If anyone (and I really can’t imagine who this might be) still doubts that Mad Max: Fury Road is a genuine, literal, honest to Batman masterpiece, Black & Chrome should take care of that right quick. This monochromatic reissue of George Miller’s belated sequel to his beloved post-apocalyptic (punk-apocalyptic?) franchise turns the cacophonous, riotous action film into primal spectacle.
The story goes that, when scoring Mad Max 2, the orchestra would play over a cheap, black and white print of the film. Miller was struck by the “elemental” and “authentic” nature of the images, and has wanted to do a black and white Mad Max film ever since. Then, just before the home video release of Fury Road, rumours began circulating of a black and white version to be included with the theatrical cut. That didn’t happen. But here we are, almost exactly two years since Fury Road’s release, and Black & Chrome has seen a one-night-only cinema release, with home video just around the corner.
This is no simple decolourisation, however. Black & Chrome’s look couldn’t be achieved just by messing with the settings on your television. Miller has drained the colour, then cranked up the contrast, so that the whites clash strikingly with the blacks. It lends the film a heightened, feverish look which complements the heightened, feverish action.
But what’s the point? Why take one of the most visually arresting action films ever made, and drain it of its raucous colour palette? The answer becomes clear early on. Scenes in the Citadel, with its immense winches and chains and buttes-turned-temples, reminded me of nothing more than the expressionist dystopia of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. That feeling, of German Expressionism invading the modern action film, continues throughout Black & Chrome. It has something to do, I think, with the vehicle designs, those wildly impractical muscle cars and cobbled-together motorised palanquins which nevertheless give an impression of what these characters and this society are all about. When rendered in black and white, they take on the same Jungian portentousness as anything in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Having watched the original Technicolor version of Fury Road several times, I’m uncertain whether Black & Chrome represents the definitive edition of the film. Perhaps a few more viewings will help me decide. Right now, Black & Chrome stands as an interesting, and triumphantly successful, experiment. It is a curious companion piece to its multichromatic predecessor, an expressionist and mythic interpretation of a deranged masterpiece.
So shiny. So chrome.