome.
TheFilmist: "Aye, mate. This machine 'a yours. It kin take - two?" "Get away from me, you old codger. There is a woman over there. With breasts."


TheFilmist: One of the things Miller always seems to come back to is tribes in a wasteland of some kind, whether it be physical (The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and Happy Feet) or moral (Babe: Pig In the City), and this ties in to the next visual motif that I'd like to touch on: one of the recurring shots I've found in all of his work is the usually-ultimately-benevolent tyrant character, situated above everyone else, looking down from a sort of perch.
Sven: Of all the Miller films I know, Thunderdome is definitely the one I know best.
TheFilmist: There's Aunty Entity, situated above the public in her beehive - Thelonious, in Babe: Pig In the City (as well as Rex, the first time we see him in the first film), and the also obvious Noah the Elder, from Happy Feet.
Sven: Yeah, I would extend that to the Peter Ustinov character in Lorenzo's Oil as well. And while I can't recall any shots looking up at him, he definitely winds up more benevolent than malicious I think, which is one of Miller's great triumphs in that film. Great connection, though.
TheFilmist: Oh, yes. You could also extend that to Pappagallo, although I don't know if I'd place him in the same role as Aunty Entity or Thelonious.
Sven: Well, they're all figures that are set up to be the primary antagonists, set up to work against the goals of their respective films' heroes. And are then set aside for more pressing and realistic hurdles.
TheFilmist: Ultimately, they're all - if not necessarily sympathetic then empathetic characters, especially in the case of Aunty Entity and Peter Ustinov's character.


TheFilmist: Another thing Miller's come back to in four of his films (Beyond Thunderdome, Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo's Oil, and Happy Feet) is spirituality.
Sven: Interesting. As a secular humanist, I tend to avoid spiritual readings of movies. I'm interest to hear what you have to say. It's pretty self-evident in Happy Feet and kind of in the Witches of Eastwick. And I remember that heart-wrenching shot of the crippled dog briefly frolicking in the afterlife in Babe: Pig in the City.
TheFilmist: Well, in all four of those, it's overt. Thunderdome sees the children developing a primitive religion based on their collective pasts, and Lorenzo's Oil there's a crisis of faith experienced by Susan Sarandon's character. Oh, and that too. That's a good catch. Two of these really seem to approach it with something of an anthropological approach in mind - that is, "Thunderdome" and "Happy Feet," but especially the former. "Happy Feet" is actually kind of interesting, because of how well-thought out the whole penguin culture seems, in the context of their surroundings. It's completely allegorical, don't get me wrong. But, it does so in a way that isn't too much of a stretch - it's very primitive, but also very mythological - just like what we saw of the rabbits' culture in Watership Down. But, Thunderdome is interesting because of the way it shows how cultural symbols are reused and imbued different meaning - the "River of Light," that one kid with the Bugs-Bunny doll, and so on - as well as how we use myth, through the microcosm of the children.


Sven: I always thought that kid with the Bugs doll was a little strange. It definitely felt right in the spirit of the series's theme of reappropriating remnants of a lost civilization and melding them into our own sense of the world. ie, look at the way our current civilization view things like the pyramids or Stonehenge.
And in light of that understanding, it was always uncanny to see the children looking towards Mel Gibson for enlightenment. Because really... he's Mel Gibson. And there's little more mythological than movie stars and little more microcosmic than the fame, prestige, or simple exposure that is thrust upon them by masses looking for direction.
TheFilmist: Especially in the case of Mel Gibson, at that point in time.
Sven: Precisely.
TheFilmist: Speaking of Mel Gibson, I took a look at his cinematic - thing, "Apocalypto," just a little while ago, and it really does seem like it was his attempt to replicate the more outlandish elements of the Mad Max films - and the style and technique of the films, by his own admittance - on foot, but he just can't pull it off. He tries several times to get his gallows humor and the weird, fetishistic violence to run together, but it just comes off as awkward, primarily (I think) because he has the sense of humor of a rock.
Sven: Well, if Braveheart, Man Without a Face, and Passion of the Christ are any indications, I wouldn't say your assessment is far-fetched, though nothing would've been more welcome in Passion than a car chase. That movie was the definition of dismal.
TheFilmist: I'll never understand the point of that movie.

(we then diverged to talk about Jesus films for just a little bit, but then -)

TheFilmist: But, back on topic - it's a very cargo cult-esque culture, with the children. What most people don't seem to notice is the visual aesthetic inherent in there. They're essentially Aborigines.
Sven: I can't help but notice that we've barely spoke of his Twilight Zone sequence, which may, depending on the day, be my favorite thing that Miller has ever done.
TheFilmist: Oh, yes.
Sven: It helps that I'm a massive Lithgow fan, of course. As any sane person is. And this is as much a tour-de-force of his own as much as it is an exciting and awe-inspiring use of the camera in such a confined space.
TheFilmist: Lithgow certainly deserves a lot more recognition. It's eerie how smoothly he can shift between roles - just before this, he was the firey minister in "Footloose," and the killer in De Palma's "Blow Out."

