When beloved director George Miller first released the much-awaited follow-up to his cult classic Mad Max series, he teased that he had watched the new film in black and white and found it a superior experience. Now, after much fan buzz, the “Black and Chrome” edition of Mad Max: Fury Road has hit the big screen for a single day, as part of an ad campaign for its inclusion in the movie’s Blu-ray set. After all of the hype Miller generated around the remaster, one might question whether the film could possibly be that much better with a change as seemingly minimal as a rebalanced colour palette. Yet, when rendered in such contrast, the aesthetic brilliance of Miller’s mayhem-ridden masterpiece shines all the more for it, showcasing its impeccable craft while assuming a timeless quality that places it among some of the very best action flicks cinema has to offer.
Originally released in early 2015, Fury Road caught the world off guard, and for good reason. After the CGI-heavy spectacle of The Matrix — a fine film in its own regard — its action-centered successors sought to imitate that winning formula but failed to capture the artistry that made it so successful. By contrast, practical effects were simply an inextricable feature of cinema when Miller made his first Mad Max movies, so of all people to bring back that engineer’s touch, he would be the one. Sure enough, after a strange stint directing the Happy Feet movies — yes, the ones with the dancing penguins — Miller found himself at the helm of a proper action romp once again, returning to his dream world of twisting metal and searing heat. With his Fury Road budget, another director might have used CGI to execute their vision with the maximum degree of control possible. Instead, Miller used the money to stage a visceral automotive epic with real cars and stunts. With more than 80 percent of the onscreen action free of computer effects, the only noticeably fabricated bits are the villain’s towering desert Citadel and a massive sandstorm. These generated scenes are easy to spot in the original version, but leeching the image of color has a welcome way of blending real and unreal, just as black-and-white movies of the 20th century had an easier time selling painted backdrops as actual locations.
Gifted with a highlighted contrast between light and dark, Fury Road’s artistry shines. Slapping a color filter on most movies wouldn’t yield great results, but Miller’s mastering team took pains to play with saturation and sharpness to ensure that the final version would look like the film’s original format. Their efforts paid off. Where flesh once blended in with the arid landscape, characters’ faces now pop out crisply from the rest of the frame. Miller famously made his cinematographer uncomfortable during the original version’s production by demanding that they place the most important action directly in the center of the frame. In full color, parsing out the periphery beyond that central focus required additional viewings; now, sharp white accents mark all pieces of action in a single frame, allowing viewers to marvel at the visual consistency of Miller’s set pieces. Many of its action scenes unfold on wide stretches of road, stringing together disparate mini-fights into one cohesive whole. Now, it’s easy to notice how these smaller pieces fit into one another — if a foe is thrown from a caravan in one frame, for example, he might be seen falling in the distant background of the next.
The bloodlessness of Fury Road’s frantic violence translates well to “Black and Chrome.” Though little damage beyond the odd arrow to the head is displayed in full view, it’s the gut-wrenching power of its punches — from bullets pounding into sand to bodies hitting metal — punctuating every sequence that contribute to a constant sense of visceral danger. With the torrents of soil and sand, oil and cleverly blurred out viscera that adorn the action set in black, the characters are almost the stars of the show. Almost.
For even the least avid car fan, Miller’s gasoline-chugging mayhem machines should be awe-inspiring. Miller’s words to his automotive specialist for the film — “Make it cool or I’ll kill you” — went straight to these war beasts’ engines, resulting in an opera of singing pipes and steaming metal. As white smoke billows from the backs of caravans and long black shadows stretch over their studded metal, one gains a sense of appreciation for them as existing in spite of Max’s desert world. These cars, not the desert, act as the film’s ever-moving set, both products and enablers of the raging battle for the wasteland. In the gleaming heat of the day, the sight of them racing across emptiness straddled by warring figures hoping for a finish line can’t be beat for thrill. And black and white is the perfect vehicle for the technical ingenuity of Fury Road.