Society of Camera Operators

The Revenant: Shooting In the Elements

Above photo: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in THE REVENANT, an immersive and visceral cinematic experience capturing one man’s epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. Copyright © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Photo by Kimberley French

By P. Scott Sakamoto, SOC

In the 1820s, a frontiersman, Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.

My journey on The Revenant started in April 2014 when producer, James “Jimmy” Skotchdopple called and asked if I was available to work on “an extraordinary movie.” Jimmy went on to say it was a unique, 1820’s period piece that takes place in the fall and runs through the winter, and Chivo, (Emmanual Lubeski), wanted me on board. There was no doubt I would make myself available.

My first collaborations with Chivo go back to the films A Walk In the Clouds (1994) and Birdcage (1995). Jimmy and Chivo had just finished Birdman with director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, but it had yet to be released. I knew Alejandro’s previous work but we had never met and I was excited to be part of this new project.

At the fort with trappers Leonardo Di Caprio and Domhnall Gleeson. Photo by Kimberly French

At the fort with trappers Leonardo Di Caprio and Domhnall Gleeson. Photo by Kimberly French

ESTABLISHING THE STYLE Chivo and Alejandro stressed to me the style of this movie would be similar to Birdman where each scene is carefully rehearsed and choreographed to convey the story with minimal cuts. The camera would be very intimate, many times at minimal focus distance to feel the terror and emotion of each character.   We operated a single camera, a signature of Alejandro’s, and no traditional camera dolly was part of our package. Not since film school had I been on a movie without a dolly so I knew it was going to be a very physically demanding experience.

The story features Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a respected guide and fur trapper who leads a group of trappers, which includes Tom Hardy, into Indian Territory to bring home their annual pelts. It’s the American frontier, and conditions are rough. The harsh weather the trappers experienced in the story was part of our journey as well, as we filmed most of the scenes in the Canadian wilderness.

Scott with Ryan Monro (dolly grip) executing a shot in the wolf sequence. Photo by Kimberly French

Scott with Ryan Monro (dolly grip) executing a shot in the wolf sequence. Photo by Kimberly French

HARSH, REALISTIC ENVIRONMENTS We began rehearsing and testing early September in Calgary amidst a major snowstorm and at the start of an early winter.  The first day rehearsal involved wearing neoprene waders and boots, working in a river current of knee deep icy water with snow falling. This opening scene included Glass, his son Hawk, and Bridger, a trapper, slowly walking through the water as they spot an elk in the distance. With a single shot Glass takes the elk down. Within minutes an Indian party descends on the camp. This scene involved about 200 actors as Indians and fur trappers, dozens of horses, bows and arrows, and musket rifles.  All was carefully rehearsed and choreographed so we, the audience, experience the battle in real time.


“Chivo” Emmanuel Lubezki and Scott in the rain forest of Squamish, British Columbia. Photo by Kimberly French

WIDE LENSES TO CAPTURE REALISM The Revenant embraced a different visual language from what I was used to. We used wide lenses—from a 12mm to a 21mm, including the equivalent field of view in 65mm. Movement is exaggerated in a wide lens so camera moves were slow, graceful, and exact. These slow deliberate moves would go from an extreme close-up to a perfectly composed wide, beautiful vista, and back to a close-up. The characters in the movie are so emotionally driven that the camera needed to be an emotional extension of them.

Shooting with the wide lenses shows an interesting perspective and makes you feel you’re part of the character. You have their panoramic POV. We’re used to seeing a lot of close-ups and extreme close-ups, but in reality the view a person has is this wide POV. The scope of the scene and the land it encompassed defines the 240:1 aspect that The Revenant utilized.

SHOOTING IN STORY ORDER The movie was shot in story order, and part of Alejandro’s directing style is to maintain a natural story rhythm. This allowed the characters to age and physically change as the story progressed. No detail was overlooked, including the optimal time for natural light to shoot the scene. Our emphasis on shooting at the right time of day meant the window of opportunity was small and you had to execute under pressure. Our ability to do retakes was severely limited and the pressure was on all departments to perform at exact times. It was a scary but exhilarating feeling knowing you have limited time to shoot such an extraordinary scene with so many moving parts.

Renowned filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel) directs Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of THE REVENANT. Copyright © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Photo by Kimberley French

Renowned filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel) directs Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of THE REVENANT. Copyright © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Photo by Kimberley French

WEATHER AS A STORY ELEMENT Weather is a big story element in The Revenant and we worked in a variety of challenging conditions. We had a couple of early snowstorms in September while in Calgary. Then, in October, we moved to Squamish, British Columbia to shoot during the rainiest months of the year. For those three weeks in BC, we worked in cold rain, on rivers with boats and rafts, and were constantly challenged to keep gear in tune. When we returned to Calgary at the end of November, we were in major snow with single digit temperatures and dropping lower, testing our mental and physical beings. The key topic of the day was asking each other how many layers he/she is wearing and where did you get those boots? By early 2015, temperatures had warmed up and snow was melting fast so we had to search for an alternate location to film our final winter scene.  Alejandro had envisioned for the last battle a river set amidst snow packed high cliffs.  Location scouts were sent to various points in the Southern Hemisphere and we settled on Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America.  We were there two weeks and brought most of the crew in but supplemented with Argentine locals.  It’s truly a majestic location at the end of the world.

THE CAMERAS AND EQUIPMENT Our original plan was to shoot the exterior day shots in film using anamorphic lenses – 35mm and 65mm – combined with the Alexa digital camera for the low light work. As we progressed, the Alexa ST, Alexa M and the Alexa 65mm turned out to be the preferred choices along with the Zeiss Master Primes and the 16mm Leica. By December, we had abandoned film completely. The digital cameras provided us with the images we liked and handled the harsh weather conditions as well.

The primary equipment we employed on The Revenant was the telescoping cranes, a Steadicam and a hand-held camera. We put the Alexa M in backpacks for hand-held work. The Revenant is a one camera perspective shot in three modes of operation (handheld, steadicam, or crane) which created its seamless rhythm and language. The ability to move the camera around gave Alejandro a lot of freedom to do single choreographed moves to capture the scene’s action. It became our stylistic signature.

OUR CREW We rehearsed with all departments to achieve these shots. Ryan Monro, a fantastic dolly grip, worked magic on the front end of the Techno crane. Ray Garcia, the key grip, was instrumental in getting the Techno crane into the most difficult places.  Many of our locations were not near roads and gear had to be hiked in or transported on sleds and snowmobiles.  In one instance he relied on multiple zip lines to maneuver the Techno crane through dense trees and across a ravine to a rocky mountain slope.  Ray also coordinated the use of the Biscuit rig and Edge arm.

MY FAVORITE SHOT One of my favorite shots on the movie was a shot of Glass, discovering that one of his key guys has been shot and killed. He discovers the murder and hears a thunderous roar in the mountains behind him. Glass turns his head and looks up to see an avalanche of snow cascade down the mountain. This visual is stunning on screen and does not employ any CGI. The success of this shot required the camera and Leo to react at the exact moment an avalanche was triggered via dynamite that was dropped from a helicopter. It’s a very emotional moment for Leo and a very technical filmmaking moment that had to be timed perfectly. There is a delay from the dropping of the dynamite until you hear the sound and the avalanche triggering. Scott Robinson, our 1st AD, had to cue Leo perfectly, and I had to be aware of Leo’s actions and timing. This was an amazing shot – but very nerve-wracking, as we only had the one chance to get it right. The result was a perfect blending of everyone. It’s a really great cinematic moment where the acting and technical aspects of filmmaking come together.

CHALLENGES AND COLLABORATION Alejandro and Chivo have worked together so closely for so long that they were constantly presenting ideas to each other. Chivo brings a passion and a drive to his work that is exciting to me as an operator, and I quickly became addicted to this style of filmmaking. Alejandro, driven by his heart and emotions, has a vivid imagination that he articulates to his crew, and dares us to achieve more than we thought possible. I have tremendous respect for both of their talents and how they challenged my skills. Collaborating with Chivo and Alejandro has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.


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Emmanuel Lubezki on the gruelling shoot of 'The Revenant'

By Mark Salisbury 2016-01-06T11:49:00+00:00

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Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki talks to Mark Salisbury about the gruelling shoot in ice and snow that ensured The Revenant became a wholly immersive viewing experience

Emmanuel Lubezki on the set of The Revenant

An acknowledged master of light, as evidenced by his work with Terrence Malick on The New World, and Tree Of Life, Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has also proven himself a virtuoso of the digital age, having won back-to-back Oscars for his stellar computer-enhanced lensing on Gravity and Birdman — the latter for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with whom he again collaborated on The Revenant.

