Movie fans have gotten used to being disappointed by films seeking to revitalize, remake, or reboot beloved franchises of the past, coming to realize that recapturing old magic is nearly impossible. Mad Max: Fury Road, however, was a different story from the very beginning. It was George Miller who first conjured up Max Rockatansky and the hellish, post-apocalyptic wasteland he patrolled - and it was Miller leading the charge down Fury Road over three decades later.
The end result is a film that has raised the bar for practical stunts in general (read our review), and uses a stunning landscape to deliver the most high-octane, stylish, and gender-neutral action film in recent memory. Even as Miller claims he's got a sequel planned out if WB requests it, the director says Fury Road's blu-ray release will give fans their first look at the movie in black and white - in his opinion, its best version.
Mentioning black and white films in the modern era can divide the casual moviegoers from the die-hard cinemaphiles instantly (even if its just a matter of taste). In recent years, directors like Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead, The Mist) have gone to bat for black and white as an 'intended' presentation, as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and others have used it to dodge censorship of bloody violence while offering a nod to the earlier days of 'arthouse' filmmaking.
If color is an indication of life or realism, then it's fitting that the recent glut of post-apocalyptic movies have portrayed a future so grim, the Earth has turned grey to reflect it. Mad Max: Fury Road seemed to follow suit in its early marketing, but the finished product was a kaleidoscope of oranges and blues. In a Q&A (courtesy of /Film), director George Miller explains how the movie's final look was decided upon:
"We spent a lot of time in DI (digital intermediate), and we had a very fine colorist, Eric Whipp. One thing I’ve noticed is that the default position for everyone is to de-saturate post-apocalyptic movies. There’s only two ways to go, make them black and white — the best version of this movie is black and white, but people reserve that for art movies now. The other version is to really go all-out on the color. The usual teal and orange thing? That’s all the colors we had to work with. The desert’s orange and the sky is teal, and we either could de-saturate it, or crank it up, to differentiate the movie. Plus, it can get really tiring watching this dull, de-saturated color, unless you go all the way out and make it black and white."
Miller doesn't seem to hold anyone particularly responsible, since the "people" who see a color-less movie as 'artsy' can be found in the studio system and mass audiences. But his belief that the black and white cut is the best version of Fury Road isn't just lip service: he's demanded a colorless cut of the film be included on its blu-ray release - along with a silent version, accompanied only by the musical score.
Typically, such a decision (as Miller directly admits) is perceived as an 'artistic' one, implicitly elevating the film and its story to its 'purest' form - at the cost of the visual spectacle and enjoyment for casual viewers. But those who have actually seen Fury Road can see how the outrageous sets, vehicles, and complex action sequences are, at times, hard to absorb in their entirety (short of repeat viewings). As a result, the removal of color to focus on the physical storytelling could be seen as an additive move, not a 'loss.'
It isn't a new idea for Miller, either; it dates back to his experience seeing 'slash dupes' - the black and white, lower-quality prints traditionally used by composers to pair their music to the action on-screen. When he witnessed the process during post-production on The Road Warrior (1981), Miller realized it was the best version of the movie, explaining that "it just reduces it to this really gutsy high-con black and white - very, very powerful."
A version of the movie without dialogue seems more feasible than usual, with the film's title hero saying just a handful of lines, and its villain performing with his mouth obstructed from start to finish. That isn't to say that Fury Road's dialogue is forgettable, but Miller's reliance on detail, not exposition for his world-building could make it easier to follow than other modern blockbusters.
It goes without saying: when your film includes a hyperactive 'Doof Warrior' playing a flamethrower guitar in thermal pajamas realism has, to a large extent, gone out the window. Regardless of your taste, Miller's insistence on giving viewers the option of seeing the film as he thinks best is an added bonus. If it heightens the visual storytelling, or simply takes Fury Road one step farther into arthouse insanity, it should prove worth watching.
Will you be picking up Fury Road on blu-ray to see if you share the same opinion as Miller? Are you curious to know if an added emphasis on the musical score, not gunfire and explosions has an added effect? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Mad Max: Fury Road is in theaters now.