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Since Mad Max: Fury Road is basically still the same movie in black & white (or black & chrome, as the subtitle suggests) and because I didn’t notice any obvious differences in the soundtrack, I’m recycling my original Blu-ray review for the Feature and Audio sections of this review.

Feature


Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by an elite Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). They are escaping a Citadel tyrannized by the Immortan Joe (original Mad Max actor Hugh Keays-Byrne), from whom something irreplaceable has been taken. Enraged, the Warlord marshals all his gangs and pursues the rebels ruthlessly in the high-octane Road War that follows. (From WB’s official synopsis)

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition
Following the difficult production of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), George Miller (who actually ended up co-directing that film with George Ogilvie, when friend and co-producer, Byron Kennedy, died suddenly) promised a return of his quintessential antihero. But this seemed increasingly unlikely as he involved himself in TV movies, production capacities (on other directors’ films), and became the architect of two wildly successful, family-friendly franchises – Babe (1995 and 1998) and Happy Feet (2006 and 2011). Still, Mad Max: Fury Road managed to survive false starts and roadblocks (Miller has cited everything from September 11th to the onset of the Iraq War, but made no mention of Mel Gibson’s very public meltdown). At one point, Miller was so enamored with the creative power Happy Feet offered him (and probably aware that Gibson was not going to front another entry) that Fury Road was almost a 3D animated feature. Fortunately (or not, I’d probably like that movie, too), nostalgia prevailed, the director found a new muse in Tom Hardy, and the unlikely resurgence of the Mad Max series was glorious.

Fury Road wasn’t exactly a box office blow-out (its final take was respectable) and it was sometimes marred in its status as a belated sequel to a burned-out series, yet it had a pop-culture impact and could conceivably evolve into a ‘game changer’ on the level of The Matrix (1999) or, perhaps more appropriately, the original Mad Max. I can easily imagine pieces of Miller’s specifically impressionistic (his greatest strength throughout his career has been the ability to make impressionism mainstream-friendly), digitally-augmented, shot-for-real chaos inspiring the look of future action franchises, even if it doesn’t inspire a whole slew of new post-apocalyptic car chase movies (…oh, how I wish the Italian film industry was still churning out Mad Max rip-offs), Fury Road should be preserved as a primer on efficient and intuitive action filmmaking. There isn’t a frame wasted in establishing speed, energy, and, most importantly in an age of shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing, geography, despite the fact that all three are continuously reaffirmed. To fully appreciate the difference between the 70-year-old sage’s accomplishments and the average, effects-driven tentpole director’s best efforts (take your pick – even the good ones tend to be a mess), I recommend watching sections of Fury Road without any sound. I know this seems like some kind of lame, first-year film studies suggestion, but it really is a worthwhile experiment.

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition
Miller’s efficiency extends to the storytelling. Fury Road has a lot more plot than even its admirers seem to recognize and much of it is hidden in the intensity of its imagery. Dialogue can be unintelligible, because Miller isn’t concerned with explaining every nook & cranny of his bizarre landscape. He lets the pictures tell the story and trusts the audience to pick up details, even if they aren’t fully aware of their significance. For example, when Immortan Joe realizes that his breeding stock wives have been ‘stolen,’ cameras merely follow him as he runs through a number of rooms (rooms full of seemingly minor production design/props that end up serving the story in the third act), opens a giant vault door, and proceeds into a sort of educational prison. The walls and floor are covered in hastily scrawled text that reads ‘Our Babies Will Not Be Warlords’ and ‘We Are Not Things.’ It takes up mere seconds of screen time and tells us everything we need to know. In comparison, something like Jurassic World (which I’m picking on, because I just saw it and because it’s similarly chase-based) would pause to monopolize a character’s screentime to explain the significance of each room.

It’s easy to enjoy Fury Road on a purely visceral level, because it is such a purely visceral experience. It simmers with the joy of a carnival ride, the roar of a rock concert, and the unabashed melodrama of a Verdi opera (working on Happy Feet movies seem to have given Miller the confidence to effectively turn the Mad Max franchise into a song-free musical). But, however easy it is to take at its face value, it’s more rewarding to recognize the ethical dilemmas brimming beneath the surface. Miller’s meaning is delivered with heavy hands – bullet casings bounce off actress Abbey Lee’s pregnant belly and a barren tree offers brief salvation for the War Rig when it is trapped in the sludgy swamps of post-apocalyptic pollution – but there’s nothing understated about the Mad Max series. Or any of Miller’s movies, for that matter.

