47 FILMS: 37. THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS

In our continuing series of  ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Peter Weir’s debut feature film The Cars that Ate Paris.

One of the many, many joys of Mad Max: Fury Road was the appearance of the porcupine spiky cars that turned up early in the chase scene. An obvious nod to compatriot Peter Weir’s debut comedy/horror The Cars that Ate Paris which featured a VW Beetle that looked like Herbie’s bad-ass bastard brother.

The story of the film reads like a  Twilight Zone episode penned by J. G. Ballard. Paris is a pleasant pastoral town in rural Australia with more than a passing resemblance to Hobbiton, but it hides an awful secret. The town folk engineer car accidents which they then profit from. Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri) and his older brother, George Waldo (Rick Scully) are two such victims when they crash near the town with their caravan. Survivors of the crashes are usually lobotomized by the town surgeon with power drills, but Arthur is spared and befriended by the Mayor of Paris, Len Kelly (John Meillon). The young men of the town use the spare parts to soup up and weaponize their own vehicles, becoming increasingly resistant to the authority of their elders. Weir’s brilliant twist is to never quite reveal who is the most dangerous. Are the hooligans in their cars really more dangerous than the elders who have clinically set up a murderous cottage industry while still maintaining a parody of gentility in their daily lives?

Weir’s film is darkly funny, but never commits fully to the silliness of its B-movie Oz-ploitation origins. Death Race 2000 retooled the same model in a much more exuberant manner. Weir would progress to the wonders of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli, and later Hollywood fame with Witness, Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander and The Truman Show. But already with The Cars that Ate Paris, the topic of a closed world with its own strict rules is there, and will fascinate the Australian director for years to come.

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47 FILMS: 25. MASTER AND COMMANDER

HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our series of 47 Films You Have to See Before You Are Murdered in Your Dreams, Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany star in Peter Weir’s seaworthy Patrick O’Brian adaptation Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

In a world where there are way too many hyphenated titles and way, way too many sequels, Peter Weir’s fantastic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the one that got away. Pirates of the Caribbean will be repeated until you’re seasick but Master and Commander is the magnificent one off, a heroic broadside of a movie.

Based on two of the Patrick O’Brian novels in the long running Aubrey/Maturin series spliced together, the film tells the story of Captain ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) commanding the HMS Surprise and his hunting of the phantom privateer the Acheron in the Southern Oceans. Weir plumbs his source material brilliantly, with almost every character named without necessarily being introduced and with wonderfully observed period detail, from the food to the language. On one level a perfect adventure film, the sea battles are terrifyingly authentic with most combatants killed from flying splintered wood rather than cannonballs and smoke enveloping the scene. But as well as buckling swashes, this is a subtle bromance between the bluff but bright and a tad heavy Captain and his close friend, musical partner and proto-Darwinian the ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin, played by a pitch perfect Paul Bettany.

Whether Weir was uninterested in repeating himself – he is after all the director of such diverse greats as The Truman Show, Dead Poet’s Society, Gallipoli, The Cars that Ate Paris, Witness and the sublime Picnic at Hanging Rock – or the studio was disappointed that they hadn’t got a Gladiator Goes to Sea, Master and Commander 2 never set sail. However, it would be churlish to focus on that.

Weir throughout his filmography has consistently explored closed worlds with their own rules and culture and the HMS Surprise is a perfect setting for him to explore his concerns and Crowe and Bettany give command performances in a well oiled ensemble. Master and Commander is that rarity, an action film which is clever, witty and fantastic fun.

For more of the 47 Films You Have to See Before You Are Murdered in Your Dreams Click Here.