By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 28, 2014 at 4:25PM
Despite the momentary wow factor of glimpsing that spooky stare-down in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (yes, Ben Affleck looks perfectly suited as The Dark Knight), the real joy of the Warner Bros. Hall H panel on Saturday was Peter Jackson and George Miller geeking out about the "The Hobbit" finale and the re-imagined "Mad Max."
For Jackson, "The Battle of the Five Armies" represents the culmination of a 20-year cinematic love affair with J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact, he told moderator Stephen Colbert, the ultimate fanboy/expert, dressed in Middle-Earth garb, that the original plan was to make "The Hobbit" before "The Lord of the Rings." But Jackson intimated that the sequencing worked out better this way, with "The Hobbit" trilogy serving as a semi-prequel to the apocalyptic masterwork.
While "An Unexpected Journey" is whimsical and innocent, and "The Desolation of Smaug" darker and more dangerous, "The Battle of the Five Armies" works as a thriller with greater existential overtones. Not surprisingly, Jackson admitted that the finale is his favorite, and that both trilogies act as a continuous saga. "The main goal was to get 'The Hobbit' tonally where it would get to 'Fellowship,' and to connect all of that together. Some people will watch this from the beginning and start with 'The Hobbit' and go all the way through."
But to hit home on the dangerous consequences of "The Battle of the Five Armies," Jackson got to do something new that he's been holding back for a while: "It's good to kill off some lead characters. We do get to kill a few of them this time." Which should make our emotional connection to the work all the more meaningful.
Technologically, Jackson has enjoyed playing with the virtual camera with "The Hobbit," which has been liberating in the way he composes shots on set with CG elements and makes instant, iterative decisions that improve his vision. On the other hand, Jackson said it was good that things didn't go according to plan and that he was forced to confront a multitude of challenges and problems that have made him a better director.
Meanwhile, Miller's return to "Mad Max" has brought him a sense of exhilaration and renewal. It's been both familiar and strange, he admitted at his first Comic-Con. "The story popped in my head and just wouldn’t get away, like an imaginary friend. I love chase movies; I think they're the purest form of cinema. That's where the film language started. I wanted to make one long, extended chase, and see what we could pick up about the characters along the way."
Back in '79, the world was in economic turmoil with oil wars and other geopolitical conflicts, and today it's even worse, of course. But with the original premise of "Mad Max" being about total economic collapse and world devastation, Miller couldn't resist reinventing his most successful post-apocalyptic work for the 21st century, which has inspired a slew of new movies.
"Some of it's exciting, some of it's kind of scary, and you try to get some of that in your work. You kind of lose any sense of yourself and you're working off of instinct and gut." Miller calls "Fury Road" another "Western on wheels" allegory: spare, elemental, medieval, and even more visual, which he storyboarded rather than scripted. Even though Miller steers clear of anything that smacks of high-tech in "Fury Road," he nonetheless made use of digital advancements to enlarge the scope, experiment with the funky look, and put the cameras anywhere he desired (making use of The Edge rig inside of his retro-looking cars).
Smashing cars in the desert as an extended, 105-minute chase makes "Fury Road" more like "Road Warrior" than "Mad Max." It allows Miller to once again tell the backstory of his characters in between all of the action and mayhem, and with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Miller has quite a combustible and charismatic duo.
In fact, in comparing Hardy with predecessor Mel Gibson, Miller discussed the paradoxical nature of charisma. "We all ask the question, 'Why is there charisma?' Why are some people set apart as movie stars? Part of that is because those people have that internal tension. On the one hand, they're lovable. On the other hand, there's the element of danger. That applies to every charismatic person. Tom has that quality. He's extremely lovable, and has another quality that's like watching a big wild animal -- you don't know what they're gonna do next."
And New Zealander Jackson and Australian Miller are both drawn to epic danger like a moth to the flame.