Adapted in part from the novel by Michael Punke, and based on true events, The Revenant is the story of Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a frontiersman in 1820s America. Following a horrific grizzly-bear attack, he is left for dead by his fur-trapper party, but, against all the odds, he survives to wreak revenge on those who wronged him. Shot in remote parts of the Canadian wilderness and southern Argentina, The Revenant is a wholly immersive experience, Lubezki’s camera capturing images of breathtaking, Malick-esque beauty as well as scenes of horrific violence that cut to the emotional core of Glass’s plight, forcing the audience to endure his ordeal and subsequent journey in as realistic and naturalistic a manner as possible.

“When Alejandro first approached me about this, he told me how important it was to make a very immersive movie, a very visceral movie, how he wanted it to be more complex than just a revenge movie,” says Lubezki. 

“It was much more important to get the audience immersed in the world of these men in a way we haven’t experienced in other movies. To feel all these different emotions Glass is feeling as he goes through this journey. So when you see Leo coming out of a river, you see the ice flowing, you see the steam and his breath, and his hands almost frozen. By being real, it will make the movie much more powerful.”

To facilitate this immersive approach, The Revenant was shot on location in gruelling conditions (snow, icy rivers, freezing temperatures), rather than in the comfort of the studio, using long, extended takes, a technique that has become a hallmark of Lubezki’s collaborations with both Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron and Inarritu. Such a method of film-making requires a huge amount of pre-planning and rehearsal time.

“Instead of doing storyboards or pre-vis, we took elements to the real locations,” reveals Lubezki. “Actors, extras, sometimes horses and props, and explored until we found the language we wanted to use. How we wanted to shoot the movie. How these things were feeling. How was the atmosphere and the mood, if it was transmitting the right emotion, and also the tempo. How the actors should move and the camera.”

When it came to filming, the cast and crew would rehearse again all day, waiting until “that window of light or the window of the weather or the window of opportunity presented itself”, which was often ‘Magic Hour’ though not exclusively. 

“During the rehearsals we learned when the locations had the right feeling Alejandro wanted to capture. Sometimes you’d arrive at the location at noon and it looks like a park. But when you’re there at 4pm and the steam of the river starts to rise, then you feel you’re in the middle of a primordial place that has never been seen by man. All that stuff was very important, and a lot of it came from the rehearsals.”

With such stringent shooting conditions, not to mention the treacherous nature of some locations, most scenes were captured in one or two takes. “If you have Leo coming out of a frozen river, you cannot ask him to do two takes. You do one,” says Lubezki. “So everybody is very intense, very focused and we get it in one, because obviously you don’t want to take any chances. Also, you don’t want to torture your actor.”

The film begins with an attack on a riverside camp by a group of Native American warriors; an extraordinary sequence involving horses, stunts and visual effects. 

“Alejandro wanted to have the feeling all that was happening in real time, and with no cuts, to feel like one take,” the cinematographer explains. “[But] we knew we could not do it in one, because there are incredibly dangerous stunts and action in it.” 

The sequence took three weeks to prepare, but just four days to shoot. “We rehearsed extensively with stuntmen and a few extras and horses before we shot. It was very, very tricky.”

What helped was the decision to shoot The Revenant digitally, using the brand new Alexa 65 camera fitted with, mostly, a 24mm lens that was equivalent, says Lubezki, to a 12mm wide-angle lens on a 35mm camera. 

“We used very wide lenses that allowed us to show all the context, all the environment, at the same time as we can show emotion and be close to the actors. So the relationship between the environment and the actors is always present.”

 But using the Alexa 65 meant saying goodbye to film. Not that Lubezki minded. “Film has a very beautiful range but, as we started rehearsing, we realised the windows of shooting were later and later and the film sensitivity, the ISO, wasn’t allowing us to shoot at the times we wanted. The digital cameras have so much more sensitivity and see so much more into the shadow,” he reflects. 

“A lot of cinematographers talk about grain as texture,” he continues. “I always find it as the downside of film, because it’s this layer between you and the subject. These digital cameras didn’t have any noise or any grain. It’s like watching through a clean window as opposed to a window that has dirt. This camera really transports you to this place. It’s the first time I’ve shot with a camera that translates into images what I’m feeling when I’m on set. It’s a beautiful, beautiful image. So with a lot of pain we sent the film cameras back to Hollywood and kept the digital.”

Except the Alexa 65 had yet to be officially tested, which presented the production with something of a dilemma. “If there’s a problem on the set, insurance would not cover the issue,” Lubezki explains. “But we sat down with the studio, we watched the dailies, and everybody said, ‘Fuck it. We have to do it. We have to shoot with this camera,’ because it’s even more immersive than we had before.” 

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the revenant lenses

‘Revenant’ Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki Used Only Natural Light

By Jenelle Riley

Jenelle Riley

Deputy Awards and Features Editor

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Emmanuel Lubezki The Revenant Cinematography

There would not seem to be many challenges left for cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to conquer. He won his first Academy Award in 2014 for helping to create the illusion of Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone on her journey through space in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” And he returned to the podium this year for his breathtaking work on Alejandro G. Inarritu ’s “Birdman,” a film that appeared to be shot in a single take.

But the Mexican d.p. may have taken on his biggest challenge yet, reteaming with Inarritu for “ The Revenant ,” which was shot in freezing conditions, and used only natural light.

Based on the true story of 1800s frontiersman Hugh Glass ( Leonardo DiCaprio ), who was left for dead in a harsh winter, the film had a notoriously long and difficult shoot in snowy Canada and Argentina. But the conditions were necessary, says Lubezki, to communicate the experience. “We wanted to make a movie that was immersive and visceral,” he notes. “The idea of using natural light came because we wanted the audience to feel, I hope, that this stuff is really happening.”

Lubezki has shot under such lighting conditions before, saying that “Y tu mama tambien” was probably “90% natural light,” and many of his collaborations with Terrence Malick also used the strategy, but this was the first time there were no scenes with outside lighting. Well, except for one: a campfire sequence at night where the wind was causing the fire to pulse in a distracting way. “We had to lay a bunch of light bulbs around the fire to create a cushion of light,” Lubezki admits. “That’s all the light we used.”

Originally, Lubezki had planned to shoot the picture on film, but after some tests, he soon realized the format wasn’t up to the task. “It didn’t have the sensitivity to capture the scenes we were trying to shoot, especially the things we shot at dawn and dusk,” he says. Instead, the d.p. used the Arri Alexa 65 digital camera with lenses from 12mm to 21mm.

“It also allowed us to (work) without any noise or grain between the audience and the actor,” Lubezki explains. “It’s a little like watching everything through a window; it’s clean, and there’s no texture between you and the character. I felt this was my divorce from film — finally.”

Though “The Revenant” was a long and arduous shoot, Lubezki says it wasn’t his hardest; that would probably be “The New World,” which was filmed in Virginia during the wettest summer in history, and the d.p. was sent to the hospital after getting sick from a tick bite. Still, the cold on “The Revenant” was a huge challenge. “You have to learn how to manage your energy, because you want to use it to shoot the movie,” he says. Meanwhile, “your body is starting to say, ‘Go back to the hotel! … Go back to the hotel!’ ”

In the end, it was all worth it. “The journey really shows when you watch the movie,” he says. He points to a scene where DiCaprio comes out of a freezing river, and his lips are purple and his breath visible. “We would never have gotten anything like that,” he says. “And while natural light is very complex because it’s constantly changing — which can be a problem for continuity — it’s beautiful.

“And that constant transformation of nature is a theme of the movie.”

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Shooting Wide: The World in a Single Frame

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Wide-Angle Lens Storytelling

Wide-angle lenses are amazing cinematic tools, bending light and capturing a wide field of view. Filmmakers have used them as long as film has been around, and before that, photographers used them to create images never before seen by the human eye. Today we’ll look how wide-angle lenses work, how they have evolved and how they can assist and enhance the craft of storytelling.

the revenant lenses

MM vs Field of View

How “wide” a wide lens is will depend on several factors, including the size of the camera sensor. The millimeters of a lens, together with the size of the sensor or film, combine to give a field of view, or how much a given lens can see. Anything wider than around 65 degrees is generally considered to be a wide-angle lens, or smaller than a 35mm lens on a full frame camera.

the revenant lenses

The Hollow Orb

For centuries before a camera was ever constructed, people looked into clear marbles or drops of dew and were mesmerized by the whole world reflected back at them. Glass’s ability to bend light has always fascinated us, but it wasn’t until 1862 that the US company Harrison & Schnitzer created their “Globe” lens.

the revenant lenses

With a minimum aperture of f/16, it had a usable field of view of around 80 degrees, or the equivalent of a modern 22mm lens on a full frame camera. It was available for different plate sizes, all the way up to a large format 19 x 23″. It is interesting to see that the largest lens cost $257 in 1862 dollars, or the equivalent of $7000 today.