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition
Watching the entire series in a row (as I did when the latest entry opened in theaters), I realize that there’s more conceptual continuity than I originally realized. Even if the four stories might as well be standalone narratives aside from the Max character, Miller is slowly developing themes and, despite variations in location, the three sequels see the director effectively remaking the same movie. It’s not unusual for great filmmakers (or artists of any kind) to sometimes obsessively revisit the same ideas, but very few reach a creative apex so late in the game. In fact, the more obscure and specific the ideas are (Dario Argento’s obsession with murder mysteries, Roland Emmerich’s obsession with the apocalypse, or Peter Jackson’s obsession with Middle Earth, for example), the more likely those filmmakers are to flounder and fall into obscurity as they age. Fury Road, on the other hand, is such a monumental achievement, it makes the weakest film in the series, Beyond Thunderdome, retrospectively important. I now recognize the seeds Miller was planting and how they helped him flesh out the stranger corners of his post-apocalyptic universe, as well as the expanded idea of warring tribes and make-shift civilizations seen in The Road Warrior.

Fury Road’s proud feminist basis (something that was slowly developed over the four films) is the most rousing and celebrated of the themes that propel this particular rock-opera. Refreshingly, Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy (a comic book artist/production designer best known for his work on 2000 A.D.) and Nico Lathouris (who appears as the mechanic in the original Mad Max) rarely stop to pat themselves on the back and dwell upon the physical and emotional strength of the female characters. Like muscle car fetishism and irradiated, swollen lymph nodes, the power of Furiosa and her Vuvalini sisters are taken for granted. All the while, the script (made with input from none other than Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues) inverts a number of expectations for action heroines, at a time when they are still increasingly relegated to sexy sidekicks and/or captured, then threatened with sexual assault. Joe’s breeder wives are also hardened by a lifetime of sexual assault, so Miller isn’t entirely beyond using stereotypes. But their escape and defense is facilitated by another woman who utilizes the assistance of the male lead, rather than depending entirely on his intervention (see: Sucker Punch).*

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition
Beneath this respectful place for women is a satire of warmongering culture, which is, I suppose, largely presented as a masculine problem that can only be cured with substantial feminine leadership. The implicit message is that are women more capable of defending and sustaining peace. With the War Boys and their ‘Witness Me’ culture, Miller captures the glory of war and it is truly exciting to see faceless minions driving in slow motion to the glory of Valhalla. But, soon after, he’s happy to rub our faces in the futility of their glory. Joe is a self-serving warmonger and their sacrifice is to his vanity, rather than a righteous cause. In this regard, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a fallen War Boy that finds real glory in sacrificing himself for a real cause, is the prime audience surrogate. Max is an established figure (though Tom Hardy has certainly made the character his own) with rooted traits and Furiosa’s emotional journey is anchored in redemption. Nux’s growth, as nurtured by the sympathetic Capable (one of the stolen wives, played by Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis) and reinforced by a more selfless father figure in Max, is at the center of Miller’s message.

Video


“Can’t I just fiddle with my television’s levels until my original Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-ray looks black & white?” I’m glad you asked. You see, even though Miller, cinematographer John Seale, and an army of digital colourists heavily altered the palette in post-production, the original photography was designed for colour. Simply deleting the colour without accounting for what it offers certain compositions would lead to a lot of gray mud. Miller and his team had to cull through the footage and tweak the levels on certain scenes in order to create contrast. The results are presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p HD video.

