film: The Revenant

Warning: spoilers below – see the film before reading this!!!
And some advice:

    see this film in a cinema with great projection and sound


I repeat: do not read on unless you have already seen the film!

For an action movie this film has more in common with Tarkovsky than the ilk of brain numbing Hollywood blockbusters. Shot in story order and on an Alexa 65 and 99% in natural light the cinematography of the film is truly exceptional – kudos to DOP Emmanuel Lubezki, this could well be his third Oscar in a row! While the landscapes are beautifully captured and contribute hugely as one of lead characters in the film, the staging of many sequences is also truly exceptional.

Nothing pulls me out of a film as fast as lame visual effects, and by lame I also mean unbelievable. Even in a fantasy film if I stop following the story and note the VFX then its lost me… The trademark fluid staging, following action but shifting point of view without coming across as overtly ‘designed’ is a true testament to the skill of the crew and the ILM visual effects department, but even more so to the aesthetics and restraint of the director.

There is an interesting interview with Lubezki here and some info on the bear attack visual effects here

Of course a huge factor in the films success is also found in the soundtrack and it is interesting to read of some of the creative process sound designer Martín Hernández pursued very early on, some of which made it right through into the final mix. Via MIX magazine “sound designer Martin Hernández started exploring music and sound options with director Iñárritu for several sequences. “We did these little sound exercises, what we called haikus—a small poem or short idea that makes sense on its own…”

Working with a huge team at Skywalker, there is also some great insight into Iñárritus aesthetics in this Soundworks video where Randy Thom describes him as being someone who doesn’t believe in firing all his ammunition at once and this approach really shines in the mix as our sonic focus is constantly in motion, following the action and emotion of the story, with a beautiful evolving blend of score & sound design and some very interesting choices in what we hear during moments where hearing everything would have been far less evocative….

The bane of many action films has to be the score – it often feels like theres some deaf old guy down the back asking if they can make it all louderer and more epic, more pounding drums, more, more, MORE – yeech! (Coincidentally before the screening I attended, there were a number of trailers and they also seemed to be designed primarily to be LOUDERER. Even a trailer for an emotive drama had those stupid pounding drums & distorted stings on every second cut… please, give it a rest!)

Again kudos to Iñárritu for casting & commissioning a far more restrained & considered score by Ryuichi Sakamoto (with Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner) – he discusses how the score came to be in this interview @22.10

And for the second year in a row, the score to Iñárritus film has been rejected for Oscar contention.

Via Indiewire

Why did the Academy Music Branch reject the score by Ryuichi Sakamoto?

Iñárritu “That was sad news. It was also tragic to deny Antonio Sanchez for “Birdman,” it was devastating and unfair, which I complained and appealed. They thought the drums were not emotional, did not carry the emotional power of the film. What?! This time, ‘Wow!’ We are appealing. They said the music was incredible, the tapestry was so cool, but they didn’t understand who did what, it was very confusing. This was the plan, to blend the sounds of nature and the complexity of nature with no way to understand what is what. The complexity of that tapestry in concert is not accidental. The percentage was more than 56% Ryuichi, what it needed to be to be eligible….

…The Academy is demanding that the way young musicians approach making music for film is narrow. That’s super sad, they should be exploring new ways. Music is so powerful, that’s an undeniable shame. This is the second time they are not doing it right for colleagues in the work. And this is scandalous. Ryuichi sent a beautiful letter to them. I hope they reconsider this. It’s a serous threat for musicians. It’s the wrong message to send to everybody, it will paralyze anyone who seeks to try something different. I respect every branch who may think we are doing something wrong, but if it’s about understanding the tapestry let me and Ryuichi clarify, and they will understand a new way of doing music.”

Its such an odd situation, and I guess a reminder of who the actual Oscar voters are (ie old white guys: 94% white, 76% Men, and an average age of 63 years old). No doubt The Revenant will pickup a stack of Oscars and in the larger scheme of things Inarritu makes great films because he is an artist, not because of the awards he wins. But for Sakamoto it seems bizarre to be disqualified because they can’t immediately understand ‘who did what’ – sorry but WTF?

Storywise the film is a brutal tale of exploitation and revenge, and as a friend pointed out does not necessarily contribute anything new (I plan to rewatch Jim Jarmuschs Dead Man for comparison) but one thing I am grateful to Inarritu for is the lack of a happy ending. A lesser director (or over powering studio) would have had the ‘hero’ kill the bad guy & then jump on the back of the horse with the girl he saved & ride off into the sunset… which would be a fairy tale ending, but the final words the villian spoke, and then the reproachful look the Indian girl gave to the ‘hero’ speak to issues far larger than just this film. Kudos!

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