The Third Dimension   

Filmmakers quickly learned that wide-angle lenses could help create optical illusions and assist them in the stories they wanted to tell. Wide angle lenses exaggerate space, making objects in front of the camera look further from the camera and from each other. It makes small rooms look bigger and large rooms look positively palatial. They enhance the subject by pushing the background away, almost to the horizon.

Early cinematographers took this effect to the next level, by moving the camera high and shooting down, making heights far higher than they appear to the naked eye. They also reversed this, putting the camera low and shooting up, elongating tall buildings.

The miraculous effects of the wide-angle lens do come at a cost. The periphery of the frame bends straight lines as its crams more onto the capture plane. The wider the lens, the more distortion is visible, and the more of a “funhouse mirror” vibe the lens creates. On Dutch tilts and other angles, the effect is even more pronounced, and the cinematographer has to balance the visual power of the image against the distraction caused by this side effect.

A second drawback of wide lenses is that you need to be comparatively close to your subject for them not to disappear into the background. This is sometimes an advantage, but in the age of multiple camera shoots, it means that cameras too easily find their way into the shots of other cameras. The most cameras with wide-angle lenses that can shoot the same scene at the same time is two, whereas with long lens cinematography, you can have as many as your budget allows.

Standing Tall

A trick that is still used in music videos today is to place a camera with a wide-angle lens on the floor and shoot up at the talent. It makes a normal-sized person appear tall and intimidating, and the ceiling more lofty. This can be enhanced by camera movement, by tilting up as the camera moves down at the same time as the subject stands up.

Free Real Estate

The “New Wave” of cinema in the 1970s was enabled by smaller, handheld, cameras that could move out of the studio and into real locations. These houses and apartments, unlike soundstages, didn’t have removable walls that let the camera move far enough back for a wide shot of the actors. Wide-angle lenses became indispensable for getting wider shots in smaller areas, and the distortion that came with it was adopted as a aesthetic choice.

Smooth Move

Another reason the New Wave filmmakers loved wide-angle lenses was how smooth they made handheld footage. Because objects appear further away, the shaking of the operators movement is much less noticeable on a wide-angle lens, and the wider the lens, the less movement is perceivable. With a 14mm or 20mm lens on a full frame camera, the handheld camera appears to glide through the air.

the revenant lenses

The World in a Single Frame

Despite the distortion they cause, or perhaps because of it, wide-angle lenses have undergone a renaissance in the last decade due to the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, also known as “Chivo”. Lubezki uses wide-angle lenses so he can photograph his subject and their environment in a single shot, which minimizes, even eliminates edits and other distractions from storytelling. In his Oscar-winning The Revenant , he used lenses between 12mm and 21mm on the wide Alexa 65 sensor to capture incredible imagery of characters pushed to their limits in an unforgiving wilderness.

Lubezki often shoots handheld, even with massive cameras, or uses long uncut Steadicam takes to capture epic action, like in the opening scene of The Revenant . They also won the cinematography Academy Award the year before for Birdman , an entire film made to look like a single take, shot on a S35mm sensor and 18mm lens.

Such a wide lens, once considered totally unsuited for character closeups because of the distortion created on faces, crafted a memorable film because the unbroken takes nurtured powerful performances.

the revenant lenses

Wide-angle lenses, around longer than Hollywood, have gone through multiple iterations, coming in and out of fashion as trends have changed. Today, thanks to their advantages for shooting long takes and handheld camera work, wide-angle lenses are never far from the camera of leading cinematographers. 

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Rubidium Wu

Rubidium is an Australian filmmaker currently living and working in Los Angeles. He has directed commercials for Sony Playstation and Nintendo as well as numerous music videos. His Crowdfunded web series ‘The Silent City’ gained over a million views online and was covered by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. His first feature film, “Brooklyn Tide” is available to Stream on Amazon Prime. He currently shares his filmmaking adventures on the youtube Channel, Crimson Engine.

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Hey Rubidium, I agree that a Wide angle lens will lead cinematographers mostly very soon. Well said.

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EOSHD Shooter’s Guides

the revenant lenses

My review of The Revenant, shot on the Alexa 65mm in only natural light

Whilst movies are a form of escapism in the sense that they’re warm and comforting, some try to use that escapism to bring us pain.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and DP Emmanuel Lubezki are at the top of their game.

I loved Iñárritu’s previous movie Birdman and of course Lubezki’s cinematography on that as well as Gravity. I especially liked Lubezki’s cinematography on Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También.

I wasn’t in awe of The Tree of Life like seemingly everyone else (I didn’t think it had much authenticity, too glossy, too pretentious even) but there’s no denying that both Iñárritu and Lubezki on The Revenant seem to have been greatly influenced by Malick. The use of only natural light (fire especially) and waiting for a particular window in the day to open up for shooting is clearly evident all throughout the movie.

There’s one element The Revenant has returned to the mainstream cinema – and that’s spectacle.

Not the modern sort of CGI roller coasters but something altogether more real and visceral.

The opening of The Revenant is captivating, in the way a good Tarkovsky scene is. Long continuous takes with a wide angle of view roving around a set piece which unfolds violently but with a kind of violent intricacy – like a Rube Goldberg contraption, with fire, bows and arrows. The sound is a crucial element too at this moment. You will know why when you watch it.

I think it’s the sheer spectacle and realism of The Revevant which elevates the story. It isn’t for those who haven’t got the stomach for violence and would prefer to see an empowering character driven feminist drama, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

It’s a very lengthy film though, which requires a bit of meditation for you to get into the mood. It’s here you need to lose yourself in the atmosphere so sensitively and masterfully created by Lubezki’s handling of light and the Alexa 65, but it’s difficult when a gormless mainstream audience is popping pop corn into their mouths every 2 seconds for the full duration.

Lubezki likes to get in shockingly close on faces with a wide lens. This is used to sensitive effect, very well motivated camera work with purpose. The 65mm digital format takes medium format lenses. These did give the film a unique feel. It’s the best example I’ve yet seen of the use of a massive sensor combined with medium format glass. The field of view is epic side to side, Lubezki can maintain a ton of beautiful visual elements swirling around the camera even on close-ups of faces.

Dicaprio continues to bury his long gone boyish image under several lays of muck, method acting and apparently refusing to wash. He spends most of the 2 hour 36 minutes of The Revevant grunting and enduring intense pain, which when combined with the diorito chomping of the audience is enough to turn the film into a bit of an endurance trial and I can see why it won’t be for everyone!

However if you are sensitive and let your self be open to the pain, this movie just like a dominatrix has a few pleasurable surprises in store.

First of all, ones can take great pleasure in long lingering takes which sit back and let you observe slowly the characters and the subtle, realistic nuances happening on screen. Again – Tarkovsky-like. Quite French as well. There’s a lot going on subliminally, that presumably will go over the head of most of those who watch it. However, if you’re lucky, you feel it deep in your bones, the ebb and flow of veins on the land and in rock faces, the gusts of wind blowing trees is all very cleverly tied into the story and Decaprio’s protagonist Huge Glass particularly. There’s also an enormous tension going on… a push and pull between the ‘strong trunk of the tree’ (the sensitive protagonist and the native American Indians)  and the more alpha-male 19th century frontiersmen, amongst them a fantastic villain whose fate holds your attention right to the end of the film.

What is amazing about The Revevant is that none of the link to nature feels too ‘new age’ or phoney and that is down to have authentically it’s been created, the sheer realism. Never before have I thought location scouting would pay of so handsomely for a movie. The sun throwing its glow at a rocky cliff face at just the right moment in the script, that’s jaw dropping use of reality and nature. There’s CGI beasts in the film, the bear everyone talks about is indeed a thrilling battle. What is extraordinary about all this CGI is that it never feels like animation, it feels real. Almost as if she has witnesses a flash of light and a vision of Christ, the person I saw it with swears blind to this day that she thinks the bear is REAL and I have to keep telling her that no amount of circus training could make it do what it does in The Revenant!

Finally what about the Alexa 65?

