Verdict: All in all, the black and white is definitely worth watching, as it accentuates the clear-Western influences and themes of the film. Without the color, it looks less like a modern Hollywood epic, and more like a John Ford film, but about the apocalypse. And who wouldn’t want to watch that.
This is kind of a weird review, because it is not really of the movie, it is of THIS version of the movie. But, for the sake of being thorough, and in case you forgot one of the most amazing movies of 2015, here’s a quick recap:
Mad Max: Fury Road is phenomenal. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won 6. And it deserved every single one. The costume and production design, makeup, and both film and sound editing are honestly some of the best you’ll see. And a big part of the film’s success was its use of color: it contrasts hard with most post-apocalyptic films. They are usually dulled and grey, using dusty yellows (Book of Eli), grays and greens (The Walking Dead, The Road), or dark reds (28 Days Later). This movie takes the opposite approach: the sky and desert clash in vibrant blue and orange, the war boys bright chalked white skin sticks out in their black vehicles. This ravaged world is empty, largely lifeless, and still beautiful.
So it seems really strange that George Miller, the film’s visionary director, would want to do a black and white version of his masterpiece. Or at least that’s what I thought prior to walking into the theater. But, once again, he proved me wrong.
It really works. When you take out all the gorgeous, vibrant colors…it still really works. And in a way, it feels like it makes the film even stronger. Like you’re taking away the safety net. Even if you hated the film’s story, you could watch it and say, “wowzers that’s pretty.” But, now you can’t. And it STILL holds up.
The black and white makes everything feel a little less crazy, a little less epic, but more operatic and theatrical. Everything is a bit more bleak, but in a simpler and more mythical way, like the white-hat/black-hat style of Westerns. Which makes the characters even more interesting. The war boys, Immortan Joe, Rictus, are all portrayed in white. But, interestingly, the white is applied, with war paint or amor. But Furiosa, Max, and later the Vuvalini are all portrayed in blacks. The dark paint on Furiosa’s eyes, the black jacket Max is obsessed with reclaiming, and the dark hair and clothes of the Vuvalini. The only characters of pure white, exhibited in clothing, hair, or simply lighting, are the former wives of Joe. This dichotomy is far more accentuated in black and white.
If I’m being honest, I still prefer the color version. Not because it isn’t great! It’s simply because the palette of the theatrical version is so compelling and different from most modern films, it feels wholly unique. Basically, both versions serve the film differently, and equally interesting ways.