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In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption. (From Fox’s official synopsis)

 Revenant, The
Following the release of his Spanish language feature debut, Amores perros (2000), I considered Alejandro G. Iñárritu among the most promising filmmaker in the world. Unfortunately, it was that film’s gloominess, not its heart, that set the stage for the rest of his career, which devolved into variations on the same po-faced and endlessly miserable motifs. His work tends to punch every one of my buttons with oversimplified morals, overdrawn runtimes, and exaggerated messages. On the other hand, Iñárritu is an enormously talented craftsman and, once he got the ‘sad ensemble’ movies out of his system (with Babel), he starting challenged himself with conceptually interesting material. At its heart, The Revenant is an expansion on the same frustrating exercises that make his movies so emotionally and intellectually frustrating. The endless anguish degenerates into accidental comedy and dramatic denouements are overstated until they fall flat. On paper, it sounds like another lemon and it is easy to harp on the predictable Iñárritu-isms, but the sheer scope of what he is able to achieve on-screen is enough to forgive many, if not most of those proclivities. With its shortcomings on the backburner, The Revenant is like Iñárritu’s super-subjective variation on Werner Herzog’s South American spiritual adventure movies, Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). While I may not have connected with this film on the same level as Herzog’s more focused cultural studies, I do respect the idea of a more technically immaculate version; one that accounts for modern subtext (even if that subtext is vague).

Iñárritu’s skillset already lends itself to a purely visceral experience and he has cranked up his subjectivity intensety well beyond his previous cinéma vérité efforts for The Revenant. The results are mixed – often, too much attention is drawn to the camera itself as a participant, which breaks the illusion of audience interaction. But, when it does work, The Revenant vividly infused the intimacy of a neorealist character study with the ferocity of an action movie. Like Sergio Leone and David Lean, Iñárritu sets the stage between intimate moments by shifting focus between extreme close-ups and extremely wide vistas, but he brings a dynamic quality to the contrasting scales that is quite rare for such a naturalistic production. It’s sort of like the in-camera equivalent of those moments in Peter Jackson’s FX-heavy fantasy movies, where the digital cameras are free to float from the most intimate details to the broadest battlefield images. What Iñárritu and company don’t achieve on-set/in-camera is integrated seamlessly into the shot. Well, mostly – the incredibly important bear attack sequence is a tonal misstep that conjures memories of Jackson’s least effective man vs. CG beast exhibition. While this is clearly an extension of Birdman’s long-take tracking shots, it also feels like a good-natured challenge to Iñárritu’s friend, Alfonso Cuarón, who achieved similarly breathtaking extended-take stunts for Children of Men (2006) and Gravity (2013).

 Revenant, The
The 156-minute duration is very much a problem, though, and it strains the goodwill of the technical artistry. The extended running time compounds the awkward exchanges and empty expressions. A more experimental/weird slant may have earned its length, but The Revenant is a deceptively ordinary movie in terms of plot, character motivations, and the way the story is told. There are short glimpses of a more rewardingly surrealistic film during DiCaprio’s hunger/exhaustion-driven hallucinations, but Iñárritu is too tied to his editing structure to really embrace the option. Complaints aside, I can say one thing in favour of the excessive runtime – when compounded, the terrifying, hyper-realistic action compliments the animalistic performances. The longer the movie goes, the more regulated and normalized the otherwise silly elements are, leading right into the gruff and groany mano-a-mano climax.

Video


Given its raw and rustic subject matter, one might expect that The Revenant was shot on traditional 35mm film. It turns out, however, that was an entirely digital production and it was shot mostly using Arri Alexa cameras, probably for their flexibility and the fact that they can record for a long time without changing magazines – which is exactly why Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki used Alexas for Birdman. The director and Lubezki embrace some of the digital format’s ‘advantages,’ specifically in terms of the semi-monochromatic colour timing and extreme low-light moments, but they otherwise take pains to create a more ‘classic’ look. The fish-eyed anamorphic lenses did give me a headache, but that’s probably a problem with my equilibrium. Clarity is paramount on this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. There’s no film grain, so little digital noise, and the cleanliness is particularly breathtaking during the expansive, wide-angle vistas. The sharp details and complex textures of the wide shots extend to the contrasting extreme close-ups and there aren’t any enhancement haloes to speak of. Some of the softer gradations exhibit signs of banding, as well. The colour quality is, as mentioned, pretty limited. Most scenes are heavily graded to appear bluish, eventually turning more yellow/orange as the film progresses and daylight peaks through the clouds. Skin tones still maintain some pinkness, blood is still red, and trees are still green, but everything is ‘gelled’ to appear either cooler or warmer than natural.

 Revenant, The

Audio


The Revenant is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and the results are spectacular. The sound is designed to alternate between the high dynamic ranges of natural atmosphere and heavily stylized moments. The more bits have a cool haunting quality, especially where Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s spooky and largely ambient musical score is concerned, but I’m more in awe of the immersively austere sounds of the forest. There’s enormous care put into the placement of directional components, which feeds into the whole subjective ‘the audience is the camera’ concept. The directional elements move with the camera so that they remain in consistent locations. Some conversations even take place entirely in the rear speakers, which is a rarity for even the most aggressive mix. At the same time, more widespread noises, like the rumble of thunder, the pounding rain, and the rush of a waterfall, engages all of the speakers and brings a heavy rumble to the LFE. The Revenant is intended as a prestige product movie, but this DTS-HD MA soundtrack surpasses the efforts of many popcorn special-effects extravaganzas.

Extras


  • A World Unseen (44:00, HD) – This making-of/retrospective documentary is about as pretentious and self-aggrandizing as you’d expect from Iñárritu, especially where his blowhard narration is concerned (he speaks seated before dual screens that are projecting behind-the-scenes images). But, there’s also some really beautiful footage from the set and genuine insight into the project from the cast and crew members. Better yet, it acts as a decent primer on the real history of the native peoples portrayed in the movie, specifically while comparing the fur-traders to modern oil companies.
  • Still gallery


 Revenant, The

Overall


The Revenant is definitely an Alejandro Iñárritu movie. Your mileage will probably depend on your tolerance for/acceptance of his storytelling habits and moral obsessions. Personally, I found his message muddled and rarely responded to the plot, but was also stunned by the ambitious technical extremes. Assuming your tolerance/acceptance is more substantial than my own and you’re looking forward to owning The Revenant on Blu-ray, you are in for a real treat with a sharp transfer, a demo-worthy DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a sometimes stuffy, but ultimately very informative making-of documentary that compares the era of the film to modern issues.

 Revenant, The

 Revenant, The

 Revenant, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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