Alexa 65

Originally Lubezki wanted to shoot The Revenant on film. Thankfully good sense prevailed. Film wasn’t sensitive enough for dimmest natural light he would encounter on location. This is the first time I’ve seen Alexa 65 footage on the big screen and the new sensor is clearly a good low light performer. With a sensor measuring 54.12 mm x 25.58, it is the same height as full frame 35mm photographic but much wider. Some scenes are a little grainy, a little flat even – but they always suit the gritty tone of the film. It’s not a good film to judge the Alexa’s colour from! The camera shoots 6K with a base sensitivity of EI 800. In uncompressed Arri Raw the camera is similar to a film camera because it only stores around 11 minutes of footage before the recording media needs changing. Even with such a big sensor, focus is almost always perfect in The Revevant but you could tell they had less room for error. With 65mm if focus does go off course, boy do you notice it. The movie avoids slipping into full frame DSLR in-out-in-out focus admirably but for a few jarring milliseconds here and there (a soft eye when it perhaps shouldn’t have been, a little correction where perhaps another take would have nailed it). Dynamic range on the other hand was flawless and it’s a kind of shoot which needed it.

Definitely the best Alexa 65 camera test I have seen so far!! Well done Iñárritu and Lubezki! Many positive Vimeo comments await!!

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the revenant lenses

The Revenant: An In-Depth Cinematography Review

Jack Rodriguez

  • July 13, 2020
  • Cinematography , Videography
  • cinematography review

the revenant

The Revenant, a story about one man’s journey across the wilderness to hunt down the man who left him for dead, won Oscars for Best Director ( Alejandro G. Iñárritu ), Actor ( Leonardo DiCaprio ), and Cinematography ( Emmanuel Lubezki ) in 2015. The cinematography was extraordinary. Let me tell you why…

Here are the logistics: it was shot using all-natural light (except for one campfire scene) with wide-angle lenses. This allowed for the audience to be immersed in the story as if from the realistic vantage point of the characters being filmed. It was shot with a digital Arri Alexa camera in order to accommodate for low light conditions.

the revenant

The digital camera also did not create a grainy image that would detract from the realism, according to Lubezki. The environmental conditions on location in Canada and southern Argentina were mountainous and very, very cold. Practically, the shoot was a nightmare. Was it worth it? The answer is a resounding yes, because what was captured was a story that could not have been told any other filmic way.

The overall objective of the camera work was to become an intimate extension of the character. Emotions were represented literally with camera movements. For instance, when Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy’s character) was walking around drunk, the camera tracked beside him drunkenly. When Fitzgerald and Glass (DiCaprio’s character) were tumbling around while fighting, the camera squirmed and turned on the ground with them.

Wide-angle prime lenses keep much more of the frame in focus than telephoto lenses. Therefore, when subjects in the frame were out of focus, it created an obvious variation from the norm. This occurred when Fitzgerald and Bridger were alone in the same frame after Fitzgerald had just killed the Pawnee son of Glass.

The camera allowed for the characters to be isolated in their own thoughts. The same effect was created when the Pawnee boy was crying next to the campfire after Glass had scolded him for not being “invisible” to everyone else. The audience has a glimpse into the son’s mind. We knew he was crying because he felt alone. This sense of aloneness came from the depth of field that kept Glass out of focus in the background, while his son was in focus in the foreground.

The Revenant’s Style Choices

Style choices were pronounced in The Revenant to keep themes running throughout the movie. One stylistic choice was to keep expansive shots of Nature still. The camera was static during these insert shots because Nature remains strong and unmoving, even during the chaos of Man’s tumultuous story.

The other choice of movement was to move the camera slowly and gracefully. This was also a practical choice because it only takes small movements to cover a lot of ground with a wide-angle lens. Objects appear quicker than they really are while using this type of equipment. Another stylistic choice was to film below eye line throughout much of the film. And yet another choice was to push in slowly for suspense.

When these stylistic choices were broken, that is when we need to pay attention. For instance, the few times when the camera pulled back from the movement of the subjects in the frame were when Glass emerged from his grave to crawl to his destiny and when his son walked into Glass’ embrace during a dream sequence after he was dead. The camera allowed these characters to be connected in a way that was spiritual and timeless.

Throughout most of the movie, the characters were filmed on either the left or right side of the frame. However, once Glass showed up to claim his revenge at the end, he was rarely seen framed outside of the center. This framing showed that Glass was the stuff of legend. The camera mirrored the folklore supporting Glass.

The glass had power against all odds. Leading lines showcased his power at being one with Nature when he was crouched in a creek. This occurred during the sequence of scenes when he was hunting Fitzgerald at the end. We knew that the main character would emerge victoriously. We knew he had control, finally.

Techniques used in the Final Scene

The above clip is the final scene of the movie. It’s a close-up shot with Glass’ face center frame. His face is flanked by a dark side and a light side. The deed is done, but his mind is racing as to whether he can be at peace or not.

Many of the shots in the movie are drawn out. However, the only quick series of jump cuts come at the point in the movie when the Indian helping Glass makes a fire and tent during a storm. This Native American is a powerful, battling force against the strength of Nature.

The first time the camera is eye level is when there is complete safety for the characters. They are perched at a table in a bar in town. They are in a man-made environment.

The only time when there is an ominously antagonistic insert of Nature is at the end of the movie. Before Glass fights Fitzgerald, there is an insert of a dark mountain range slicing the sky diagonally. This illustrates the impending confrontation between Good and Evil.

The camera acts as a reflection of the characters’ lives amidst great landscapes and intense action. The film is shot beautifully. The immersion within each character’s story is boldly shot and meticulously planned, but not as a stroke of genius.

The brilliance comes from the choreography and improvisation needed to capture the action the way that it was captured. The wide-angle lenses created an insanely difficult job of managing image movement while tracking, panning, tilting, and so forth.

Also, all of the choreography and movement was executed in extreme weather conditions and on challenging terrain. Therefore, the Oscar The Revenant earned for cinematography must have been awarded mostly as a result of how it captured these incredible images through extreme conditions.

Some scenes in The Revenant applied Deep Focus Cinematography , which was famous for the movie, Citizen Kane. That cinematography technique made the scenes more visually stunning and allows viewers’ eyes to wander through every part of the frame.

shortfilm color grading sample

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Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

The Revenant review – a walk on the wild side

Leonardo DiCaprio gives his all in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s visceral, icebound survival story

T he legend of American frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass, who was left for dead after being mauled by a bear in the early 1820s, inspired Richard C Sarafian’s 1971 film Man in the Wilderness , in which Richard Harris starred as “Zachary Bass”. Now it returns to the screen in a film based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge .

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a barnstorming performance as the embattled Glass, whose quest for survival takes him on a Herzogian odyssey to the very borders of life and death. Having previously been Oscar-nominated for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape , The Aviator , Blood Diamond and most recently The Wolf of Wall Street , it’s clearly DiCaprio’s turn to triumph with a performance which relies more upon physicality than the spoken word. Academy voters like to see their actors suffer, and there’s a tangible mondo tinge to scenes of Leo plunging into icy waters, being buried alive, chomping down on raw bison liver, and crawling into a still-warm animal carcass to sleep. Meanwhile, the freezing temperatures of the breathtaking environment (all filmed in natural light) seem to seep into his very bones; by comparison The Hateful Eight looks like a summer holiday.

Having swept to Oscar victory with the faux one-shot gimmickry of Birdman , director Alejandro González Iñárritu once again hitches his wagon to the technical brilliance of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, working wonders with his digital Arri Alexa cameras. Via Lubezki’s sweeping widescreen lenses we find ourselves viscerally dragged through the wilderness, violent ambushes and life-threatening confrontations caught in superbly orchestrated lengthy takes, the camera following on foot, on horseback, through woods and plains, air and water, often without apparent edits. This is muscular film-making, and much has been made of the punishing physicality of the “living hell” shoot in Canada and Argentina, with a digital grizzly bear one of the few obvious concessions to artificiality.

There is hokey spirituality too, as Glass’s traumatised mind drifts back to the Native American mother of his Pawnee-speaking son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), offering life lessons from beyond the grave. The stalwart supporting cast is headed up by a partially scalped Tom Hardy who chews the rugged scenery with spittle-flecked gusto as the wretched John Fitzgerald, while Domhnall Gleeson is spot on as the strait-laced Captain Andrew Henry. Hats off, however, to Will Poulter who all but steals the show from his more heavyweight co-stars as the naive and increasingly embattled Jim Bridger. A chameleonic presence, Poulter is shaping up as one of the UK’s most versatile screen actors, a man for all seasons whose achievements deserve to be trumpeted a little louder.

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The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant (2015)

A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • Mark L. Smith
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  • Leonardo DiCaprio
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  • 1.8K User reviews
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  • 90 wins & 188 nominations total

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  • Trivia Due to production being behind schedule, the snow melted during the location shoot in Canada before filming was complete. With summer rapidly approaching, there was no choice but to relocate the entire production to southern Argentina, where there were similar wintry conditions.
  • Goofs When Hikuc speaks to Glass about also losing his family, his vocals do not match his lip movement, and appears to be dubbed.

