The Revenant is a 2015 western epic film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu based loosely on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name. The film is inspired by the experiences of fur trapper and frontiersman, Hugh Glass, who on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s, fought for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. This film is truly epic with some extraordinary perfomances by the cast, an outstanding directing by Iñárritu, breathtaking shots by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and a deep and beautiful music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. The level of effort and heart put into this project is tremendous and deserves all the types of film awards in existence.
Here are 16 remarkable facts about what is undoubtedly another masterpiece by the great Alejandro G. Iñárritu:
1. When development of The Revenant began way back in 2001, the main character was originally to be played by Samuel L. Jackson with Korean Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) as the director. The project was then taken over by director John Hillcoat (The Road) and actor Christian Bale. Then by Jean Francois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13). It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that Iñárritu signed on to direct.
2. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, filmed for almost nine months in the remote Canadian wilderness, and would often have to spend almost half the day just traveling to and from locations. They wanted to shoot the entire film in natural light so they had a 90-minute window, this ‘golden hour’ at the end of the day. Because they rehearsed all day long, they needed to accomplish their shot in an hour and a half every day, which gave the film an eerie twilight feel. The entire film was shot in natural light except for one scene (a campfire sequence). With the wind affecting the shot, light bulbs were placed around the fire to cushion the light.
3. The Revenant isn’t the first film adaptation of the Hugh Glass story. In 1971, Man in the Wilderness was made starring Richard Harris and directed by Richard C. Sarafian.
4. Rather than resorting to CGI, Iñárritu used a crane (which the crew carted almost 2,500 metres up Fortress Mountain) to capture a real avalanche, according to Screen Daily, using planes to drop explosives on the mountain, which the filmmakers had to catch in just one take. Funnily enough, one critic called the slide “unnecessary and obvious” CGI.
5. Leonardo caught several bad colds during filming in the Rockies, where temperatures often dropped as low as -40 Celsius degrees. In one scene, his character coughs up a large stream of phlegm. When a technician asked how the effect was created, Iñárritu laughed and informed him “no, that was for real.” It was a challenge every day not to get hypothermia. The good news is there were EMTs around, plus a giant heated dryer to thaw the actor’s fingers and toes. At -40°C they couldn’t really open their eyes, and their fingers would lock together.
6. No green screen was used. Computer-generated effects could have made things easier but director Iñárritu said that he wanted to make a film where everyone worked hard and where they all were present in the natural environment. “That’s exactly what I didn’t want,” said the director. “If we ended up in green screen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit.”
7. When they needed snow the most, it wasn’t anywhere to be found, since it was the warmest winter in 35 years in Calgary. This meant that specific locations had no snow and this became a very big issue. The team had to travel to the southern tip of Argentina in order to find enough snow to shoot the final scenes of the film.
8. In one scene, DiCaprio had to bite into the liver of a dead buffalo. The props department brought out a fake liver for Leo, but he requested that they bring him the real raw liver of a cow. He later said that the gelatin fake liver didn’t look right and it didn’t bleed the correct way when he was biting into it. That is why he wanted the real deal, and when he bit into one, his reaction was so intense that director Alejandro decided to keep it in the film.
9. The water levels of the Bow, Kananaskis and Elbow Rivers were too low for the shots the film needed so the production team paid hydro dams to raise the rivers’ water levels.
10. Tom Hardy had planned to work on The Revenant for only 6 months, but the unexpected warm weather in Canada meant that filming had to be delayed by an extra three months. This caused Hardy to make himself unavailable for production for the upcoming DC Comics movie Suicide Squad. Actor Joel Kinnaman was then hired to play his role, Rick Flagg.
11. All the actors in The Revenant were taught the ways of 19th century outdoorsmen to prepare for the film. This included shooting flintlock rifles, skinning beavers, and throwing tomahawks. Clay Landry was hired to teach the actors, and he found out that Leo was already extremely good when it came to axe-throwing. The actor had even started betting others $20, and he took all their money. It was later found out that Leonardo had already trained to throw an axe a decade earlier when he was doing Gangs of New York (2002).
12. It was because of DiCaprio’s unreserved stand on environmental issues, that director Iñárritu had chosen Leo to play in the movie. He believed that Leo was the best choice because he’s able to deliver something that surprises and moves people at the same time.
13. Although the story is set in the Dakota and Montana territories, tax considerations and ecological changes had unfortunately forced Iñárritu to take production up north in Canada. It’s become a common theme for Hollywood to turn to Canada in order to save money.
14. Iñárritu decided that in order to properly do justice to the story told in Michael Punke’s novel, he would have to shoot his film in chronological order. Meaning every scene is filmed as it would play out in the actual story. There is a clear contiguousness to film acting when one is shot in order.
15. Since DiCaprio had to look like a man barely recovering from a bear attack while also enduring extreme elements, he had to wear a lot of makeup. In fact, he wore 47 different prosthetics over the course of the shoot. And in order to be ready for the perfect window of natural light, he had to be up by 3 a.m. some days to sit through four or five hours of makeup application, according to makeup artist Sian Grigg.
16. The Revenant marks the first feature film to be shot with the new 6.5k ARRI 65 camera.