The Revenant's Cinematic History
I "experienced" "The Revenant" last night and while there is no doubt that it's visual grandeur and filmmaking style is truly next level - I'm still a little muddled on how much I actually liked the film. It clearly was striving for masterpiece status and the whole film just left me feeling -- nothing. Well that's not true - I felt that Leo physically gave it his all for the Oscar, which is cool I guess, but some kind of statement about the universe - not so much. You see, the whole time I was watching it I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a mash-up of a whole bunch of classic films that didn't really congeal into the truly moving masterpiece it wanted to be. So here are some of the films that the Revenant pulls from and why you should check them out.
The New World (2005) - These two films have a ton in common. The first is that they share legendary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a guy so legendary he has his own type of lightning called "chivo." The second is that they're all about how men interact with nature and the impact that the wild has on their souls. "The Revenant" seems to say that we are powerless in the face of the land, which I get, but I much prefer "The New World" for it's joyous celebration of how the land can provide such joy, happiness, and ultimately truth. I know these are different types of stories - but the "The New World" just captures the balance between man and nature.
Apocalypto (2006) - "The Revenant" boasts some pretty amazing action sequences featuring people fighting people, animals and the elements - but while seeing people take arrows to the throat is shocking they only succeed at being gruesome rather than thrilling. And don't say that it wasn't supposed to be entertaining - you don't spend CG dollars on horses going off cliffs if you don't want to entertain people. And so if you're looking for some sheer total wild nature based entertainment - Apocalypto is clearly your best bet. The movie is basically one giant chase scene through the jungle where Jaguar Paw (above) pretty much wrecks everyone. The movie rules (yeah I know Mel Gibson sucks).
Jeremiah Johnson (1972) - This is a story similar to the Revenant in that it's about one man's journey into the harsh elements of nature to find himself and in some cases to avenge his family. However this movie succeeds where "The Revenant" fails because it creates some amazing wilderness characters including BearClawJack and Pants Suit Red.
The Grey (2011) - Unjustly known as the Liam Neeson vs wolves movie, The Grey excels at showing what the wilderness does to a man's faith. Sharing a similar frosty setting The Grey covers a lot of the same thematic ground and also ends with an epic showdown of sorts. However I suspect that more people will remember the final scene of "The Grey" more than the end of "The Revenant" because everything that comes before carries a little more weight.
The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) - Building off that Jermiah Johnson point, one thing I didn't really like about "The Revenant" was that I had no sense of the characters in the film. "The Last Of The Mohicans" really establishes not just Hawkeye as a character but also the Native American family that anchors the film. In addition this film is the best combo of epic nature shots, actors going all in on being in nature, badass action, romance (yeah I said it) and just overall storytelling of all the films on the list. Easily one of my favorites.
I realize that as reading this you might think I didn't like "The Revenant," which is not really the case. I found it to be visually stunning but shoddily paced. My hope is that if you got off on the naturalism, action, and overall feel you'd like all these movies above. Let me you know if you check em out.