Sven: His role in De Palma's Raising Cain might be my favorite screen performance. Ever.
TheFilmist: Ah, yes.
Sven: And really, when you get right down to my entire take on cinematic art, craft, talent, etc., it amounts to an appreciation of the ensemble orchestration of the piece and the dynamics of the relation between on-screen action and camera manipulation. I don't, in the end, think political, artistic, or philosophical complexity makes a film great. Case in point: the Lithgow short with the gremlin. We all know it, it is part of our cultural consciousness, we know how it ends and we know what it means. But by gum, Lithgow and Miller sell that damn thing. Composition, rhythm, and movement, and a wonderful, wonderful performance.
TheFilmist: I love how everything ostensibly normal is pushed into the abstract - the leering, rhythmic faces that kind of remind me a little of what Gilliam did a lot in "Fear and Loathing," the exaggerated use of confined spaces like the bathroom, and so on.
Sven: Yes. I found it more Jacob's Ladder than Fear and Loathing, but I see your point.
TheFilmist: "I'll remember your face."


Sven: Anyway, I think that's about all I can do, Mr. Filmist.
TheFilmist: Well, there is one other thing I'd like to touch on, before we settle off for the night.
Sven: Certainly.
TheFilmist: And it's less about a subtext that's actually present than one that seems misdirected - of a homophobic slant in the two earlier Mad Max films. This has always been a little strange to me, primarily because we see about four or five women in the group of marauders, and the film even takes a little ocker comedy with the top of the tent being ripped off of the two lovers.
Sven: I cannot say that I've ever seen any homophobia in the Mad Max films... if anything, its near entirety of male bodies suggests to me that brand of man love made so popular by action films of the 80s, where men don't need women to get by.
TheFilmist: Interesting.
Sven: And lest we forget the obvious homosexuality subtexts of Happy Feet, which speak of a very politically progressive filmmaker.


TheFilmist: Well, that's one of the more popular interpretations that keeps popping up everywhere. Makes sense, I suppose. Also, I'd read a little while back on that board we both frequent that you'd written a paper on "Beyond Thunderdome." Do you still have that anywhere? I think it'd provide a marvelous cap-off for this whole thing.
Sven: I could email it to you, but I don't know if it would be all that fitting because it's not an analysis or anything.
TheFilmist: Oh, please do.
Sven: I'm speaking of it in the context of Hollywood filmmaking and the tension created between that and its Australian identity. It's on its way.

George Miller w/The Filmist, part I

Recently, myself and Henry the Filmist engaged in a discussion about George Miller, a mutual favorite. It's below. Read it.


Sven: Hello, my name is Sven. I operate the blog Sadness? Euphoria? at . The Filmist here invited me to do a dialogue about George Miller, a filmmaker that both of us have claimed as among the greats. Forgive me if I come off awkwardly, but this is the first time I've done anything like this. (This is what we're doing, right?) Should you introduce yourself? Then I'll start with a comment/question about Miller himself.
The Filmist: Hey, how's it going? I'm The Filmist. I operate The Filmist at '' I'm currently engaged in this Miller-centric discussion. And, now the floor belongs to Sven.
Sven: So... Miller is one of those filmmakers that I found very early in my career as an avid film hobbyist, around fifteen or sixteen. I saw, duh, The Road Warrior and like just about everyone, I just about died from how great, how exciting, how fast, how fun, and how resonant film could be. I was pleased to find that Miller was able to keep his same formal dynamism, which is of particular interest to me and how I watch films, running throughout his less action-oriented films as well. What about you? How long have you been digging on Miller?

The Filmist: I came upon Miller when I was, I think, the same age as you. My brother - who's one of the guys I really credit with introducing me to film - put on the first "Mad Max," and I think that's also what kind of intrigued me about the films initially, is there's an orchestration about them. They build, like a piece of music. Later on, I saw "The Road Warrior," and it was a marked improvement on that first film - the first "Mad Max," I've always thought, was a film with a lot of great ideas, but there are times where it shows through through that it's Miller's first real film.


Sven: To prep myself for this conversation I recently rewatched The Witches of Eastwick and what you say about his image orchestration is applicable tenfold to that film. I've never seen a film that so consciously operated as a silent film as The Witches of Eastwick. The framing, pacing, acting style... it was very interesting.

