Watch: 'Logan,' 'Fury Road,' and the Black & White Blockbluster

Mad max fury road black and chrome fandor no film school video essay
This video essay from Fandor ponders the cultural and cinematic significance of the recent release of black and white cuts of Mad Max: Fury Road and Logan.

Recently, two of the biggest films in recent memory, both members of highly successful franchises, received the black and white treatment. Mad Max: Fury Road, and Logan, the last installment in the X-Men franchise (as well as the grittiest, darkest entry in the series) were released in black and white cuts, with Logan even getting a modest theatrical release (the versions are known, respectively, as the "Black and Chrome" and "Noir" cuts). This essay from Leigh Singer of Fandor looks at the phenomenon of these two black and white versions of 21st century blockbusters and what they mean in a world where "the official marginalizing of mainstream monochrome could be dated from the final separate Academy Awards section for Black and White Cinematography, in 1967." 

Logan director James Mangold was inspired to undertake his Noir cut partly by photographs he took on set. He explained, “The western and noir vibes of the film seemed to shine in the form and there was not a trace of modern comic hero movie sheen.” The film does have many parallels to classic western Shane and is certainly one of the darkest superhero movies in the genre's mainstream cinematic iteration. Indeed, the director called the black and white version "a chance to connect with movies of the past." 

Fury Road director George Miller said of his own black and white cut that monochrome tends to make images "somehow more iconic," explaining how some elements in particular "play a lot better," though he did admit that since the movie was composed for color, there was "some information...that's missing" when it was reduced to two shades. However, he does consider the black and white version of the movie to be the best.

As Singer points out, though, "Mainstream monochrome films seem to need some specific narrative reasons, or a mostly black and white source material to justify such visual extravagance," using the examples of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For as an example of the latter, and Pleasantville of the former. It's a testament to the out-and-out success of Fury Road and Logan that they were able to make something so improbable a reality, and it's a testament to the world we live in that this reality was improbable in the first place. 

"That to me is what makes black and white so very cool. It gives you a view of the world that really doesn't exist in reality." -Frank Darabont

In 2007, Frank Darabont put out a monochrome version of his adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist. The director had originally wanted to release that version theatrically, though the studio wasn't too keen on the idea, and Darabont himself observed, philosophically:

Youngsters especially don't want to see anything in black and white. They think it's old fashioned, out of date, or doesn't look real. That to me is what makes black and white so very cool. It gives you a view of the world that really doesn't exist in reality.

Luckily, in the age of the feature-heavy DVD release, he was able to get his vision out.

Singer acknowledges that being able to produce a high budget black and white feature today is a huge challenge, stating, "In the modern world, it's impossible to make a $100 million dollar black and white film. It's a risk most filmmakers won't take." A risk they can't afford to take, really. Only Stephen King and Frank Darabont, or the powers behind X-Men, or Mad Max, could make something like this happen, and it's a good thing that they did. A lot of people are reticent of black and white films, which might have something to do with an overarching obsession with realism in cinema, even outlandish cinema.

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But there's a pleasure in the utterly cinematic space that black and white makes, a place without a pretense of reality, and a beauty that can be captured when the cameras are focused on recording the contrast of light and shadow and nothing else. As Singer concludes, it's a good thing that Mad Max and Logan were able to "take the risk and be as audacious as they wanted" because of their success. In the end, what Hollywood needs more of is "creative, daring, multi-million dollar franchises."     

Your Comment


(thumbs up) to more black and white blockbusters.. there is no requirement for film to be rooted in reality.. or to aspire to be real.. I think exploring that line visually is part of what makes filmmaking interesting, and is a line far too often untoed.

June 25, 2017 at 7:01PM

Tyler McCool
One Man Show

i adore b/w photo and movie, but.. i think this only a commercial mood, not artistic mood.
Shooting for b/w is a thing, convert it another difficult task. I shooted a lot's of photo and movie for b/w, and i take care about it in framing, lighting, asking about makeup, environment, costumes, and more... if not ... you risk to have a rought bad copy of original picture.
Usually when you shoot for b/w you choose correctly color about their grey shade, or ability of software to change a color a grey shade when you do post. If you have a red against a green object, and you shoot directly in b/w you have flat result, but two different color allow you to change in post lightness like in the old era you use colored filter in front of lens to change color luminosity on b/w film.
At today there is also a limits about color sampling, be cause many people forget that not every sensors respond at same way to light, some sensor have a more noise on red, other in blu, and you cannot change lightness of that channel without amplify noise.
If you not change correctly of makeup you can find a very weak or excessive darkness of face.
it's very difficult to shoot a b/w movie in color with first target color and second target convertion to b/n.
check the thumbnail of that videos... framing is more flat then color version, character are pasted and blurred to background, be cause when you shoot in b/w you take care about this kind of dectails during framing, with color is simpler to separate foreground to background.
in past many people are skilled to shoot in mixed environment, shooted in color but with an eye to b/w distribution. I hope we came back to era where we can shoot more to distribute in color and b/w...
anyway red and arri produce a real b/w camera to shoot black and white movie, directly.

June 26, 2017 at 5:19AM, Edited June 26, 5:19AM

Carlo Macchiavello