Madness and Bayhem


I saw Mad Max: Fury Road again last week and marveled for the third time at its ability to convey incredibly complex action scenes with rare clarity. My wife (and plenty of others) don’t understand my fascination with the film. “What makes this different from Transformers?” she asks. “It’s just two hours of action and explosions.” Well, I think there’s a LOT that elevates it above dreck like Transformers, but below is an interesting contrast.

The first video is about “Bayhem,” a pejorative term given to Michael Bay’s style of filmmaking, and it does a great job of illustrating (part) of why his films are so mind-numbing.

The second is a short example of how George Miller shot and edited Mad Max for maximum clarity.

These two examples of the art of cinema are a lot like the way I often talk about writing: poor writing is overblown and meandering while good writing is succinct and clear.


  1. Kyle Keating

    I’m not a huge action-movie guy, but I find this distinction between Bayhem and Mad Max very helpful. I really enjoyed Mad Max as a film. Another distinction between the two is the semi-realism that was depicted in the Mad Max scenes. Bayhem is essentially cartoony, but Mad Max was both harsh and visceral. The semi-realism gave added weight to everything that was happening. Bayhem is also evidence for how sheer scale does not necessarily make something more epic or engrossing.

  2. Jen Rose Yokel

    I knew Mad Max felt different from the usual action movies I see (I can’t shake my Marvel fandom :)), but these videos were super helpful for explaining why. In all the chaos and explosions, Mad Max was coherent and, oddly, beautiful. I’d add that the strong colors helped make it easier to follow as well… most action movies seem to like this dirty, grungy palette.

    Another thought: Recently I watched Jurassic Park again and realized, even as recent as 20ish years ago, it didn’t have the chaotic feel that current action blockbusters have. I wonder what changed? The “Bayhem” influence, new special effects technologies, increasingly shorter attention spans, or a mix of all those things?

  3. Hannah

    I haven’t had a chance to see Mad Max yet, but I really enjoyed the action scenes in the latest Mission: Impossible (a very good film in general). Much like Brad Bird’s previous installment, the film had a very clean, straightforward feel. It avoided shaky cam and carefully arranged each set piece. And they were set pieces – not just a continuous stream of action, like in a Marvel movie or Man of Steel.

    A particular stand-out was a scene in the Vienna opera house, which you can find the director dissecting here:

    And while we’re at it, here’s another video on Mad Max (and why CGI isn’t the enemy):

  4. Laure Hittle

    i learn so much here. And film is not my area, so i’m glad to be stretched. Right now i’m watching Jonathan Rogers talk about good prose style, and he just said that one part of good style is “effectively directing your reader’s attention.” That sounds exactly like what you are getting at, Pete. Mad Max is accomplishing good visual prose, while Bay’s visual prose style directs the viewer’s attention everywhere at once.

    i appreciate, also, that centering the shots was called out as self-discipline on the director’s part. That reminds me of another thing JR says—that it is our job as writers to communicate clearly, and we can’t push this responsibility off onto the reader. So George Miller is loving his audience, as JR tells us to love our readers by our grammar.

  5. whipple

    Pete, I echo Kyle in saying that this was helpful. Thanks for giving a leg up to those who long to understand why good films are good films.

  6. Aaron

    I’d seen the Miller video before, but not the other one. Great stuff. (Also I think you mean ‘George Milller’.)

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