Birdman may have fired both Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to Oscar glory last year, but the creative pairing aren’t known for resting on their laurels. After crafting an intricate and hyper-kinetic drama in the controlled environment of a theatre play, Iñárritu and Lubezki set their sights on the American frontier, ultimately hatching the nascent idea for The Revenant.
In the build-up to release, we’ve seen a slew of featurettes that spotlight the bone-chilling conditions that the actors, director and crew persevered, with both Iñárritu and Lubezki shunning studio lighting to capture the raw beauty of nature as intended. Of course, that spawned reports of unrest in the camp, and when production delays threatened to derail The Revenant, it seemed as though the filmmaker was beginning to lose control of this most ambitious feature.
That’s not so far away from the truth as you imagine. As Iñárritu reveals in a frank interview with The Wrap, capturing The Revenant using his atypical methods proved to be “very demanding and very rigorous,” though he notes that everyone involved in the production knew of the challenges that lay ahead long in advance.
“Anybody that signed up for this film knew where we were going. Some of them feel uncomfortable about it. We were extremely high, and shooting too long, and not in the comfortable zone that they were used to — so yeah, it was very demanding, very rigorous, and not for everybody. Compared to “Birdman,” that was a completely controlled environment. Some films, you know that you own them. They can be good or bad and they can have conflicts, but they go into a box of some predictable kind of results. This was a fucking animal on another planet — a big canvas with no frame. It could go anywhere. And that is scary.”
When the going got tough, Iñárritu admitted that filming extensive battle sequences in chronological order was no mean feat – “It almost killed me.” Despite all this, he remains very proud of the finished product even after such trials and tribulations.
Yeah, I’m very proud of it. There’s absolutely nothing that I kept in my pockets — that’s all that I’ve got to give. It almost killed me, too.
I think it’s a very ambitious film. It was always conceived with high standards, and it was maybe a very crazy, irresponsible idea to have made. And I never expected it to be as challenging as it was in reality. But having survived it, maybe having died and been reborn many times during the shooting, I feel extraordinarily proud.
The Revenant is due to open in select theaters on Christmas Day, but will Iñárritu’s most ambitious feature yet be recognized by the Academy early next year? Time will tell.