Updated: Nov 7
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Leonardo DiCaprio won an Academy Award for Best Actor as mountain man Hugh Glass. The story is inspired by true events and folklore, which includes his half-Pawnee son Hawk.
(Click on an image to scroll through the larger versions)
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, & Digital copy; 2015; R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, coarse language, and brief nudity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (iTunes) (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “A World Unseen,” a 45-minute making-of documentary
IN PREPARING to see Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of David Grann’s best-seller “Killers of the Flower Moon” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I wanted to relive DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning performance as mountain man Hugh Glass in “The Revenant.”
When the frontiersman’s story premiered on 4K Ultra HD in the spring of 2016, the format was only four weeks old.
I reviewed it this way!
LET’S CUT to the chase. If there was ever a movie to see in the new 4K Ultra HD format, “The Revenant” is the one. It is a shocking and beautiful cinematic experience.
A warning: It’s not an easy watch. Its hyper-realistic violence is much like the opening of Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and not for the squeamish.
Mexican-born director Alejandro González Iñárritu and fellow countryman and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the team behind the Oscar-winning “Birdman,” are the masterminds behind “The Revenant.” Their vision transports viewers into the world of mountain man Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who won an Oscar for the role.
(1&2) “The Revenant” opens with a flashback of Hugh Glass and his Pawanee family. Their village was attacked by white men and his wife was killed and Hawk was badly burned. (3&4) Glass and Hawk are out hunting for the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company when they hear gunshots and race toward camp. (5-9) A band of warriors from the Arikara tribe attacks the trappers, thinking they are the white men who kidnapped Powaqa the daughter of the tribal chief.
The story is inspired by true events and folklore. Canada and South America substitute for the American wilderness, all captured in natural light by Lubezki’s handheld 4K and 6K digital cameras. Gorgeous scenery and horrifying battles are fluid in long, unbroken shots moving behind, beside, and in front of Glass and others. Scene after scene and frame after frame are mastered from the original 4K edited files that showcase the expanded HDR10 (High Dynamic Range) technology, revealing unparalleled visual depth, contrast, brightness, and color. The 4K disc outputs the superior picture and sound at astonishing megabits per second.
(In reality, the numbers were pretty low compared to today’s films encoded onto 100 GB discs. “The Revenant” was encoded onto a 66 GB disc the standard in 2016 and mostly ran near 40 megabits per second and never hit higher than 60 MBps. Our first-generation 4K player didn’t have the ability to read the bit rate).
DiCaprio’s Glass is a man of principle. It’s an understated performance reminiscent of Montgomery Clift, a master who could convey so much with only a glance. In Chapter 5, Glass hunts on his own, away from the remaining members of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. They started with 45 men, but an attack by Arikara warriors avenging a kidnapped girl has cut them down to 10.
Hunting alone, the camera shadows Glass within a dark and gloomy forest. Here we can see how the Blu-ray is muted in comparison to the 4K. In 4K, tree bark, leaves swaying in the breeze, and every strand of Glass’ beard is more pronounced. Even the subtle colors of his leather coat appear more realistic.
Glass hears the movement of two bear cubs and circles, his gun at the ready. In the next instant, mama bear is racing at him. Brutally mauled, he’s patched up by his crew, who drag him along for a day or two. When the delays become intolerable, the inexperienced Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) decides to leave him behind. Glass’ teenage son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and another teen, Bridger (Will Poulter), volunteer to remain behind, too. The plan is to give Glass a proper burial at the appointed time. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) also stays to oversee the two greenhorns when he learns he can make a $300 bonus.
We soon discover Fitzgerald is not a patient man. He betrays Glass, burying him alive in the dead of winter, and commits an unthinkable sin.
(1&2) Most of the men from the fur company are killed in the encounter, and they escape on their large flatboat. Glass suggests they abandon the boat, giving them a better chance to survive the Arikara tribe and make it back to their barracks outpost. (3&4) While the men sleep Glass goes out hunting for food, and encounters a grizzly bear protecting her cubs. Glass is severely mauled with his throat slashed open and his back torn wide open, but manages to kill the animal. (5&6) The trappers patch him up and they start the long-haul carrying Glass.
Unfortunately, the 4K disc doesn’t include the eight-channel Dolby Atmos or DTS-X soundtrack for expanded vertical audio. Fox uses the same DTS-HD 7.1 uncompressed audio track on the 4K disc and Blu-ray. It uses up to four rear channels, with plenty of environmental sounds from the crackle of wood to animal noises and gun blasts.
The Blu-ray and digital feature the ‘Making-of’ documentary, which we learn about Iñárritu’s five-year commitment to the project, and how he wanted “The Revenant” to be filmed in chronological order. That was to ensure himself, his crew, and especially the actors to experience the ungodly journey emotionally and physically. Frigid conditions sometimes dropped to 20 below zero. “I knew the weather would be transforming the landscape, our actors, and our psyche – our spirit, our emotional state,” he says.
Filming began in the Canadian Rockies in the late summer of 2014. By December, they expected to be buried in snow – but it never happened, and the ground remained brown. “It was madness,” says the director. Iñárritu and Lubezki were at their wit's ends by late winter and shut production down. Five months later, they found snow 8,000 miles to the south in an area nicknamed “End of the World” in Ushuaia, Argentina.
(1) Elk Dog the leader of the Arikara tries to trade the fur pelts left behind by the trappers during the raid to French trappers. (2&3) John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) stays behind for a $300 bonus and tries to convince Glass it’s okay for him to put him out of his misery. Fitzgerald digs a hole into the frozen ground for a proper burial but buries him alive thinking he’s dead. (4) Glass pulls himself out of the shallow grave and finds his dead son. (5) He starts his journey across hundreds of frozen miles to find Fitzgerald and avenge his son. (6) Glass encounters Hikuc who helps him recover from his wounds.
“A World Unseen” also shows how Goodluck and his family journeyed to the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota to explore their ancestral roots. Costume designer Jacqueline West explains how the 1820-30’s fur trade decimated America's beaver population. It seems every man in Europe wanted the status symbol of a hat lined with beaver fur.
“The Revenant” received a total of 12 Oscar nominations and won three. Iñárritu earned his fourth Oscar in two years. Lubezki won his third Best Cinematography award in a row – “Gravity,” “Birdman” and “The Revenant” – which no other director of photography in cinema history has accomplished.
“The Revenant” shouldn’t be missed.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer