Quentin Tarantino reigns in the wacky in favour of technical mastery.
*The Hateful Eight features on ILT’s Top 10 Films of 2015! Find out where it ranked here.*
When Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was first announced back in late 2013, I was admittedly a little sceptical. QT’s previous flick, Django Unchained (2012), while entertaining, was an unbalanced mix of cracking but scattered performances, intercut with the steadily creeping presence of inconsistent period wackiness also prevalent in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds. The increased incorporation of Western-based influence and homage was also starting to wear a little thin. QT first experimented with heavy overtones of the genre on Kill Bill (2003), before cranking it up still further during Basterds. Finally, he produced an outright Western in the form of Django. By now I was pining for him to take on the challenge of returning to the modern day, only for him to state that, instead, he was making another Western. My response was apathetic. Thankfully however, QT doesn’t give much of a damn about which direction I, or anyone else thinks his work should go in. It’s easy to take his (deserved) creative control for granted, or to drift into the futile realm of taking him or his work too seriously, but regardless of interim opinion we always come back for more. The inner-nerd simply cannot resist.
And so it came to be with The Hateful Eight; a tale of multiple grizzled travellers stranded at a mountain pass cabin stopover by the unforgiving Wyoming winter, sometime after the Civil War. A fairly duff trailer had done little to raise the bar of expectation, but what did finally pique my interest was the promotion and discussion of the production’s technical aspects. Alongside cinematographer Robert Richardson, QT decided not only to shoot The Hateful Eight on 65 mm and avoid any and all digital intermediates, but to use Ultra Panavision 70; a collection of anamorphic lenses used to film Ben-Hur in 1959, and last used on Battle of the Bulge in 1965. Essentially, it’s a method of maxing out widescreen presentation. Due to the overwhelmingly digital nature of modern movie theatres however, a wide release using appropriate 70mm projection is no longer feasible. The result; a limited ‘roadshow’ release, allowing the film to be projected as intended before its subsequent digital release.
This 70mm release is the version I was lucky enough to see, and my word it is a triumph of technical execution. QT may be frequently criticised for his obsession with paying homage to countless cult classics of yore, but his respect for the historical art of film itself is undeniable. The poised craft present behind the camera throughout The Hateful Eight translates to a thing of genuine beauty on the big screen. QT and Richardson more than make the most of each and every wide shot, capturing the bleak landscape from a perspective one doesn’t mind lingering on. Inside the cabin containing our hateful chums, the ultra-wide viewpoint helps to convey the desired sense of paranoid claustrophobia. Faces loom, eyes tell stories, and not a single shot is wasted. Never before has turning one’s head to take in the full extent of the frame been a practice I would deem agreeable, but in this case it was actually a pleasure to do so due to the rich nature of each reel.
The content, of course, plays its part. The film’s 187 minute run time doesn’t overawe in the slightest, due in part to the welcome addition of an intermission at just the right moment to break things up a bit. Such an advantageous audience aide will no doubt be missed in multiplexes, but hopefully the all but perfect pacing will be enough to see it through. My fears of another Western circle-jerk on the part of QT were thankfully allayed also. Instead of trying oh-so-hard to be a traditional Western, The Hateful Eight is more a mystery-thriller merely set in the haunting, uncertain atmosphere of the old West. A sort of twisted love child of John Carpenter and Sergio Leone, if you will. It’s a sturdy foray into ‘who dunnit?’ territory by QT, and a welcome reminder of his ability to build tension in the face of tangent drifting dialogue and consistently sharp black humour. It’s nothing groundbreaking or even particularly original from a story or character point of view – and some of it is very Tarantino – but I would certainly label it a satisfying experience.
Aiding the process is a solid set of performances from an ensemble cast most QT fans will be familiar with. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins and Michael Madsen all return from previous ventures to ham it up QT-style, as do a fair few of the supporting players. Jennifer Jason Leigh stands out amongst the newcomers, oozing increasingly unsubtle charisma as ‘The Prisoner’, Daisy Domergue. Jackson can be a bit of an unoriginal turn off having been cast so many times by QT, but, as in Django, he proved me wrong once again with a blistering display of fuck-you-too bravado, laced with gentlemanly grandeur. Rounding things off is Ennio Morricone’s quite magnificent score, including the use of excerpts from unused tracks originally composed by Morricone for The Thing (1982). Piercing and creeping along the strings with the vibe of an 80s horror flick, Morricone creates and further ratchets up a brand of suspense wisely used sparingly in the final cut, but altogether central to the overall atmosphere of the picture.
While unlikely to blow anybody away, The Hateful Eight is QT’s most thoughtful piece of work for many a year. A lot will depend on the manner in which it is viewed. I certainly won’t judge anyone who acquires the leaked screener currently circulating online, but a lot of the mixed/negative reviews doing the rounds at the moment seem to be a direct of result of people watching it at home on a small screen. Not taking advantage of QT’s intended presentation and then moaning when you aren’t given Pulp Fiction is a pointless exercise. The Hateful Eight is by no means an earth-shattering, life-changing film experience, but it isn’t meant to be. Instead, it is simply a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience, and overall a great deal of fun. Even if you can’t make a 70mm screening (most likely the case outside North America), watching it on a regular big screen in a packed theatre with audience reaction would still be my recommendation. See ya’ll in Red Rock…