Of the five Academy-Award nominated scores this year, The Revenant was not among them. In fact, it wasn’t even on the shortlist of 100+ films from the year 2015, and it was all due to a rule in the Academy’s book that allowed The Revenant to be disqualified from the event altogether. It’s the second year in a row that a score to a film by accomplished Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu didn’t make the shortlist due to a glaring error, and it’s on the Academy to re-write the book after denying two year’s worth of some of the most invigorating (and certainly, winning) film scores in recent memory.
Iñárritu’s film is a polarizing take on the legend of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who is left for dead by his expedition team after a gruesome bear attack in the early-19th century midwest. He isn’t dead, of course, and through hell and high water does he make his way back to exact his revenge on the particular individual who tried to kill him and, worse, his son.
His journey is met with the tremendous forces of nature, as well as being tangled in the savagery of man who, no matter native or foreign, are fighting an existential battle between The New and Old Worlds. As is common in the Western genre, there is an unspoken bond between nature and man that the character must be able to identify with in order to achieve catharsis, and Glass’s character succeeds — as does the audience, who will always have an unspoken bond with the film screen. This is all consumed in Iñárritu’s masterclass of a subjective, wide-scope fine art film, who keeps the astounding visuals of nature and the intense camerawork in human war at a parallel, and they eventually meet at the center with the many sounds in Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score.
The revered experimental and classical composer, who originally won an Academy Award for his work on 1987’s Best Picture winner The Last Emperor, enlists musicians Alva Noto and Bryce Dressner to elicit the majesty of the icy, snow-capped midwest and the willpower of man’s survival as he both physically and mentally weaves between the present and the past. Sakamoto’s past work reaches its apex here, as he achieves using a multitude of world instruments and compositional transitions to imbue the glacial landscapes and dramatically affect a scene or mood — i.e. an action scene using heavier bass and a faster tempo — he creates a devastating character outcome using higher-pitched string stabs on somber keys, or he glides above the forest trees during sunset using slow builds and smokey, echo synths.
All of this, surrounded in reverb, matches the cinematic yet introspective scope that Iñárritu’s film demands, yet Sakamoto’s score works just as well on its own, delivering an aural story in sequence that’s as equally enriching. With the exception of the “Final Fight,” no track lasts longer than six minutes, and yet the record is keen to be one long composition broken into stunning movements.
The Revenant is another phenomenal film by Iñárritu, while Sakamoto delivers another phenomenal score to complement it as well as be its own entity.
As detailed above, the score is majestic to match the awe-inducing beauty of nature, meaning there is a lot of blissfully silent atmosphere, slow builds and lower registers. It pains to report, then, that a bit of the 2xLP set contains surface noise, which has a tendency to distract and take you out of that introspective experience. Side B is the worst culprit, which contains the haunting strings track “Church Dream” and the icy pads of “Glass And Buffalo Warrior Travel,” which really should require the right headspace. There is a very open bass presence, which helps add some much needed definition to the affair, but while the other sides provide some better clarity and relief from the surface noise, it’s still a bit disappointing.
Soundtrack label Milan Records has housed two LPs in a pretty stunning gatefold. The blue hues are wonderfully saturated and the photography artwork is crystal clear, as if taken from the direct stills from the film. The great work on the printing is equalled by the package’s weight, whose sturdy cardboard houses the two 180-gram vinyl in two pictured sleeves, containing information for each track.
Milan Records provides a nice little DropCard that provides you with a link to download an MP3-quality download of the album. Other than that, the 2xLP gatefold contains no other extras — that is, unless you picked up the jaw dropping, beautiful “Transparent Blue Ice/Snow White” colored limited edition set (though I do not know whether or not this is a contributing factor to the amount of surface noise). It might have been nice to find an additional booklet of production stills or more information on the film — perhaps a forward by Iñárritu or Sakamoto himself.
The Revenant is available on vinyl at Milan Records.