The Filmist: You know, Witches of Eastwick really is the odd-man-out, in his oeuvre. There's very little of the archetypal storyline that seems to run throughout the rest of his stuff - minus the first "Mad Max." Which isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong. But, among stuff like "Beyond Thunderdome," and even "Babe: Pig In the City," a black domestic comedy really pokes its head out. I do kind of wonder what his filmography would look like, it he hadn't been scared away from Hollywood during its production.
Sven: I would've agreed with you had I not recently rewatched Witches which definitely seems to have more in line with Babe Pig in the City and Beyond Thunderdome than does Lorenzo's Oil. Graphically, it's very strong, relying entirely on the weight of mythic imagery to develop the narrative and characters. Lorenzo's Oil is a fairly strong medical procedural, but is lacking in the icon front. Mostly it's just fairly typical shots of the Odones sitting around frustrated.
The Filmist: It is less kinetic than the rest of his filmography, I agree - those upstarts here and there notwithstanding. I can see the relation between "Pig In the City" and "Eastwick," I suppose - there's actually a couple of motifs shared between the two, I noticed. Like the balloons.

Sven: Yeah, the balloons was obvious. A very easy way to create a dynamic visual, and I'm not sure why it's there in Eastwick. That scene of Nicholson dancing around with them is a pretty strange way to communicate the seduction, particularly since they're already hooked at that point. Still, I love the look of it. Anyway, we both started with the Mad Max movies. Let's talk a little bit about those. How would you relate each of them to the other? It's a pretty strange trilogy.

The Filmist: Altogether, certainly. That's one of the things I most enjoy, really - that they're all so stylistically distinct from one another, as standalone films. "Mad Max," like a lot of people have mentioned, is a lot more in the vane of things like "Dirty Harry," or any of those kinds of films, while the other two have a far wider scope. There's a gradual segue from the realistic, in "Mad Max," to the hyperbolic and allegorical, in "Thunderdome."
Sven: What I think is remarkable about their structure is that the last one essentially constructs the telling of the tale, which is the second film, which is based on the reality of the events in the first film. If that makes sense. It's all varying levels of interpretation of of the Lone Hero theme, with increasing wit and formal dynamism.
The Filmist: Oh, sure. "The Road Warrior" is, essentially, the quintessential archetype, while "Thunderdome" actually examines it in the context of the children in the "Crack In the Earth." It's funny, while we're talking about "Thunderdome," because I was reading a piece by that French critic Rafik Djoumi a while back, and he brought up something that actually caught my eye - Miller's latest film, "Happy Feet," actually reuses many of the symbols and narrative iconography that appear here. He says:
"It includes the religious world, hierarchical folded its rituals (the Thunderdome - Emperor penguins), but with the master of ceremonies deprived, who dressed his suffering an aura of mystique (the dwarf "The Master" - the guru Lovelace ), but with the group of "small" which alone can lead to the ancient city of men (children of the tribe - the tribe of penguins). "
Sven: Hmmm... I have to admit that it seems like a bit of a stretch, though I don't deny that Miller is applying a similar mythological rigor to both pieces. And really, let's be honest... Mumble is no Mad Max.
The Filmist: I don't know, I think it's pretty conscious - in keeping with that, there's also the physical look of some of the characters in relation with each other, like the elder character with Scrooloose. Also - Happy Feet 2: Beyond Mcmurdome. You know you'd go to see it.
Sven: Ha ha. Of course I would! At any rate, then, Happy Feet... why do you love it so much?

The Filmist: Oh, there's a couple of reasons, I think - but, partly because it's so astonishing that Miller was able to take what is essentially a screensaver concept and turn it into this broad-scale epic.
Sven: Cosmic-scale, I'd say. I love the way the film opens, with all those stars and nebulas and stuff. And when Mumble is screeching when he's stuck in the zoo and there is that quick series of zoom outs into space. Love that..
The Filmist: The 'space' motif of the film is also really intriguing, I think - partly because of it's finished application in the film, and because of it's origin. In the finished film, it serves a couple of purposes - from the beginning, it really serves to underline the nature of the story, as a real 'fable -' the faint outlining of a mother penguin in the nebula, and then the rotation of the Earth until Antarctica is on top of the world, where it stays front and center for the entirety of the film, whenever we get a good look at it. In the book, "Variety's This Movie Changed My Life," that astrophysicist Neil Tyson says of it:
"From its opening scene, you come at Earth from space and the Earth rotates so that Antarctica is on top of the world. From the beginning it establishes a point of view, and you are in the culture of the penguins whose food supply is disappearing, and they have to pray to the food gods."