Hugh Glass : As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe... keep breathing.

  • Crazy credits At the end of the end credits: "The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 15,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours."
  • Connections Featured in Evening Urgant: Sergey Bezrukov/Marina Alexandrova (2015)
  • Soundtracks Arikara Elder Traditional Performed by Chesley Wilson

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  • How long is The Revenant? Powered by Alexa
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  • January 8, 2016 (United States)
  • United States
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  • Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (final fight between Glass and Fitzgerald)
  • New Regency Productions
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  • See more company credits at IMDbPro
  • $135,000,000 (estimated)
  • $183,637,894
  • Dec 27, 2015
  • $532,950,503

Technical specs

  • Runtime 2 hours 36 minutes
  • Dolby Digital
  • Dolby Atmos
  • Dolby Surround 7.1
  • 12-Track Digital Sound
  • IMAX 6-Track

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The Revenant

2015, Adventure/Western, 2h 36m

What to know

Critics Consensus

As starkly beautiful as it is harshly uncompromising, The Revenant uses Leonardo DiCaprio's committed performance as fuel for an absorbing drama that offers punishing challenges -- and rich rewards. Read critic reviews

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The revenant videos, the revenant   photos.

While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains life-threatening injuries from a brutal bear attack. When a member (Tom Hardy) of his hunting team kills his young son (Forrest Goodluck) and leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back to civilization. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, the legendary fur trapper treks through the snowy terrain to track down the man who betrayed him.

Rating: R (Brief Nudity|A Sexual Assault|Violence|Gory Images|Language|Strong Frontier Combat)

Genre: Adventure, Western

Original Language: English

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Producer: Arnon Milchan , Steve Golin , Alejandro González Iñárritu , Mary Parent , Keith Redmon , James W. Skotchdopole

Writer: Mark L. Smith , Alejandro González Iñárritu

Release Date (Theaters): Jan 8, 2016  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Mar 22, 2016

Box Office (Gross USA): $183.6M

Runtime: 2h 36m

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Production Co: Appian Way, New Regency Pictures, M Prods, Anonymous Content

Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, SDDS, Datasat

Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)

Cast & Crew

Leonardo DiCaprio

John Fitzgerald

Domhnall Gleeson

Captain Andrew Henry

Will Poulter

Forrest Goodluck

Paul Anderson

Kristoffer Joner

Joshua Burge

Stubby Bill

Duane Howard

Melaw Nakehk'o

Fabrice Adde

Arthur Redcloud

Christopher Rosamund

Robert Moloney

Dave Stomach Wound

Brendan Fletcher

McCaleb Burnett

Wife of Hugh Glass

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Mark L. Smith


Arnon Milchan

Steve Golin

Mary Parent

Keith Redmon

James W. Skotchdopole

Brett Ratner

Executive Producer

James Packer

Jennifer Davisson Killoran

David Kanter

Markus Barmettler

Emmanuel Lubezki


Stephen Mirrione

Film Editing

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Original Music

Carsten Nicolai

News & Interviews for The Revenant

Tom Hardy’s 10 Best Movies

On DVD This Week: The Revenant , Silicon Valley , Ip Man 3 , and More

Now Streaming: Doctor Who , Orphan Black , Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday , and More

Critic Reviews for The Revenant

Audience reviews for the revenant.

Exceptionally beautiful direction and screenplay by Iñárritu. Superb cinematography. Poignant soundtrack. Brilliant performances (although Hardy's mumbling was difficult to discern oftimes). Fantastic costumes and sound. There's nothing not to love about this graceful, poetic and haunting film.

the revenant lenses

After being attacked by a bear, Hugh Glass must survive the perils of the wilderness and avenge the murder of his son. Brutal and raw, Leonardo DiCaprio's incredible performance deserves all its accolades, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is at top form, crafting an adventure that I wish more blockbusters would imitate. There's real tension in the conflicts, and the action scenes aren't jump-cutted to incomprehensible death. The second act is a little long, and I could've done without so many shots that jerk off to trees and sky. Overall, one of the best films of the year, this is a great adventure story.

As much as I really didn't care for his Oscar winning picture 'Birdman " Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innarito put together and presented A motion picture movie with a compelling combination of beautiful, brutality and compelling acting performances that I can remember in a film picture in some time. Inarritu brought long natural light, brilliant camera-tracking shots, placement that makes specific scenes take on an impressive sense of real. I was afraid that the appealing trailers may give away too much ongoing with this film, but once you see it all the way thru, there was much more meat on the bone to chew - Revenant is a western set film that is so intense on Survival and Revenge. I was getting myself prepared for a slow start and even slower character-developing as the movie progresses , but I got anything but that. It starts out brutally violent and blood gory, fact it literally " rains " with brutal graphic violence (remember how Saving Private Ryan war scene started out ?) there's an absolute impressive amount of attacks and escapes, and the motion and camera shots are always moving and enticing. I found myself constantly engaged anywhere from Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) to his son, to his comrades, to the surrounding area Much is going to talked about the Grizzly scene, which was as brutally savage and tantalizing as you can expect. And it's not a quick, clean brush with death either. It stretches and extends to you find yourself thinking ...."wow, when is this going to be over, ? " way he is making it out of this "" .... the frame set of the camera doing this Bear scene is brilliant, just when you think, this has to be it, this has to be the end and this has to be a final escape, the brutal scene goes on, .and squeamish you are shown the bloody results of such an attack. DiCaprio's performance was outstanding from humble father and husband, to fallen victim who has to visually and physically experience a heart broken tragedy , to how he miraculousy finds a way to emerge from helplessness to a fierce never say die sole survivor who is relentless in his quest to not only survive but hunt for vengenance. I can't think of a more terrific acting performance by DiCaprio, that easily outshines his Gangs of New York, The Departure and Django Unchained. Revenant has a pace that can be compared to Castaway in that it has a mesmerizing slowness but it's unique in how it still engages and appeals to you. You can't pull away from it because of the creativity in either the characters, or how the way of survival, escapes or prey-hunting is being presented to you. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) keeps another half of it going because he is brilliantly ruthless - almost to a babbling psycho nut presence. Fitzgerald can sabotage or turn on a friend or foe at any given moment and turn. And he is corky in how he does it. And you can eventually get to a hold of why Fitz thinks and feels the way he does and takes the course of action he does to alleviate the crucial revenge hunt. And just when you thought that would be the end of Glass's tragedies and heartbreaks he is about discover another in an unsuspecting friend. And there is eventually the finale which not only includes again some graphic violence but some turning strategic combat methods as well. Interesting the plot and story write of the Revenant is pretty simple, however the combination of acting performances , action sequences and camera work and cinematography will be on a cult classic for many decades to come. From the snowy woods and mountains, to the murky trees of the forest, from the river waters and falls , to the group camp scenes, and there is also a well done music score as well. i spoke much about the bear scene, but expect to be almost in awe with the horse scene as well. Frankly speaking I have no doubt in my mind that the Revenant will be going away with the Oscar come February and we could see awards given away for best actor, best director , best cinematography, and most definitely ... Best Picture. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to give the Revenant a 9.0

See more reviews like this at First things first, steer clear of this one if you don't like either of the following; This movie is LONG. 3 hours long (including ads and credits). AND It is VERY gory. There's excessive violence, a lot of blood, and quite confronting conflict. Right, if you're still here, let's get on with the actual movie quality. The plot moves along very slowly, with bursts of tense or action sequences in between watching DiCaprio crawling through snow. It depends on your perspective, but these scenes were probably inserted by Director Iñárritu to demonstrate Hugh's recovery and to emphasise the underlying theme of survival and perseverance. Don't see it if you've got a short attention span. But, the plot, aside from its excessive length, is truly brilliant. It centres around revenge and there is constantly something posing a threat to the main character, even in those dull moments the freezing temperature causes Glass to do some quick thinking. And the relentless barrage of threats over 3 hours truly emphasises his achievement of survival, makes audiences admire his sheer determination, and makes you root for this character the whole way. Even in its conclusion, you remember everything he's endured throughout the movie and be in awe of the character. It's truly an amazing story, and what makes it even more amazing is that it's based on true events. The CGI, Special effects, and make up are all exemplary. And there's a lot of opportunities for them to shine. The most impressive example of this is the bear that mauls Glass. But, even though its minor to many, one of the biggest things that annoy me is that everyone except the good guys seem to be horrible at aiming! There's a scene with Glass on a horse riding parallel to an army of Indians and not one of them hit him! So plot convenience was my biggest irritation. The cast is nearly entirely male; consisting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Lukas Haas, and Kristoffer Joner. Obviously we all know that DiCaprio is nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and he's a big chance at finally winning. If he doesn't earn it on this performance, he never will. Because he was brilliant, despite having no speech nearly the entire time. And he's stolen the spotlight, but I don't think Tom Hardy was given enough credit as he deserved. I learned over the 3 hours to despise him, and he was an integral element in the overall quality of this movie and DiCaprio's performance. Young Will Poulter wasn't too bad either as the naïve and scared young hunter. Hugh Glass was of course an incredibly interesting and well-developed character. We see flashbacks of his deceased wife and parents telling him to survive and push the limits no matter what. This same message is delivered to Glass's son, and we are reminded of it throughout the movie, but we don't need to be to see that's its obviously been deep-seeded in Glass. That and his desire for revenge allows him to persist and endure even in the closest of death experiences and when all seems lost. Even I felt hopeless for him yet he somehow gets back up again. Hardy's character Fitz doesn't seem to have enough motivation aside from some strange sense of racism to kill Glass's son and have an uncontrollable hate for Glass. That was a slight downfall. With plenty of time to kill, they included plenty of genres. They include action, adventure, biographical, drama, history, thriller, war, and western. The setting was in the 1820's American winter. We can't forget the fantastic themes that the movie was centralised around. These are themes of survival, perseverance, revenge, family, love, and murder. To conclude, I thought this was a brilliant film, and it's not just me that thinks so, with the film scoring a whopping 12 nominations including best picture, best actor in a leading role, best actor in a supporting role, cinematography (which I loved due to the panoramic tracking shots for extended periods during battle sequences), and directing. Unfortunately, it was just too long and had a few too many plot conveniences and a couple underdeveloped characters.

