It was a simple enough premise, but its execution was anything but. In 2011, acclaimed director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel) signed on to bring famed American frontiersman Hugh Glass's story of survival to the silver screen in The Revenant. But what started as a simple story about one man's road to redemption quickly transformed into one of the most complicated and arduous cinematic productions of all time. It also may be the best movie hitting theatres this holiday season, if not the year.
Before The Revenant charges into theatres across Canada on January 8, we've scoured the web to find our ten favourite facts about the making of this monumental movie.
Check out the list and stream the trailer for the movie at the bottom of the page.
1. Some of modern Hollywood's most famous male actors have been tied to the film.
Since development began in 2001, Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Bale and Sean Penn have each had connections to the project (the latter of whom had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Tom Hardy).
2. Iñárritu wasn't the first person chosen to direct the movie.
After the rights were sold to bring the Michael Punke novel of the same name to the silver screen, the first filmmaker tied to the director's chair was acclaimed Korean auteur Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), but he decided to leave the project when pre-production started to drag on for too long. Australian director John Hillcoat (The Road) and Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precinct 13) were also on track to direct, but thankfully, Iñárritu signed on officially in 2011.
3. Leonardo DiCaprio was cast to play the role of Hugh Glass partly because of his environmentalism.
Back in July, DiCaprio drew the ire of a few global warming naysayers by claiming that the world's pollution was part of the reason why filming for The Revenant was delayed (more on that below). But it's that exact outspoken stance on environmental issues that attracted Iñárritu to the actor.
"Leo responded incredibly well to the historical context of this film and what it means for him personally, regarding the connection with nature," said Iñárritu at the 2015 Produced By: New York Conference. "All the elements coincided to make Leo the best choice. And we were right — he delivers something that people will be incredibly surprised and moved by."
4. Don't expect DiCaprio to talk much during the film.
Following a bear attack in the movie (which can be seen in the trailer), DiCaprio spends much of the film saying almost nothing.
"It was a different type of challenge for me," DiCaprio told Chris Connelly of the now-defunct Grantland back in July. "It's something that I really wanted to investigate — playing a character that says almost nothing. How do you relay an emotional journey and get in tune with this man's angst… without words?"
"That's for me the essence of cinema," Iñárritu added. "Not to rely on the words, but images and emotions."
5. DiCaprio started axe-throwing competitively during the shoot.
As part of the film's preparation, actors were taught the ways of 19th century outdoorsmen, like shooting flintlock rifles, throwing tomahawks and skinning beavers. Clay Landry, a historian for the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming, was the man hired to get the job done, but quickly found the film's lead was already self-sufficient in the art of axe-throwing.
"Leo, Dom[hnall Gleeson], and the others got a little $20 bet going," Landry told Men's Journal Magazine. "Leo took their money." The actor had been trained to throw more than a decade earlier while doing Gangs of New York.
6. DiCaprio broke his vegetarianism by taking a bite of raw cow's liver during filming.
Compromise is the name of the game when it comes to having a manageable shoot. So when the props department brought a fake liver out for DiCaprio to chomp into in one scene where he's sharing a dead buffalo with another actor, the star requested the real thing and was handed a cow's liver instead.
"The gelatin one didn't look right to me. It wasn't bleeding the right way when I was biting into it," DiCaprio told Men's Journal Magazine. "[They] threw me the real one, and you'll see my reaction in the film; Alejandro kept it in."
7. Tom Hardy had to drop out of Suicide Squad in order to finish the movie.
Originally meant to be shot in just six months, warm weather in the Canadian wilderness (as well as Iñárritu's decision to shoot the film chronologically) caused filming to last for an extra three months, leading Hardy to remove himself from production for the upcoming DC Comics movie Suicide Squad. Joel Kinnaman was hired on to play his role.
8. Filming was delayed due to (and you won't believe this) a lack of snow in Alberta.
For many, filming The Revenant would be one of the coldest shoots of their career for both cast and crew (the film was shot primarily a couple hours outside of Calgary in the dead of winter).
"Every day was a battle for myself and a lot of other people not to get hypothermia," DiCaprio told Men's Journal Magazine about the shoot, describing scenes that were halted due to cold camera gear, as well as actors' lips and eyes being frozen shut.
But when they needed snow the most, it was nowhere to be found.
"It was the warmest winter in 35 years in Calgary, so we ran out of snow in places," said producer Steve Golin at the 2015 Produced By: New York Conference this past fall. "Ultimately, the snow issue became a really big problem we couldn't solve in Canada, or even in the Western hemisphere."
The team would have to travel all the way to the southern tip of Argentina to find enough snow to shoot the film's final scenes.
9. Green screen was never an option for Iñárritu.
Ever since shooting began, The Revenant has been described as one of the hardest, most laborious and frustrating projects for cast and crew alike, partly due to its remote shooting locations in the Canadian wilderness and the intense cold that goes along with it. (In a recent interview with Wired, DiCaprio called it "the most difficult film I've ever done.") Although using computer-generated effects may have been easier, Iñárritu said it was out of the question from the get-go.
"If we ended up in green screen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit," he told the Hollywood Reporter back in July. "When you see the film, you will see the scale of it. And you will say, 'Wow.'"
10. It was shot using only natural light.
Making a move using only natural light isn't new (Stanley Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott made it seem possible for a whole new generation of filmmakers with 1975's Barry Lyndon). Still, it's not like it's widely encouraged by studios due to time and financial constraints.
That didn't stop Iñárritu and award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki (Birdman) from deciding to shoot the film strictly using natural light.
Given that filming took place in remote locations in the Canadian wilderness in the middle of winter, that meant each and every shot had to be precise, and outside of the sun, the only light sources they were able to use had to have existed pre-the film's 1823 setting (think kerosene lamps, torches and candles).
"To pull off these complicated sequences, like a ballet, movement needed to be precise," DiCaprio told Grantland. "When it came down to that nail-biting moment to capture that magic light, every day was like putting on a mini-piece of theater. If we lost that one hour, if we didn't accomplish what we had to accomplish, we were there the next day."
Lubezki would go on to call it one of the most complicated movie's he's ever done.
The Revenant is released nationwide on January 8. Until then, tide yourself over by watching the trailer.