“Colour has done as much damage to cinema as television. It is necessary to fight against too much realism in the cinema, otherwise it’s not an art. From the moment that a film is in colour, it’s not cinema any more.”
Francois Truffaut (1978)
When it was first released in May 2015 there was no denying the breath and beauty of George Miller’s latest Mad Max. Although Mel Gibson had since departed, some believing because of his off screen activities and comments, others because Miller himself stated Gibson fell out of love with the idea of a sequel when a deal to make it couldn’t be reached past 2000; there was no argument that the film looked glorious. Set in post apocalyptic Australia, Max is a fighter, his past a deep buried conflict of emotions and you’d be forgiven for thinking the character has gone mad from years of isolation and solitude. The world is a shadow of its former self, indeed even a shadow of the world presented in the 1979 original, renegades and barbarians cross the deserted wasteland in servitude to the last remaining ‘corporate powers’ hoping to find such commodities as blood and machinery.
Captured and sold as a slave, Max encounters female prisoners, held by a tyrannical ruler named only Immortan Joe. Joe controls The Citadel, the last water pumps used to bargain water for trades with ‘Gas Town’ and ‘Bullet Farm’. The wording used is deliberate, an all too subtle nod to the fossil fuels and arms race whose actives are as propellent today as they were when the original movie saw release some 38 years ago. Actor Hugh Keays Byrne returns to torment Hardy’s Max just as he did when playing ‘Toecutter’ to Gibson’s Max in the original film.
This special cinema and Blu Ray re-release some 24 months later is primarily because the picture has been entirely converted to black and chrome, something that creates a unique opportunity to have a revaluation of a modern blockbuster. Like Rod Sterling and Alfred Hitchcock before him, Miller has refused colour as a medium where it is readily available, instead using this tool as a physiological effort on the storyline. Miller has stated that if it were not for the commercial considerations upon the films original release it would most likely have been released solely this format.
While it’s impossible to say exactly what effect this monochrome effect has on modern film precisely, it is a subject I’ve explored before, albeit in reverse. In an article written for now defunct publication Contributoria in April 2015 I interviewed Barry Sandrew, an internationally recognised entrepreneur, digital imaging expert and visual effects pioneer who invented digital colourisation in 1987. At the time Sandrew told me “A director has to have a good artistic reason to use black and white, and that doing so invokes a particular meaning to the project; it is a genre in its own right so not appropriate for all concepts.”
If audiences feel the need to avoid purchasing this film a second time, or even for the first time, then this would be a mistake. The Blu Ray release gives the option of both films to be made available to the viewer and certainly nothing will be missing from your picture if you opt for this newer version. Kevin Shaw is a colourist, with more than 30 years’ experience in the industry. He believes there is some truth in the notion of a stigma towards black and white on film. “There is a feeling that black and white is ‘missing’ colour rather than being seen as an alternative medium,” says Shaw, “and I believe this inclination persists today.”
At its heart Mad Max is a brilliant road movie, an exploration into the need for mutual trust and cooperation and how that relates to survival. It has little dialogue and instead both the picture and the visual cues are what drives the film. There is no overdrawn two handers or explanations and only a handful of scenes work to the traditional expectations. The removal of this colour has (perhaps ironically) given this film new light and a lease of life with audiences that may have previously shunned it. But super or casual fans should still engage and welcome the films return to screens, a unique chance to see a crisp and polished blockbuster in a black and white format bring some colour into our lives.
A double disc Blu Ray edition of Mad Max: Fury Road is released May 15th 2017