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Emmanuel Lubezki’s ‘Breathing Lens’ Captures the Rhythm of Life Itself

There is no other filmmaker that better embodies the possibilities and potential of filmmaking today than Emmanuel Lubezki . Working with Terrence Malick , “Chivo” elevated the naturalism of modern filmmaking into a new poetic language. With Alfonso Cuarón and their “Gravity,” he pioneered (and simultaneously mastered) creating cinema in a virtual workspace. With Alejandro González Iñárritu, he has tapped an exciting immersive side of using new tools. Lubezki and Malick’s collaboration began on “The New World” and reached its pinnacle on “Tree of Life.” It was only through rigorous preparation and discipline — including production designer Jack Fisk creating a five-block-by-five-block neighborhood “set” for the actors and filmmakers to explore story in a new way. This wasn’t so much improvisation, as it was searching for the moments of truth in the world Malick had actually built in front of the camera. For this poem told in light, the cinematographer and director were as much chasing the endless beauty of the full color spectrum of sunlight when captured on 35mm film, as much as they were unplanned moments like a baby’s first step or a butterfly landing on star Jessica Chastain’s hand. It was a language and approach that was made possible by Lubezki letting go, trusting Malick, and giving over his unique talents and artistry to push past the drab naturalism that was dominating modern filmmaking and opening the door to something truly new. Two years after “Tree of Life,” Lubezki found his oldest collaborator pushing him into an artificial setting. The zero-G requirements of Cuarón’s space-survival movie “Gravity” found Chivo exploring the uncharted territory of creating with virtual cameras and light. Once again, it was through rigorous prep and the mastery of a new way of working that the cinematographer managed to find and capture a sense of naturalism. Charting where the space station was in relationship to the reflecting and rotating light and color of Earth, Lubezki created an organic and realistic feel of source light. He also worked closely with virtual gaffers, through an extensive pre-light, to insure the animation and the real actors’ light matched (still the death of so many VFX films today). Possibly the most impressive achievement was that Chivo was able to deliver his and Cuarón’s trademark immersive camera work in virtual space, working with a VFX team to actually perform the virtual camerawork in a small studio, rather than create it in a computer. It’s a model, to this day, of how to bridge the filmmaking-virtual divide, and yet no one has come closer to approaching what Chivo achieved in his pioneering first crack at what was then still-new technology. “Tree of Life” and “Gravity” both show the full potential of the two very different directions the cinema of today is headed. While each film found Lubezki reaching for an elevated sense of naturalism, fellow cinematographer Bradford Young points to Lubezki’s innate sense of the relationship of the lens to the subject that is the consistent thread in his influential work. “What I love about what Chivo does is that he can put a 14mm lens 18-inches from someone’s face and it seemingly works out because he respects the person in front of the lens. It’s about intention,” cinematographer and Lubezki admirer Bradford Young told IndieWire. “The work he’s done optically with Terence Malick and Iñárritu is some of the best work we’ve seen a long time. You can tell he cares about the people in front of the lens, but you can also tell he’s being very cautious, I know it, there’s this unspoken, unseen thing that when one is not conscience of the history, you can see it in the image. You can feel that it’s not right, but when I see Chivo’s version of that I can engage with the film on cerebral and human level because he got past all the nonsense, he comes with a certain level of purity. Chivo’s an educator too, he’s teaching us… he’s giving us an opportunity to revisit what we think we know in order to give us a more immersive cinema.” When Young talks about Lubezki’s wide lens right up on his subject, he is specifically referring to the work the cinematographer has done with Iñárritu, his third big collaborator. On the “The Revenant,” Lubezki and Iñárritu pushed the immersiveness of their long-take Oscar winner “Birdman” to the extreme, as they intimately follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s life-or-death story set against the Canadian wilderness. Beyond wide lenses (regardless of distortion) to get up in the action, Lubezki utilized the earliest testing of the ARRI Alexa 65 to show how large format digital cameras could be used to achieve yet a different immersive relationship with character. A year later, Chivo and Iñárritu would step into full immersion with virtual reality, “Carne y Arena” remaining one of the few shining examples of how a successful 2D filmmaker’s vision can translate to 360. Iñárritu has referred to Lubezki as a “co-filmmaker,” a sentiment most directors feel in collaborating with a cinematographer leading them, and us, into a new frontier. —Chris O’Falt


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The Revenant: Shooting Under Extreme Conditions

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Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and actor Leonardo DiCaprio on location for “The Revenant.” Photo credit: 20th Century Fox.

Unpredictable and extreme climate conditions can be the bane of most film productions. But none were more challenged than “The Revenant,” one of the films nominated this year for a Best Picture Academy award. Practically the entire movie was shot outdoors – with natural light no less – so great care went into not only ensuring the safety of the cast and crew on set but maintaining continuity as well. However, this does not mean that “The Revenant” did not experience its fair share of problems during the shoot. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone considering the uphill battle this was constantly confronted with.

Putting behind the scenes gossip involving difficult directors, crew defections and actors put in harms way aside, it boggles my mind that no one knew what they had signed up for. Two-to-three months (and longer) spent in some of the coldest, most isolated locations imaginable with only a few hours per day to catch the light needed for each shot. Compounding the issue: it was a period piece set in the very early 1800s. Sets, costumes and makeup had to accurately depict the limited means of the time. Far from home for those accustomed to the creature comforts of a warm hotel, trailer and electricity, it didn’t help not having access to the recourses one usually takes for granted that make life a lot less difficult.

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The decision to shoot with natural light gave way to some impressive visuals like the mountain vista depicted above. Photo credit: 20th Century Fox.

It all begins with a script. Developed back in 2001 after optioning the manuscript for the yet to be published Michael Punke novel “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge,” the project went through many hands before it landed on the desk of filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu. It depicted the true story of fur trapper Hugh Glass, a man who was left for dead by his companions after a near lethal bear attack who then found himself trekking almost 200 miles to reach civilization. Glass’ amazing tale was filmed once before as the rather low budget “Man in the Wilderness” (1971) starring Richard Harris and John Huston. But in order to approach its subject properly, locations needed to be found that were not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye but were absent of any modern tropes like buildings, phone wires, cars, or any passing aerial devices. Not only that, but the shooting schedule had to be carefully organized to accommodate the weather as it may unfold on camera. In other words if you initially shot hours of footage with snow appearing in the trees and on the ground, then you have to maintain the consistency of that look.

According to an article posted on Indiewire , five locations scouts were sent to find the right river alone. This led the crew to various states in the Pacific Northwest. “Location is everything,” explains Location Manager Douglas Dresser. “The most challenging aspect was to find a white water river, a waterfall, ‘virgin’ landscapes and geology and fauna (or lack of) that would match the established wilderness.” For a key scene depicting Glass’ escape from a tribe of Native Americans, the production settled on a river in Montana. But that was one of the few locations shot stateside. A majority of the production would film in British Columbia and Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina.

Scoring the perfect outdoor location is one thing. Dealing with the weather is a whole other kettle of fish.

In an interview with Indiewire’s Anne Thompson , Inarritu describes the two most difficult moments. “We were expecting not to have a lot of snow yet, but it came in a storm at 4 degrees below zero, one of the worst storms ever, it destroyed the set,” Inarritu explains. “The weather was so bad, we couldn’t even move on, it was at a moment in the story with no snow, so we were basically screwed and had to stop the whole thing.” The second moment was antithetical to the first, “in February, the warm weather started melting the ice, on a location where we were expecting snow. We ran out and had to stop again without any B plan and no possibilities to finish the film in any way possible.”

This also motivated the decision to shoot chronologically as the story starts in the fall and ends in winter. According to Inarritu, “92% of the locations are exterior. When there’s a storm in the state, you can’t pretend it’s autumn with red leaves covered in snow.”

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Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki sets up his shot while actor Forrest Goodluck waits for his close up.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki felt the conditions were necessary. In Variety Lubezki states, “we wanted to make a movie that was immersive and visceral. The idea of using natural light came because we wanted the audience to feel, I hope, that this stuff is really happening.” No doubt this decision proved fortuitous as having to lug additional gear like lamps, stands, cables and generators would have yielded an additional burden. But this was not the first time a modern movie was shot with natural light. In 1975’s “Barry Lyndon,” director Stanley Kubrick also chose to work without electric powered illumination. To such an extent he had special lenses manufactured by NASA to take in as much light as possible. As for Lubezki, he felt the only way to go was with the digital Arri Alexa 65 since film stock “didn’t have the sensitivity to capture the scenes we were trying to shoot, especially the things we shot at dawn and dusk.”

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“Barry Lyndon,” a film directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1975, also made use of natural light. Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Working under these conditions was never a simple task. To benefit the shoot, it would take weeks to properly rehearse and map out the staging of complex scenes. This had as much to do with the limited amount of available light. Lubezki: “On ‘ The Revenant’  sometimes it was eight hours, but we were shooting only five. So they were short days but they were very strenuous because of the weather.” Lubezki goes into greater detail in an interview on Deadline , “we’re seeing expanses of land that are so big it would have been ridiculous to try to light them or light the faces of the actor but not light the background. It would have looked terrible.” As for how the cold weather affected the camera itself, “The camera didn’t have any problem because digital cameras run warm, so they actually like the cold.” Lubezki continues, “But the monitor did freeze a couple of times, and cables froze, and the batteries would last a very short time compared to what they would last in other places.”

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“The Revenant” star Leonardo DiCaprio risked hypothermia and then some while in production. Photo credit: 20th Century Fox.

Since the actors had to be dressed up in period garb, this eliminated the use of on camera protective clothing like fleece jackets or UGG style winter boots. If you watch “The Revenant” there are a lot of sequences (and I mean a lot) where actor Leonardo DiCaprio stands in what looks to be some very cold water. “The hardest thing for me was getting in and out of frozen rivers,” says DiCaprio in an interview with Wired. “Because I had elk skin on and a bear fur that weighed about 100 pounds when it got wet. And every day it was a challenge not to get hypothermia.”

Ultimately, in attempting to confront the elements, “The Revenant” did go over budget and over schedule. It’s par for the course when taking on a project of such magnitude. Yet the results were worth it. Released to favorable reviews, “The Revenant” has already earned a Best Picture Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar. It seems that Alejandro Inarritu has had the final word exclaiming, “”When you see the film, you will see the scale of it. And you will say ‘wow.’”

Here is a behind the scenes featurette on the production design of “The Revenant.”

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  • Cinematography , Featured , Filmmaking

The Revenant’s Breathtaking Cinematography: Exploring the Work of Emmanuel Lubezki

  • May 2, 2023

Emmanuel Lubezki is a well-respected name in the world of cinematography due to his exceptional ability to tell a story through his lens. His work in the critically acclaimed movie “The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, is a testament to his visionary approach to cinematography. In this blog post, we will explore Lubezki’s career, achievements, and the importance of “The Revenant” in his remarkable filmography.

The use of natural lighting in The Revenant

The use of natural lighting in The Revenant is one of the most striking and innovative aspects of the film’s visual style. Lubezki, known for pushing the boundaries of cinematography, boldly decided to shoot the entire movie using only natural light sources. This choice was rooted in the desire to create a more authentic and immersive experience for the audience, allowing them to truly feel the harsh, unforgiving environment in which the story unfolds.

The Revenant Behind the scenes

The challenges of shooting with natural light were numerous, requiring meticulous planning and a keen understanding of the ever-changing weather conditions. In addition, the crew had to contend with limited daylight hours during the winter months, when most of the film was shot. However, these challenges were met with determination and ingenuity, resulting in a breathtakingly beautiful and realistic portrayal of the wilderness. The benefits of this approach are evident in the final product, as the film’s visuals have a raw, organic quality that adds to the story’s overall impact, showcasing Lubezki’s unparalleled skill and vision.

The Use of Long Take

In The Revenant, Lubezki’s use of long takes is a powerful and compelling storytelling tool that elevates the film’s impact on the audience. By allowing the audience to follow the action closely and continuously, the long takes create a sense of immediacy and realism that is difficult to achieve through conventional editing techniques. These extended, unbroken shots showcase Lubezki’s technical prowess, heighten the tension, and immerse the viewer in the characters’ harrowing experiences.

The Revenant Behind the scenes

The power of the long take in The Revenant is most evident in the film’s unforgettable bear attack sequence, executed with breathtaking precision and intensity. By capturing the entire scene in a single, continuous shot, Lubezki places the viewer directly in the midst of the action, making it impossible to look away or escape the visceral horror of the moment. This choice of cinematography not only conveys the brutal reality of the situation and underscores the fragility of human life in the face of nature’s raw power.

The audience is made to feel the weight of each step, the chill of the biting wind, and the characters’ desperation as they struggle to survive. In addition, Lubezki’s long takes effectively convey the passage of time and the character’s physical and emotional exhaustion as they traverse the unforgiving landscape. This immersive approach to storytelling is a testament to Lubezki’s extraordinary talent as a cinematographer and his ability to transport the viewer into the heart of the narrative.

The Revenant Behind the scenes

Capturing the harsh and unforgiving landscape

The Revenant’s harsh and unforgiving landscape plays a crucial role in the film’s narrative, and Lubezki’s cinematography masterfully captures the beauty and brutality of the environment. The choice of filming locations, which included remote areas in Canada and Argentina, greatly impacted the film’s visual style, imbuing it with a palpable sense of isolation and desolation. These locations provided a stunning backdrop for the story, further emphasizing the challenges faced by the characters as they struggled to survive in the wilderness.

Lubezki’s use of wide-angle shots and long takes immerse the audience in the environment, making them feel like they are a part of the treacherous journey. The wide-angle shots, in particular, emphasize the vastness and inhospitality of the landscape. At the same time, the long takes allow the viewer to fully absorb the surroundings and experience the passage of time alongside the characters. This approach creates an intimate connection between the audience and the story, a testament to Lubezki’s ability to evoke powerful emotions through his cinematography.

The Revenant Behind the scenes

Exploring the Significance of Cinematography in Elevating the Narrative of a Film.

I really enjoyed the cinematography in The Revenant! Lubezki did a fantastic job with composition, framing, and lighting to help us feel the struggles faced by Hugh Glass. Seeing how he fought against nature and his enemies to survive and find redemption was so cool.

One of the ways Lubezki’s visual choices contribute to the film’s emotional resonance is by using extreme close-ups and intimate camera angles to immerse the viewer in Glass’s internal turmoil. By placing the audience in such close proximity to the character, Lubezki establishes a deep emotional connection that enables viewers to empathize with Glass’s pain, fear, and determination. This approach is particularly effective in introspection and contemplation, as the audience is privy to the subtlest nuances of Glass’s emotional state.

The Revenant Behind the scenes

Furthermore, Lubezki’s cinematography also underscores the film’s thematic exploration of man’s relationship with nature. Through stunning wide shots showcasing the wilderness’s awe-inspiring beauty and brutality, Lubezki communicates the film’s message about the insignificance of human endeavors in the face of the vast and indifferent natural world. The juxtaposition of these wide shots with the intimate close-ups of the characters heightens the film’s emotional impact, ensuring that The Revenant remains a deeply affecting and unforgettable cinematic experience.

I absolutely loved the cinematography of Emmanuel el Lubezki in The Revenant! It really took my breath away and completely immersed me in the story. The film’s use of natural lighting and long takes was bold and practical, making everything feel even more accurate and intense. It’s no wonder the movie has received so many awards and nominations – Lubezki’s work is a masterpiece! The Revenant will always be a shining example of incredible visual storytelling and an authentic tribute to cinematography.

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The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained

We examine what the The Revenant ending's final moments mean and what role the real history of Hugh Glass played in the film.