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition
Personally, I don’t necessarily miss the orange and teal/turquoise of this mostly tri-colour palette, but Miller and Seale used red so well and so sparingly that I miss its occasional impact (the loss of the Doof Warrior’s crimson pajamas is a bummer). The black & white explosions are rarely as satisfying as their full-colour counterparts. The higher contrast levels help to substantially boost texture, making for an insanely detailed image for most of the movie. They also lead to some strange motion artefacts, making the footage appear more jittery without actually changing anything about the framerate. There are, of course, some scenes that depend enough on hue variation that the monochrome approach sort of flattens some scenes. In the case of brighter sequences, the blown-out whites are actually pretty attractive, not to mention almost impossibly soft. The plush, diffused lighting qualities were never as obvious against the orange/yellow desert backdrops. However, some of the scope and scale is lost in the process, in part because the backgrounds are so much lighter and in part because the sharper/more consistent contrast makes it difficult to visually parse distance. The bigger issue is the dark sequences at the center of the movie (when the chase is stuck in the mud), which were originally designed to be murky. There simply isn’t enough light & dark distinction for Miller and the colourists to draw from. They are actually forced to keep the image slightly blue, rather than completely black & white, in order to create contrasting variance. There are some minor edge halo issues during these dark scenes.

Note: disc two features the original colour transfer and that it appears identical to the original release.

Audio


You could argue that Fury Road isn’t the best action film of 2015, but I dare you to name a release with a more perfectly tuned surround soundtrack. Seriously, if it doesn’t take the sound design/editing Oscars this season, the Academy is insane (update: it did). This Blu-ray release features a smashing Dolby Atmos soundtrack that is Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible. The insanely busy and incredibly dynamic mix kicks off with pulsating, disembodied voices, followed by punchy car motors and Tom Holkenborg’s (aka: Junkie XL’s) driving (pun intended) classical-meets-industrial metal score. As the film continues, the spaces between dialogue, effects, and music blends into one giant organic machine. The thrum of sand from the side of a truck becomes the beating of drums and the dirge of symphonic strings. Sometimes, one element will spring to the forefront and create screen-specific directional elements, but Miller is just as likely to employ completely surrealistic soundscapes. It is, effectively, a symphonic movement in three or four parts. Among the most clever additions are more subtle and abstract creations, such as the animalistic roar of vehicles or the subjective woosh-woosh-woosh of Max’s blood flowing through his IV. The Dolby TrueHD down-mix has the same problems with low dialogue volume that have been an issue for other mixes since the codec was established, but the content of this dialogue (not to mention the thickness of the accents) is usually incidental enough that you don’t really have to understand what characters are saying, anyway.

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition

Extras


  • George Miller intro (1:37, HD) – The only new extra is a brief explanation as to why the director chose to make a black & white version of the film.
  • Maximum Fury: Filming Fury Road (28:40, HD) – This slightly fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK includes genuinely interesting production information, like production design images, storyboard art (which is basically the ‘script’), and a very nice breakdown of the stunts and technical special effects involved in the crashes. The crew interviews are solid, while the actors are sort of stuck in ‘press mode.’
  • Mad Max: Fury on Four Wheels (22:40, HD) – This featurette focuses more on the design of ‘hero’ vehicles and the characters that drive them.
  • The Road Warriors: Max and Furiosa (11:20, HD) – A breakdown of the two lead characters, the actors who play them, and how they fit in Miller’s universe. Hardy and Theron get a bit ‘real’ about the difficulty of the shoot.
  • The Tools of the Wasteland (14:30, HD) – A deeper look at the intricate production, costume, and prop design.
  • The Five Wives: So Shiny, So Chrome (11:10, HD) – An exploration of Joe’s wives as characters and the actresses that play them, including footage from the extensive actor ‘workshopping’ not shown in the other extras.
  • Fury Road: Crash & Smash (4:00, HD) – A collection of raw, unaltered location footage set to selections from the film’s score.
  • Three deleted scenes:
    • I Am a Milker (00:30, HD)
    • Turn Every Grain of Sand (1:50, HD)
    • Let’s Do It (1:00, HD)
  • Trailers for other WB releases


 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition

Overall


The already stunning Mad Max: Fury Road benefits from the black & white update. It’s doesn’t so much improve upon the original film, but is a unique alternative that turns an already strange action movie into semi-abstract experience. It’s less Mad Max: Noir and more Mad Max: The Iron Man (in reference to Shinya Tsukamoto’s seminal b&w sci-fi masterpiece, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989). I can’t guarantee that the experience is worth rebuying the movie – especially since there aren’t really any new special features on this stand-alone release – but, if you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll want to at least (cough) witness the new version.

* For a expertly-written retort against Fury Road’s ‘feminist action movie’ label, read this opinion piece)

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition

 Mad Max: Fury Road: Black & Chrome Edition


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