When I first reviewed George Miller’s high octane action spectacle Mad Max: Fury Road last summer, I was a little late to the table and the film had already been relegated to cult classic status, earning high marks from fans & critics, but failing to beat out less memorable films like Tomorrowland & San Andreas at the box office. Before reviewing the film I watched it twice in the theater in two different formats, 2D & 3D, and contextualized it by plowing through Miller’s entire catalog for perspective (for the record, it was just slightly bested by Babe 2: Pig in the City & The Witches of Eastwick as a career high for me). Despite all of that effort I floundered to find anything new or interesting to say about the film that wasn’t a mere echo of the praise it was already lauded with. Over a year later, I’ve now seen Fury Road reach its third theatrical format, the colorless Black & Chrome edition, and I still have nothing significant to add outside an echo of how wonderfully bizarre & overwhelmingly kinetic this film is. It’s still one of the best action films in recent memory. Immorten Joe is still a total fucking nightmare. Not much has changed in this most recent theatrical release but the color, so don’t beat yourself up if you couldn’t catch it in theaters (especially since there’s a Black & Chrome release on BluRay & VOD currently available for the still curious).
All that being said, I absolutely loved returning to the theater to witness this bizarre work unfold for a third time. Catching Fury Road in three distinct formats has been illuminating in that it allowed me to appreciate different aspects of the film in each run, while I still don’t believe I’ve seen it enough times to fully take it all in. While the campy, drive-in spectacle of watching it in 3D was my personal favorite way of experiencing the film, there was a definite novelty to the Black & Chrome version that highlighted aspects of what Miller accomplished I don’t remember noticing before. The story goes that while screening a work print of Fury Road without a score & without color, Miller found his preferred version of the film. The studio obviously rejected the idea of releasing the film in that state for fear of scaring off general audiences, but a year later a home video & brief theatrical release has made its way into the world after this production anecdote piqued fans’ interest (although with the score intact). As the title suggests, the black & chrome Fury Road is a little shinier and higher contrast than a traditional colorless film is presented, particularly in details like when Immorten Joe’s “war boys” spray that mysterious chrome substance across their teeth as a pick-me-up. This aspect of the print is emphasized in-film by lines like “Look at that! So shiny! So chrome!” and “You will ride eternal, shiny & chrome.” Although the color change doesn’t entirely alter the film’s DNA (how could it?), it is a shift that’s often justified & accentuated by the script.
I caught the black & chrome Fury Road at the only theater in Louisiana (and one of only a few dozen in the nation) that was screening a print. A little dazed by catching Moonlight earlier that afternoon & enjoying a few cocktails downtown in the meantime, I was confronted with two major annoyances at the cinema: a very talkative older couple who were brazen in their interruptions since there were only three of us “witnessing” Miller’s glory & a loud, hideous whine emanating from the projector. In an attempt to escape both distractions, I moved to the very front row of the tiny theater, completely immersed in the black & chrome madness blasting before me. Although I was mostly annoyed by the talking, I was a little amused when, after the glorious dust storm finish to the first chase scene, a man exclaimed, “Son of a bitch. I’m worn out! That was fucking genius.” As long as I’m echoing already-expressed sentiments here, I guess I have to whole-heartedly agree with that drunk man-child. Fury Road wore me out every single time I’ve seen it long before the end credits rolled. And, despite my exhaustion, it was indeed “fucking genius”. There’s an undeniable, infectious “how did this get made?” quality to Fury Road (as if it’s something Miller got away with, not just something he filmed), that strikes me every time no matter what row I’m sitting in, how disruptive the audience is, or in what state it’s being projected. There was something especially cool about watching it a few feet away from the screen, though. I’ll readily admit that, even if it wasn’t my first choice.
Overall, I am saying that the Black & Chrome edition of Fury Road isn’t an entirely unique experience, but that doesn’t mean nothing changed for me in that format. In a lot of ways, the black & white digital grain makes the film feel more 90s, recalling Aronofsky’s π or, once the supermodels appear, the world’s craziest perfume ad. A lack of color also called attention to the film’s dust & grit, as if it were a feature length adaptation of a White Zombie music video (the Russ Meyer-inspired “Thunderkiss ’65,” specifically). The horror of the zombie-like war boys popped off the screen more in the opening capture & detainment sequence. A little of the CGI is clouded without the color, making it play like a forgotten relic, maybe along the lines of Hardware or, hell, even Metropolis. All of these elements were already lurking in Fury Road to begin with, though. All switching formats does is make them more obvious. Some would even argue that the original version of the movie is near-monochromatic to begin with, so the difference is negligible at best. Personally, I would miss the bright reds & purples of details like the dust storm or the guitar goblin if this were the only version of the movie available, but thankfully it’s not. There’s now three versions of Fury Road out there waiting to impress & confound you as to how something so goddamn insane was ever made in the first place. I’m lucky to have seen it even once, let alone from so many angles & shifted perspectives. If nothing else, the black & chrome flavored Fury Road is at least worth seeking out to add that extra layer of appreciation to something we all already knew was wonderful. When you seek it out, though, just try to avoid the whining projectors & talkative drunks out there aiming to distract from it. There are many roadblocks to avoid on the path to Valhalla.