Mad Max: Fury Road - the Path to High Dynamic Range Action


A write up on Mad Max: Fury Road from an image and color quality perspective has to be one of the easiest things ever. Since its debut in spring 2015 and subsequent release as one of the first 4K UHD HDR Blu-rays, the post-apocalyptic action picture has become a TV calibration and demo standard. Considered one of the best-mastered movies in cinematic history, Fury Road shows off wide color gamut and HDR to an almost overwhelming degree, doing so despite ostensibly having a rather limited, desert-like patina. 

Caution: article contains mild spoilers

A oil truck running in the desert like a movie scene in Mad Max Fury Road
Madness Painted Anew

Created and directed by Mad Max franchise author George Miller, Fury Road serves as a soft reboot of the Mad Max series. The movie released 30 years after the initial trilogy starring Mel Gibson ended in 1985, meaning Fury Road takes place years after the last installment. It stars Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky, or Mad Max. In this case, he’s truly mad, having spent decades on the road in his famous car, the Black on Black Pursuit Special. Max’s world is one of post nuclear war desolation, where water is scarce but ironically there’s oil aplenty, making sure cars run fast and loud.

Driven to insanity by loneliness and violence, Max reaches the edge of the desert in a bid to enter the Great White, or a sort of promised land where he imagines peace may be found. In Max’s delusional mind, his long-dead family could even be alive in this alleged safe haven. But of course, this being a George Miller action movie, nothing of the sort happens. Instead, Max comes into conflict with local warlord and ex-military officer Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne from the first Mad Max movie), who leads an army of crazed war boys.

All of this takes place in a beautifully-captured desert environment that has shades of yellow and orange we didn’t think even existed until Fury Road put them up on its HDR-enriched screen. Filmed in Namibia by Oscar-winning cinematographer John Searle, Fury Road makes simple sand dunes and rusted metal look like glorious visual masterpieces. 

Flaming Hot Color Palette

Once the action really gets going, so does the cinematography. Max soon becomes part of a conflict between Immortan Joe and his deputy Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Expertly choreographed, Fury Road delivers iconic HDR moments that’ll live forever. Arguably one of the early ones is the flaming guitar player that tries to rile the war boys in their chase after the rogue Furiosa. Those flames simply have to be seen on a good 4K HDR screen to be properly appreciated. A standard dynamic range just takes so much of the impact away from that singular moment.

Rest assured your investment in a good monitor, projector, or TV won’t be rewarded with just one scene. Fury Road serves up a veritable buffet of explosions that crank up the HDR effect like a 600 horsepower V8. Since Max doesn’t take kindly to being captured, threatened, or witnessing innocents bullied by renegades, Immortan Joe and his allies soon start exploding. Quite often. And does it ever look amazing. 

Getting to Know the Family

In addition to showcasing fantastic desert and action scenes, Fury Road boasts superb makeup and costume design. Worry not, your 4K HDR setup makes every detail come to life in mind boggling beauty because the crew of Fury Road paid such close attention to mastering quality.

From Tom Hardy’s seemingly detached but actually very caring Max, to the determined Furiosa and rage-filled Joe, each character has a distinct color theme. That’s most notable with Joe’s numerous wives and their skimpy white attire.

With everyone looking so good you’re almost bound to wonder if the post apocalypse is really all that horrible, but then again maybe it’s better not to find out. In any case, one of the highlights of the film has to be Nicholas Hoult as war boy Nux. His countenance on its own warrants a good 4K display so you don’t miss out on the crazy amount of detail that has gone into making his character believable. 

Explosion in the desert just like a scene in the movie Mad Max Fury Road
Different Environments to Spice Things up

Don’t fret, Fury Road may focus on rocky and sandy desert locales, but it’s by no means a one trick combat vehicle. We get plenty of scenes set in Immortan Joe’s home base The Citadel, where water still exists in ample supply. The movie shows off blue-dominated interior sets here, as it does later on in the story when night sets in. Max and company then find themselves struggling to survive in surreal, hellish landscapes awash with creepy creatures and gun-happy lunatics. What a world! Naturally, not only does all this add to the great story, it also looks spectacular.

Fog, light to dark contrast, and ominous birds proliferate in these sequences. You’ll cheer as searchlights burst through the murk, putting your display’s peak brightness specs to the test. No wonder this movie has become a TV and projector showroom favorite, it’s just too easy to point out differences compared to non-4K and non-HDR versions.

The tone mapping gets a complete workout once day returns and the frenetic action resumes. Our protagonists must face hostile forces in hot pursuit, resulting in even more dramatic images of heavily armored cars flying all over the place to great cinematic effect.

There’s just so much here for image buffs. The desert-sky contrast, night and day, fiery combustion, gorgeous characters. The list goes on. We even get startling greenery here and there, showing us that life persists among the desolation. When green makes an appearance you know because the superlative image quality leaves little room for doubt. The greenery stands out in Fury Road’s arid world like a true 4K picture in a crowd of 720p displays. 

An Ultra High Definition Milestone

All warranted hyperbole aside, Fury Road provides a textbook example of cinematic competence from a technical point of view. Arriving just when 4K and HDR were beginning to gain a foothold, the movie proved a very helpful killer app that sold many people on the need to upgrade. It looks OK in full HD SDR but nowhere near to the way George Miller and John Searle want you to see it. For that you simply must be on true 4K HDR, and not basic HDR either. Try to see this on a DisplayHDR 400-certified screen or better. You’ll be so impressed you may just find yourself trying to shop for flame-thrower guitars online. Please don’t. 


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