The Revenant, the most spectacularly cinematic contender for Best Picture in years, did not take home that particular Oscar at the Academy Awards presentation this past Sunday, but it remains a massive world-wide hit, far bigger than “Spotlight,” won three other major awards — best director, best actor, and best cinematographer — and will almost certainly be the best remembered picture of 2015.
And what stands out first in the movie? Of all the early scenes, which one makes the greatest impression?
The bear attack, surely, in which our hero, scouting through the woods for a way across the mountains, hears hoarse breathing, sees a couple of bear cubs, and then out of nowhere is brutally attacked, bitten, and torn open by a bear. He ultimately shoots the bear, as it attacks again, and then stabs it, and finally kills it.
How did they film this? Well, first they did their homework, according to a story in Backpacker:
Glenn Ennis of Vancouver, one of the performers who played the bear, told Backpacker the team prepared by studying videos of wild and captive bears, including several attacks.
Ennis recalls one clip of a man being attacked after entering a zoo enclosure. The footage went on for quite some time, with the bear wandering away mid-attack but then coming back and getting vicious again, he says. The bear in The Revenant behaves similarly.
The bear itself was created with computer effects, but it was superimposed over Ennis and his actual movement. He had to call on his acting background to practice ursine walking and “getting into the headspace of a bear,” he says. When they’re not attacking something, “they have a nonchalance to them.”
Earlier on in the film’s production, a group including director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Richard McBride met for an informal consultation for the film with Scott McMillion, a Montana-based writer and author of Mark of the Grizzly, a 1998 nonfiction book about bear attacks.
It’s impressive as hell, and from that moment onward the movie takes on a legendary cast, This is the story of a man who survived a bear attack. He is no longer a white man, a fur-trapper, a father — he is the man who survived the bear attack. He has become a myth, though he still has a life to live through.
The bear, quoted in The New Yorker, has a different POV:
There has been a lot in the press about how nightmarishly gruelling the shooting was on “The Revenant.” In fact, it was as difficult as I’ve ever experienced. I’m no diva—I mean, I’m literally a bear, I defecate in the woods—but even I must go on the record to say that there were times during filming when I longed for death.