It was the film to beat at the 2016 Oscars. With a staggering 12 Academy Award nominations and three wins (for lead actor, director, and cinematography) The Revenant was the movie that both the critics and the Hollywood elite loved. Now it's available in 4K UltraHD for home video and the results are very impressive. The sound and audio are reference quality and the movie itself, while a little long, is enthralling and captivating.
Set in the early 1800's, a trapping expedition that is out in the wilderness is about to return to civilization when disaster occurs: a group of Indians attack (the chief's daughter had been kidnapped the night before and they are searching for her) and kill most of the men of the expedition. With only 10 men left out of the original 45, it is up to the group's tracker, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) to lead the survivors back to their fort.
Things go from bad to worse when Glass, out hunting for food, is mauled by a bear and nearly killed. The leader of the expedition, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) has some very limited medical knowledge and sews Glass up and then orders the rest of the men to build a stretcher so they can carry their wounded companion back with them. One of the group, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), thinks taking the wounded Glass with them is a horrible idea. They are being chased by hostile natives, winter is about to set in, and the man is obviously going to die anyway.
But take him they do, until the reach the mountains. There is no way that the men they have, struggling to move themselves, can carry a wounded man over the peaks. Reluctantly Capt. Henry asks for three volunteers to stay with Glass until a rescue party can be sent. Two young boys volunteer, as does Fitzgerald once the offer has been sweetened with the promise of a $200 reward.
A few days after the other men leave, Fitzgerald decides that waiting around to be killed my either Indians or a winter storm is for the birds, and betrays Glass in a way that sears the wounded man's soul. Even though he's unable to walk and still at death's door, Glass sets out to kill Fitzgerald driven only by his sheer will and a thirst for revenge.
While the plot sounds like a classic tale of revenge, the movie is much more than that. The plot is almost secondary to the main point of the movie: to pull the viewer into the film and come close, to some extent, to experiencing what life was like nearly 200 years ago. In this, the movie succeeds wonderfully. The cinematography is simply amazing, even more so when you realize that (with one exception) only natural light was used for filming. The vast vistas of the plains, the tall pine trees in the forests and the brilliantly white snow are beautiful to see, but they also bring the viewer into the scene. When a man is standing in a stream with snow-covered banks filling a canteen it's impossible not to think "that has got to be COLD. I would never want to do that." The movie drives home the fact that while nature is beautiful, it is also deadly.
The film is also generally slow, which is a good thing. It gives time to drink in the vistas and appreciate what is being shown on screen. While it does drag a bit in places the movie contrasts that laborious pace with fast and frenetic violence (that will turn some people off) that can be startling in its intensity at times.
The thing that I appreciated the most about this film is that it portrayed all of the characters as real, flawed, people, rather than covenant stereotypes. The Indian chief searching for his daughter was neither a blood-thirsty savage nor a noble faultless person who had been wronged. He was a father who was desperate to find his child and was willing to kill innocent people to reach his goal. Even Fitzgerald, who had few redeeming qualities, was shown in shades of grey. Yes, he hated Indians, but they had scalped him while he was alive. It's easy to see how something like that would make someone racist. His position on leaving Glass behind was also pragmatic. While none of this forgives the things that he does, the movie doesn't make him a cackling villain tying maidens to train tracks.
While this is a good film, there are some problems with it. Some people will be turned off by the Tarantino-level of violence that is all the more shocking since so much of the movie is sedate and lovely. The movie is a bit long too, and some of the subplots seem extraneous. The Indian chief searching for his daughter, for example. While they cut from the main story a few times to follow this plot, this reverse Searchers story isn't given enough time to develop and so the interludes seem like padding, something this 156 minute film doesn't need.
There is also a certain amount of disbelief that has to be suspended, and I can see where the level is just too high for some people. I didn't mind it too much, but there was a scene at the end where I mentally shouted "Oh come on! You can't be serious." Suffice to say that Glass goes through many hardships over the course of the film and that some people will reach their limit earlier than others.
The Ultra HD Disc:
This UHD Combo set includes the film on a 4K disc as well as a Blu-ray (the latter of which contains all of the extras).
The 2160p, 2.40:1 image is simply stunning. I was really blown away by the level of detail, the warm earthy colors, and the overall appearance of the film. The pans were smooth, the dark scenes had an impressive amount of detail, and the lines were tight and smooth. I did see a minor amount of banding in the sky in a couple of the scenes, but it was minor and I only mention it for the sake of being thorough. I popped in the Blu-ray disc for comparison, and the 4K version is distinctly better offering more detail and a more appealing picture. This is a reference quality disc.
I really liked the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that accompanies this film. The sound is important in this movie, from the soft sounds of the bubbling creak at the beginning to the grunts and snorts of the bear attack and the full-room sound of the Indian battle it all comes together nicely. The contrast between the soft natural sounds and the forceful sounds of battle serve to underline one of the movie's themes about the contrast between the beauty of nature and the violence that happens in it. This disc's sound is quite impressive.
The bonus featurettes are a bit sparse on this disc, but it's a case of quality over quantity. There are no bonus items on the 4K disc, and the Blu-ray only has two: a photo gallery and a making-of documentary, A World Unseen. While the former is one of the best galleries I've seen, filled with amazing images, the docu is even better. It runs a tad over 44 minutes and is just as engrossing and interesting as the film. With ample behind the scenes footage and interviews it is definitely worth watching.
A beautiful yet violent movie, this cinematography is simply amazing and it is worth watching for that alone. The plot itself moves at a deliberately sedate pace and that might be a bit too slow for some viewers who are looking for a film where a wronged man kicks ass and takes names. This is not that film. If you like your movies a bit more thoughtful however, this comes recommended.????????