One long week separates the world from the cataclysmic glory of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” In light of the film coming thirty years after “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” —not to mention an entire generation of filmgoers born in between— Warner Bros. is wheeling out George Miller like he’s going out of style. Though it’s nearly become a cliché to note that the same man responsible for Lord Humungus and Master Blaster is also behind four movies concerned with talking animals, a new interview with Collider has reminded that the Australian director’s filmography could have been even more eclectic.
Since before the novel was published in 1985, Carl Sagan’s “Contact” was destined to end up on the big screen when one of his closest friends, producer Lynda Obst, became a studio exec and pitched the movie to the production company she worked for, Peter Guber’s Casablanca FilmWorks. It took nearly two decades for the film to come to fruition under the watch of Robert Zemeckis, some twelve years after Sagan, fed up with his story languishing development hell, decided to turn it into a book based on the film treatment he wrote with his wife in 1980. But the “Forrest Gump” director originally turned down the film in 1993 because of his dissatisfaction with the screenplay’s conclusion, and the assignment went instead to Miller who immediately began pre-production.
It was Miller who originally cast Jodie Foster as the lead, as well as Ralph Fiennes in the role that would later go to Matthew McConaughey in Zemeckis’ film. As the long gestation period for “Fury Road” would suggest, Miller likes to make sure all his ducks are lined up in a row, so he demanded more rewrites —and intriguingly, a larger role for the Pope— and the budget got larger and pre-production stretched longer than anticipated with the studio’s planned Christmas 1996 release date looking more and more like a pipe dream. The way Miller tells it in the new interview, it was getting clearer by the day that the studio wasn’t’ “prepared to do the movie that I was interested in making. It was going to be safer, so we agreed to part ways.” So in 1995, Miller walked away from the project with the rights to the two “Mad Max” sequels WB had financed —“The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”— as a consolation prize.
Miller said that his “Contact” would have not been like “‘2001,’ but it was much, much less sort of force-feeding exposition where most of the dramatic things in the script they eventually made was people talking about stuff they should be experiencing, which is seen too much in movies. I don’t think they trusted the audience enough. ”
In a move that will be perplexing to Christopher Nolan’s detractors who complain that most of his dialogue is expository (then again, isn’t all dialogue expository?), Miller went on to favorably compare last year’s highly divisive “Interstellar” to what his vision of “Contact” would have been, saying “ ‘Interstellar’ is much closer than [the final version of] ‘Contact’,” though Miller cautioned that he never actually got around to seeing what Zemeckis did with the film, feeling that reading the shooting script was enough to get gist of the much “safer” road the studio and Zemeckis took.
While you dream about what could have been with Miller and “Contact” —the Michael Goldenberg drafts at the time included aliens putting a laser lighting display around the planet and a wormhole transporting our planet to center of our galaxy— you can rejoice in the fact that Miller and the studio put aside any hard feelings they may have had and that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is finally crashing into theaters next week, following the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Watch the Collider interview with Miller below.