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Director George Miller, center, speaks alongside Charlize Theron, left, and Tom Hardy during a press conference for the film Mad Max: Fury Road at Cannes on Thursday.Lionel Cironneau/The Associated Press

Kaboom! Mad Max: Fury Road, Australian director George Miller's fourth movie in his postapocalyptic series, and the first in 30 years, got an enthusiastic reception at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, with audiences breaking into applause after several elaborately choreographed action sequences.

The festival press conference was attended by actors Tom Hardy – who assumed the role that first brought Mel Gibson to fame 36 years ago – Charlize Theron, as a woman warrior, and Nicholas Hoult, as a "war boy" soldier of a messianic warlord, but most of the media interest was in Miller, now 70, who has returned to the franchise that made him famous in the late 1970s.

The director offered a candid look into what it takes to make a modern action film, which, as several reviewers have noted, he has proved he can do with more panache than most filmmakers a fraction of his age.

Miller has spent the past few years on considerably milder fare (Babe, Happy Feet), though he said the idea for a new Mad Max movie had been with him for years.

"Finally I decided to make another movie, but I didn't realize it would take another 12 years," he said.

"What I really wanted to do was an extended chase. I called it a visual mosaic, which [means], as Hitchcock said, you don't need subtitles to watch it in Japan. It was really one long graphic novel. The first iteration was 3,500 storyboards.… Very atypically, we condensed that down to a screenplay and these guys [the actors] had to interpret it.… And then you're out there with real vehicles, real people in a real desert for seven months, and there wasn't a day I didn't think, 'We're crazy.' "

The Namibian desert where the film was shot, said South African-born Theron, is known as "the place God made when he got angry."

The actors admitted they struggled to grasp the material, given the shortage of dialogue and rapid shooting style. Hardy referred to the script as "a luxury we didn't have." After seeing the film, though, he said he felt he owed Miller an apology for not understanding the director's vision.

"An actor is an athlete," said Miller. "Shooting two-second shots is like asking a runner to start and stop. It's very difficult for them."

Miller's editor and spouse, Margaret Sixel, wasn't as new to the director's method, having worked with him on Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet, but it was her first action film. How did she do it?

"We had 450 hours of material, two to 12 cameras on every set-up, working two years of six days a week, 10 hours a day, for about 6,000 hours of editing, to get it down to two hours," she said.

"She told me her goal was to make sure I didn't embarrass myself," said Miller.

Naturally, the press wanted to know if this is the start of another Mad Max series, but Miller seemed surprised by the question.

"Answering that feels to me like I'm a woman who has just given birth to a really big baby, and I'm not recovered enough to answer whether I'll deliver another. But these characters live in your head and there may be another time to head back to the Wasteland. But I've just come out of labour."