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2017 entered its final days in the only way it should have: with a brand new season of Black Mirror to remind us that life can always be that much more technologically horrifying. The most terror-driven installment in Season 4 was arguably the starkly different "Metalhead," and CinemaBlend was lucky enough to talk to speak with episode director David Slade about those stark differences. Slade was brought into Black Mirror and given free rein with his directing choices, and here's what he said when I asked about the decision to make this Black Mirror's first black-and-white episode.
For almost all intents and purposes, going black and white seems like the only reasonable move for David Slade to have made when turning Charlie Brooker's "Metalhead" script into live-action dread. The story's stripped-down appeal lent itself particularly well to a similar stripped-down visual approach, since the plot is essentially a no-frills take on "Man vs. Machine." (Or "Woman," as it were.) Slade is responsible for some of the most gorgeous TV episodes in recent years, on shows like American Gods and Hannibal, and he would have likely crafted some equally beautiful footage had he kept natural color schemes intact. But something major would have been lost in the tone and atmosphere departments.
"Metalhead" is basically about a botched supply mission taken by Maxine Peake's Bella and other quickly disposed-of survivors of an unspecified potentially apocalyptic event, with the main protagonist being a robotic "dog" with zero on its digitized mind beyond taking Maxine down. Because it's never quite clear where the dog-bot came from, or what the situation was with Maxine's group, it's up to the viewers to come up with background details for everyone's stories, which muddies things up a bit. And what better way to tell a morally gray story than to film it in the two colors that make up the color gray?
The way David Slade puts it, he apparently didn't have to twist anyone's arm to get the black-and-white process approved. And once it was decided, the production team went all out to make sure no black-and-white stone was left unturned.
Considering the past few years of U.S. holiday programming has included colorized versions of I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke Show episodes, I suppose that's a fine worry to have. Not that I think anyone would particularly want to give this episode a polychromatic touch-up, but David Slade still made such a thing that much harder to deliver.
While a casual fan might not consider all the difficulties involved with making "Metalhead" a black-and-white installment, David Slade assured me it was quite the complicated process, though not a frustrating one; that almost works as a microcosmic description for Black Mirror in general. The production team was actually strapping GoPro cameras onto their black-and-white cameras so that they could initially figure out the color tracking. Slade also told me they used actual LiDAR cameras in order to bring the robot dog's vision to life. (LiDAR stands for "Light Detection and Ranging," and uses laser lights to measure distances.)
Speaking of that dog-vision, I noted to David Slade that this might be the first time I've ever seen a robot character's standard P.O.V. shown in black and white before. And the director told me there was a brief moment when he and Charlie Brooker considered breaking the fourth wall by showing the dog's LiDAR moments in their original multi-color format.
Jumping from black and white to color would have been a jolt for sure, though probably not as big a jolt as viewers got in the heartbreaking final minutes of the episode. "Metalhead" may have been a different Black Mirror installment for many different reasons, but it was par for the course in terms of hauntingly wrapping things up.
Black Mirror Season 4 is currently available to stream in full on Netflix, as are the first three seasons, so be sure to ring in 2018 with some tech-laden pessimism. Check out some of the cameos you may have missed from the Star Trek-esque installment, and when you're wanting to know what else is on the way in the near future, head to our 2018 Netflix schedule and our midseason premiere schedule.