To give some background, even if it is unpopular, I wasn’t over enamoured by Mad Max: Fury Road the first time I saw it. Or the second. It all felt a bit thin, lacking a decent plot and the action seemed to be just ok, not out of this world. OK so it looked great with its hyper-real, vivid colours and sprawling landscapes but that was about all that captured my imagination about it.
But now we come to this. A momentous third watch, this time in Black and White (albeit self configured and not the authentic Black and Chrome version). I have to say, this is a totally different film with the gaudy colours removed. The tone of the film suddenly becomes more serious, less comic-like and the fate of Max and Furiosa and the ‘breeders’ develops into something that you actually care about. I found myself being drawn into this film in a way that I hadn’t been before.
I have no explanation other than the colour being removed for this change in perception. Using the words of Roger Deakins:
[Black-and-white] focuses you on the content and the story, and it really concentrates your attention on what’s in the frame. All too often, colour can be a distraction — it’s easier to make colour look good, but harder to make colour service the story. Black-and-white imagery is much more about the balance between the light and shade in the frame, and I think it can help convey story points a lot better with fewer distractions.
And I agree with this. All of a sudden I was invested into their lives and their fates, things were more apparent on the screen than they were before. The black and white, in it’s simplest sense puts things into extremes, focuses their meanings and distills them in to two categories; black and white, evil and good. Interestingly, these are somewhat reversed in Mad Max as the Warboys, with their pale skin, appear white on the screen, whereas Max is mostly clothed in dark, leading to viewing him as black (even though he is morally ambiguous throughout most of the film).
In terms of the themes of the film, the water that is provided for the poor from Immortan Joe appears white (read good) but it is actually being used to control the poor (used for bad), again showing this reversal of themes. The desert surrounding everyone appears white whereas it is the embodiment of the plight that they have to endure, this hardship that has caused so much pain and suffering and has allowed Immortan Joe to rise up and persecute those less fortunate. Add to this the talk of guzzolene (black), Mothers milk (white) and Joe’s ‘prize breeders’ clad all in white and you have a sense of how much black and white play an important part to this film, and this is made so much clearer when viewed as it was intended by the director.
Having said how much of an improvement black and white made to my viewing experience, there are a few issues with the lack of colour; the lush green foliage that stands out so much in this environment is sadly not emphasised as much as with the colour version, the shooting of the flares during the chase scenes again lacks the meaning that the full colour version has. Even with these minor gripes I can totally see why director George Miller wanted this to be shown in Black and White from the beginning as it totally changed my view of this film in a really good way.