The high concept cinema has its roots in the roadshow and epic movies that were popular during the 1960s-1970s: these were created to contrast the television. The scale was bigger, the events were epic, and the moviegoing concept was supposed to be transformed into a spectacular event (Wyatt 71). The roadshow movies eventually transformed into blockbusters and were used by companies and conglomerates as a specific type of film with fewer chances to fail because of its strong appeal to the audience (Wyatt 80). The movies that included an adventure story with the background of an enormously big disaster were especially successful in the market (Wyatt 80). Mad Max: Fury Road incorporates these parts of early high concept movies; it is an adventure filled with action, rapid races, and fights in a post-apocalyptic world where water is so scarce it becomes the primary source of power. It appears that this part of the plot was an allusion or a reflection of the current issues related to water scarcity. This way, the movie could picture a more or less believable disaster that viewers can relate to and discuss as generally possible.
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The next prominent feature of the high concept is its emphasis on the style that differentiates it from other movies. Indeed, Mad Max: Fury Road has a very particular style even compared to the previous version of Mad Max filmed in 1979. In Mad Max: Fury Road, the production’s high-tech look is evident with its deadly battles on gigantic machines that spill fire. The steam-punk-influenced costume designs are adjusted to the modern perception of steam-punk; therefore, the costumes used in 1979 Mad Max seem obsolete, which is the primary purpose of the high concept cinema – to make the existing designs look old and irrelevant (Wyatt 105). Such a shift’s main point is to avoid comparisons and have as few competitors as possible (Wyatt 105).
The genre and narrative approach are also different in high concept cinema; high-concept movies highly rely on visuals and a narrative that will be appealing to the market. The visuals in Mad Max: Fury Road are more rapid and ragged compared to Mad Max filmed in 1979. Furthermore, the narrative is tied to visuals, and the plot is dependent on the rapidity of the shown pictures and fragments. Some plotlines remain unresolved, but the main plot is a “generically based story,” a post-apocalyptic action-adventure (Wyatt 106). High concept movies frequently target younger audiences, although they can include other markets as well. In the case of Mad Max: Fury Road, the emphasis was definitely on the younger generation. However, as the previous movies about Max Rockatansky are known (and sometimes loved) to the representatives of older generations, the film also could attract older viewers. Although not promoted as a family movie, parents took their children to see Mad Max: Fury Road, which implies that the film succeeded in targeting several markets at once.
Another innovative step in merchandising, typical for high concept movies, is the graphic novel Mad Max: Fury Road that was a prequel to the movie. Published by a large American comic book publisher, Vertigo, the comic book focused on the movie’s main characters and provided new stories about them.
The high concept cinema often relies on several simple but memorable messages (slogans, images, posters, etc.). As to Mad Max: Fury Road, the slogan “Oh what a day, what a lovely day!” has become a part of the American pop-culture and was often used in reviews and news related to the movie. The next message is the color orange that can be seen on the poster, is extensively used in the film (as desert sand, the burning sun, and the fire). It re-appears in the movie trailer at least several times; moreover, the studios’ emblems are also made in the same desert-like aesthetic, which is the feature that makes the film so distinct and recognizable.
However, high concept movies do not only rely on their aesthetic difference (Wyatt 108). The leading roles are played by Hollywood stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. As Wyatt points out, blockbusters from the 1970s and 1980s (and the modern ones) often rely on well-known and highly recognizable actors to ensure that their interest will be attracted by them well (78). The same approach was used in Mad Max from 1979, where Mal Gibson portrayed the main character.
At last, the music of the movie should also be mentioned. It was written by a famous composer Junkie XL who collaborated with Hans Zimmer in writing music for other blockbusters. As Wyatt points out, high concept movies can rely on music if it is capable of making them more attractive to the target market (108). The role of the director should not be neglected as well. Since he operates within a genre familiar to him (George Miller directed previous movies of the franchise), there is a strong chance the movie will succeed.
Wyatt, Justin. High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. University of Texas Press, 2010.