February 10, 2016

You can add Mad Max: Fury Road to the list of things influenced by Moby Dick


The War Rig truck was the eponymous white whale of Melville’s 1851 masterpiece.

I didn’t see Mad Max: Fury Road. But a lot of other people did, and it seems like most of them loved it. The movie has been nominated for nine Oscars, including all seven technical awards, which are awarded for cinematography, sound design and mixing, film editing, costume design, production design, and visual effects.

And, as with most pieces of American culture post 1851, it owes at least some of its success to Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick.

According to the film’s sound designer Mark Mangini, the inspiration for and spiritual predecessor of the War Rig—a very large, very dangerous, very expensive truck which features prominently in the film—was the eponymous white whale of Melville’s 1851 masterpiece.

In an interview with James Kim on KPCC’s The Frame, Mangini explained the inspiration behind the film’s editing and sound design:

I had this notion that the truck itself was an allegory for Moby Dick. If you think about this a little bit, we saw Immortan Joe—the leader of the war party—as [Captain] Ahab. He’s hellbent on killing the great white whale—the War Rig.

….And to further that storytelling aspect, the “Moby Dick” aspect, at the end of the movie they’re shooting harpoons at it. We already have the visual metaphors to support this allegory. Every time it was struck with a harpoon, you hear these deep whale-like groans to say that it has been hurt and wounded. It’s not just the sound of metal into metal. When the harpoons do pierce the War Rig and the milk sprays out, we use the sounds of whale blowholes.

At the end of the film, when Nux, Nicholas Hoult’s character, throws the War Rig into a t-bone maneuver to sacrifice himself and block the pass so that Immortan Joe’s party can’t get through and continue to chase our heroes, we go into a beautiful ballet-like slow motion sequence as the War Rig upends and turns on its side and crashes. All those sounds, there are no realistic sounds there. Those are all whale sounds and actually slowed-down bear sounds.

What we wanted to say to the audience was, This is a death. This is the death of the great white whale. All you hear as it rolls over in slow motion is the final death rattle of a dying creature. It just felt like the right sound to use.

Of course, the whale lives at the end of Moby Dick. But that probably won’t sway the Oscar judges too much. Because any excuse to blast super slow-motion hybrid whale-bear sounds is a good excuse.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.