But - and I posted about this a while back - I've also been doing a little digging, here and there.
It seems that there was an entire half-hour or so cut out of the film, actually, and an entire plotline cut out of the film, featuring honest-to-bob aliens that looked a lot like the penguin god that we saw at the beginning of the film. From what I've been hearing from some of the animators, it was actually a pretty big deal. But, the only thing that remains in the final film is the space shots.

Sven: Whoa. Weird. And all that stuff was animated? Or was it taken out in an earlier stage...?
The Filmist: Some have told me that it was animated, finished, and cut out at the last minute. Others have said that it was cut out, earlier. So, I'm not particularly sure, but I'd probably put my money on it being cut out at the last second, given the presence of the space shots in the film. There was even concept art and footage shown from these segments at a presentation about the film in 2007, but so far that's the only time.
Sven: ...I wonder if that angle will be incorporated into the hypothetical Happy Feet 2.
The Filmist: That's what I've been thinking, actually. For my part, I'd rather see this original cut of the film, wherever it is.
Sven: If it exists, sure, but I think I'd be hard-pressed to think that such an addition to the film as it is would be at all an improvement. I love the way the cosmos are used expressively. It would feel somewhat banal to re-register those shots as foreshadowing the arrival of aliens.

The Filmist: Well, I can agree with that. Most especially in that wide-pull out in the zoo scene that you mentioned.
Sven: And I would think that it would be hard to rewrite the film's message on an even more macro-scale than it already is. What would aliens have to do with overfishing?
The Filmist: Apparently, it was going to be a three-layered story, as this goes. One of the animators wrote up a short summary, let me find it:
"The aliens themselves looked rather like ethereal penguins. Glowy and slender… translucent. And by observing what happens on Earth and seeing Mumble and his interactions with the humans, they withdraw their weapons and leave us in peace. The story was setting itself up for this and if you’ve seen the film, this is the reason why it seems as if something was missing. The decision to ditch the aliens was made towards the final stages of production. As I said before, the suits from WB just didn’t get it. They insisted on it’s removal from the film. Perhaps they were right but I always felt the original story was going to be three layered and not two. As it stood, the Humans were harvesting the fish and it was affecting the Penguins… when at the same time, the aliens were harvesting the planet and Mumble was to save all of us. The end version worked although it seemed to be missing something. Probably this is why it felt there was a hole in the general flow of the story."
If this were to be somehow released, I think it would be a case similar to the multiple cuts of "Blade Runner;" I'd probably enjoy them both, for different reasons.

Sven: Well, I certainly would leave it to Miller to make such a strange concept work. We'll see what he does with Happy Feet 2.
The Filmist: Oh, indeedy. Even if it does take a couple of years. What intrigues me is the aliens resemblance to the penguin god - now, what could that mean?
Sven: What that reminds me of is the pig-looking judge in Babe: Pig in the City. That always baffled me.
The Filmist: That's what I thought, actually. The first time I read it. So, you'd said you just finished rewatching "Lorenzo's Oil?"

Sven: Yeah. It was one of my favorites a while back, but upon rewatching it, it seemed a bit weak. I say Bravo! to Nolte for doing the Italian thing, and it's a very compassionate film--I particularly like the way Ustinov's character is poised on the edge between scientific detachment and humanistic empathy. But I think it may be a bit too simplistic, formally. Sometimes it felt like a made for TV film. Which made the occasional flourish of the camera kind of jarring.
The Filmist: The only time I really got that kind of impression was during the montage, over the end-credits, which really did feel unneeded. I mean, certainly - show the impact the Odones have had, but that seemed like such a televised way to do it.

Sven: Well, it's tough, I think, because the impulse is to let a little bit of the non-fiction seep into your interpretation, and how best to do that then to conclude with documentary footage? It reminded me of Schindler's List a bit, and I don't know if I would claim that the epilogue on that on is all that tacky aesthetically. But then, that one was filmed a bit more expressively, whereas in Lorenzo's Oil it's just a montage of pretty flatly shot talking heads.
The Filmist: Well, here and there, I suppose. But, I do think Miller works better on that mythological scale, "Witches of Eastwick" notwithstanding. Although, then again, there's The Dismissal, which he also directed.
Sven: I do not know The Dismissal. I would like to see it at some point.
The Filmist: The Dismissal is great, but it's damnably hard to find. I've only seen the three episodes once before. Personally, what always stood out for me, with "Lorenzo," was the use of stark angles and the way Miller adapted his trademark kineticism (my word), throughout - most of the time in a two-room house.

(End of Segment One. In Segment Two, which should be up relatively soon, we'll be looking at the recurring themes and visual motifs, throughout Miller's filmography. Or, at least that's the jumping off point.)