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This article contains The Revenant spoilers.

In the last two years, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has delivered a pair of visionary films that’ve made a grizzly bear-sized impact on the cinematic conversation. 2014’s Birdman was an ode to pretension, ambition, and all those other wonderful virtues that drive artists mad. Nimble and talky with its theatrical levity, Birdman is quite clearly the inverse of The Revenant , a stoic and often wordless musing on man’s primal urges—including revenge—when cast against a primordial and uncaring world. Ostensibly an intimate story of suffering, The Revenant takes on a biblical scope when Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are doing battle in the backdrop of a budding avalanche.

However, there is more in common with these two movies than merely their ability to play as awards voter catnip ( Birdman nearly swept the Oscars and if the Golden Globes of 2016 are any indication, The Revenant might repeat the trend). In fact, one of the most striking similarities is their preference for ambiguity and open-ended finality.

Buy The Revenant: A Story of Revenge by Michael Punke on Amazon.

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After seeing The Revenant twice now in the last two months—and with two different sets of people—I can confirm that there have been wildly different interpretations about the closing scene and just what Hugh Glass’ final audible breaths mean for both the character and his place in history.

But I suspect the whole meaning of the nigh three-hour film’s conclusion is explained right at the start of the picture.

As Long as You Can Still Grab Breath

The very first lines of dialogue in The Revenant are spoken by Leonardo DiCaprio with a Pawnee affection, yet their meaning remains crystal clear. “It’s okay son, I know you want this to be over. I’m right here. I will be right here. But you don’t give up. You hear me? As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.”

These early words spoken by Hugh Glass to Hawk, his half-Pawnee son, are crucial to understanding the movie. In the immediacy, it introduces the theme of the story, as well as Glass’ love for a son whose mother was taken away by other white men. But it, more than any desire for revenge, is the true driving force for Glass’ stunning survival instinct.

And it comes just as much into play at the end of the film after Hugh Glass has hunted down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and cornered him by a slushy creek. The most iconic scene in The Revenant, which is destined to become a classic moment of big screen brutality, is of course when the grizzly bear mauls Hugh Glass half to death in an agonizing steadicam shot that goes on for several minutes (plus an eternity). Yet, the final knockdown, drag out brawl between Glass and Fitzgerald is just as merciless.

Bones are smashed, fingers cut off, and hands impaled. By all accounts, both men appear mortally wounded, albeit Fitzgerald more so. Hence why he can barely protest when Glass sends his broken body down river like it’s a raft borne of flesh and leaking blood. Glass does this because he seems to have taken to heart the advice of his Pawnee savior from the midway point of the film. He is on course to suffer the fate of all tragic revengers if he personally takes Fitzgerald’s life.

… Plus it’s kind of a vicious boon that Fitzgerald despises Native Americans more than anything else. While Fitzgerald could keep a brave face and proudly mock Glass to his dying breath, the idea of the “savages” that took his scalp would now finish the job is akin to feeding an arachnophobe to a den of black widows.

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Yet, it’s after this moment that the ambiguity settles in. Just as Fitzgerald said before he died, “Well you enjoy it Glass, because there ain’t anything that’ll bring your boy back.” And indeed, with his revenge complete, Glass appears frightfully wounded and far from the safety of a fort. Thus there appears nothing left to him when the ghostly visage of his dead wife appears, apparently beckoning him toward the eternal.

The closing images of the film are of Hugh Glass watching in utter despair as she turns away from his snow-encrusted beard and walks into the distance while he keeps breathing. He keeps breathing even after the credits have begun.

Admittedly, one interpretation of this ending, which is entirely valid, is that Glass follows his long lost love to find peace with her and their murdered son, Hawk. The idea of an avenger finding peace in death after his revenge is complete remains a familiar and comforting ending every bit as satisfying as the often grimmer alternative of self- annihilation. Maximus was relieved to find his wife and son waiting for him on the fields of Elysium, and Mel Gibson’s version of William Wallace greeted Catherine McCormack’s Murron almost as readily as Gibson jumps at scenes of glorified torture.

However, I do not think Iñárritu is going for something nearly as reassuring or appeasing as that sort of bittersweet closer. There is no uplift for Hugh Glass as the fierce cold continues to rot his body and soul. There is only the sound of his breathing. That is because he does not die. Hugh Glass lives on in this perpetually unfair mortal coil while his wife, much like the indigenous people she represents, fades away. The wilderness he has soiled with his and Fitzgerald’s blood, and their petty human concerns, will also one day fade away because of Glass’ people—but Glass and his kind keep breathing.

He is a survivalist at heart, and he did not survive grizzly bears, frozen river rapids, French gunfire, and an odyssey of snow only to give up because his revenge is quenched.

Rather, Glass will keep breathing even after the credits end, even if it means he is utterly alone. He still has fight and for better or worse it’s left him as the last man standing in a storyline ultimately filled with ghosts.

What About the Real Hugh Glass?

Then again, perhaps studying the real Hugh Glass might give audiences some clues about what the ending meant for this character…. Or not.

If one gives even a cursory glance into the real life events that inspired The Revenant , the word “inspired” quickly proves key. While there was a Hugh Glass who was mauled by a grizzly bear during Gen. William Henry Ashley’s expedition of 1823 in the Dakota Territory, the details almost immediately begin to blur. For starters, instead of the frightful cold pictured in Iñárritu’s film, the attack occurred during the summer of 1823 in August. Secondly, other details are muddied, such as Thomas Fitzgerald (not John) and Jim Bridger being Glass’ pallbearers.

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Indeed, there is plenty of academic skepticism of whether the young lad who was said to have joined Fitzgerald in leaving Glass for dead was even Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), a famous mountain man in his own right. The only primary accounts of Glass’ mauling from 1823—which did indeed come after Andrew Henry’s party was attacked by Arikara (or “Ree”) Indians—belonged to James Clyman and Daniel Potts. Clyman recorded that Glass “went off of the line of march one afternoon and met with a large grissly Bear… he attempted to climb a tree but the bear caught him and hauled to the ground tearing and lacerating his body in fearful rate.”

Potts meanwhile stated, “One man was also tore nearly all to peases by a White Bear and was left by the way without any gun who afterwards recovr’d.”

While Glass most certainly did nurse himself back to health and crawled his way over some 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, it wasn’t until 1825 that the first newspaper account added the detail that not only was he left in the wilderness after the mauling, but that also two men had volunteered to wait behind and bury him, and then didn’t (Thomas Fitzgerald and an unnamed youth, as according to Philip St. Cooke’s 1830 account).

Whatever the case might be, no version of this story prior to this film includes the poetic horror of a murdered son. While Glass was certainly left for dead and unarmed after the grizzly mauling, and likely by two compatriots who lied about his passing, the creation of Hawk (Glass’ half-Pawnee son played by Forrest Goodluck in the film) was wholly invented for The Revenant . But it sure makes revenge more necessary, doesn’t it?

According to the most widely accepted version of events, Glass finished nursing himself back to health at Fort Kiowa (which he reached in part with the help of the Sioux). He then hunted Jim Bridger and Thomas Fitzgerald down to Fort Henry but only found a young Bridger there, who begged Glass’ forgiveness. Given that Bridger would have only been 19-years-old then, and that Glass blamed Fitzgerald for pressuring the young lad into abandoning him, Glass forgave Bridger. He then spent months returned to Henry’s company before following Fitzgerald to Fort Atkinson the following summer (in modern day Nebraska).

He had planned to kill Fitzgerald, but upon finding his prey had enlisted into the U.S. Army, he realized that murdering Fitzgerald would be a crime punishable by death. Ergo, he let Fitzgerald live and only demanded that the man return his Hawken rifle to him.

Glass did in fact die from a battle though… 10 years later in 1833 when he was employed as a hunter for Fort Union and was killed during a skirmish with Arikara Indians. Gen. William Henry Ashley—whom Domhnall Gleeson’s Capt. Henry is also partially based on—meanwhile, did not die in a frozen tundra during a shootout with a man named Fitzgerald (nor did the real Andrew Henry). In fact, he went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of Missouri for five years before a failed bid for the state’s governorship. He died of pneumonia in 1836.

Ultimately, The Revenant takes very little from actual history and should be viewed on its own terms: an Alejandro G. Iñárritu fever dream about clashing cultures and a cruelly beautiful natural world displaced by our own prejudices. It’s a vision so strong that it even keeps breathing after the final frame.

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This article was first published on Jan. 13, 2016.

David Crow

David Crow | @DCrowsNest

David Crow is the movies editor at Den of Geek. He has long been proud of his geek credentials. Raised on cinema classics that ranged from…


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