Hollywood’s latest inexplicable fad continues with a re-release of George Miller’s magnum opus. Dylan decides if the conversion was worth it.
NOTE: I am going into this review under the assumption that you have seen Mad Max: Fury Road before. If you do need a refresher, SquabbleBox has a review of the film. Expect SPOILERS galore.
In a reversal of the colourisation of classics that popped up in the 1980s, there is a recent trend in showing films with a “clever” Hollywood spin in black and white. This started with Frank Darabont’s The Mist a few years back, and Logan will soon be released in this format. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is currently popping up without colour in special screenings across the country.
Whether this is a genuine attempt to add a different feel to the film (both Miller and Darabont have declared that this is their original vision), or a cheap money-maker is known only by the executives. However, I managed to catch a recent viewing of this version of Fury Road, and regardless of the reasons for its existence, there is much to discuss. For me, the reason to check it out is because the changes made affect not only the cinematography, but the tone and feel of the film in a fascinating way.
Cinematography is obviously the the biggest change. The screaming orange of the landscape drew an association with the Australian Outback in the original, stretching back to the 1979 film’s place as a classic in Ozzie New Wave. This changes in the black and white version. The landscape is now an unidentifiable, blasted wasteland; a neverending world of dust with grit and oil in every corner.
This monochrome filter pulls out surreal highlights which make the piece feel more like an arthouse movie than an action film. Had someone shown me this version, and told me it cost $30 million, I would be impressed and, crucially, believe them. This is not to say the black and white looks cheap, but rather more industrial, being less glamorous than before. Max’s attempt to escape the Citadel is like something from Eraserhead crossed with interpretative dance. When the War Boys drag Max off the hook and pull him back into the cave, he may as well be pulled into hell.
This adds a brooding atmosphere to the piece that wasn’t present before. Overall, the film is less funny than before. I never realised how many skulls there were on everything. The more ridiculous parts of the film, like the pile of steering wheels, and a guitar-based marching band, are now a lurch into a threatening world unknown and bizarre to our own.
This means that the whole genre changes. Rather than being post-apocalyptic, now the film is a true piece of science fiction, set on a different plane of existence from our own. This is more like a 2000 AD miniseries on the big screen, with the inky blacks and washed-out whites from those early comics coming across in every frame. This even goes as far as to affect the script. The language you don’t understand seems less like future slang and more like English from another dimension.
The best example of the shift is the weakest part of the colour version for me: the dust storm. Although it is still a great scene, it is the set-piece that most highlights the visual effects, bordering on the cartoony. In this version, the storm is a whirling nightmare void. It looks entirely practical and terrifying, and is as cinematically memorable as the tornado in the The Wizard of Oz.
So, Black & Chrome has value beyond novelty. But the bold colours, humour and apocalyptic feel of the original version are all fantastic, and not having them definitely makes this version lack something, if only the shock of not seeing them here. I don’t think this can be described as a “better” experience than the colour release. But it also isn’t a weaker iteration. I hope this doesn’t sound like a wishy-washy conclusion, but what I mean is that there is more than enough in Mad Max: Fury Road to solicit a double-watching. Why not make one of them the black and white version? Although the lack of colour is a shock at first, it certainly doesn’t destroy or even detract from those crunching, grinding sounds, those enthralling stunts, the Fellini-esquire costuming, and the marvellous make-up. The black and white does not and cannot ruin its legacy, and getting a chance to see the films in its natural habitat will always be a treat.