Quentin Tarantino simply put, “gets it.” Not just a great filmmaker who ranks at the top of any list of the best of them, this writer/director is a true film fan, too. So when he set out to make his eighth film, Quentin Tarantino doesn’t let a leaked script draft get him down. He takes it up a notch by not only shooting it in a format rarely seen in the last half-century, but he also takes it for a spin with a good ole fashioned roadshow.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) gives us a Reconstruction era whodunnit in glorious Ultra Panavision 70 mm format. Everything old is new again for Tarantino (and us) when he gives a retro fit to his story of what happens when a bounty hunter, a hangman and a prisoner get snowed in along with others in a blizzard along the stagecoach trail in rustic Wyoming. Like other films shot in this beautiful screen experience like BEN-HUR (1959) and IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963), he wanted to present his latest film in the widest cinematic experience (aspect ratio of 2.76 to 1) to a limited number of screens across the country just prior to its wide release, even including a musical ‘Overture’ and ‘Intermission.’
I even heard tale of a special program souvenir*, just for the lucky roadshow attendees. Just when I didn’t think I could possibly be one of those lucky few as I am located smack-dab in the middle of the country, far from what is typically a ‘chosen city’ for such engagements, lo and behold we found a participating theater a mere 30 miles from our town. This is again thanks to the unique and strategic planning of Mr. Quentin Tarantino and Weinstein Co. distribution.
Unlike such roadshow engagements of the decades past which only targeted the very biggest of select cities, this time the roadshow was expanded up to one hundred theaters. Which undoubtedly was a hefty expense to equip and train projectionists to this rare 70mm technology for all the locations not already fitted. (I imagine this would be needed for quite a few of them). But just imagine how this additional expense has now benefited these venues for future filmmakers to hopefully continue this idea?
Now back to that HATEFUL EIGHT. I promise not to give away major spoilers here. Like other QT films, this one certainly did not disappoint. It possesses the same masterful storytelling, colorful characters, distinct style, a splendid score, and a signature wealthy dose of violence. And he slows down the pace just enough so we can get cozy with this snowed-in tale.
What’s fascinating about Tarantino’s choice for that antique lens of Ultra Panavision, most of the film is not of exterior shots (although the exterior scenes filmed about 30 miles outside of Telluride are truly stunning with that ultra wide screen). Instead, most of the film takes place in a single room, with some inside a stagecoach. In other words, for a film that could easily convert into a stage play, it’s incredibly intimate. For a super wide format, it’s almost claustrophobic to get so chummy with your characters. This closeness snugly builds tension yet keeps the mystery taut.
In addition to the unraveling story that unfolds like an Agatha Christy mystery peppered with enough brutal moments to make SCARFACE blush, the musical score is also a compelling feature that cannot be ignored. Leave it to Tarantino to convince the one and only Ennio Morricone to compose the theme song and original score. Yes, the same legendary composer to create iconic sounds from those legendary spaghetti westerns for Sergio Leone. Morricone hasn’t done a western score in decades (even though I don’t think I’d label this film as a western, per say). Due to time constraints, Morricone created the theme, nearly half-hour of original score, plus he added some unused material he originally created for THE THING (1982). It’s an appropriate choice considering the isolation of the winter blizzard and the haunting tone of the unraveling mysteries.
I’d be remiss to not address the choices and performances of this cast, as QT’s films are known for their unique characters portrayed adeptly by each purposeful actor choice. It’s nice to see one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood, Samuel L. Jackson take the lead in this latest Quentin Tarantino vehicle. They’ve partnered together on six films and it’s no secret that the brotherly love and respect is there. Jackson’s performance is strong as Maj. Marquis Warren, the bounty hunter. He keeps us guessing and that’s exactly what his character needs to do. Kurt Russell is perfectly suited as ‘the hangman’ John Ruth. Beyond his bigger-than-life characterization, his facial hair is practically a role in itself.
Both Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray, ‘the little man’ and Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, ‘the sheriff’ are unforgettable, quirky and entertaining for comical relief. Before I describe ‘the prisoner’ Daisy Domergue, I must confess my bias in regards to Jennifer Jason Leigh that will likely be unpopular. I just don’t like her. Ever since FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), I’ve consistently found her to be unattractively and annoyingly unappealing. But here she plays a part where my bias works out. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Daisy is a very unlikable, annoying and unattractive character. I’ve never thought she wasn’t a good actress though. So yes, I’ve finally witnessed the perfect role for JJL. (I’ll expect the hate mail to start pouring in now.) The rest of the cast is equally great and I loved seeing Bruce Dern (as Gen. “Sandy” Smithers aka ‘the confederate’) continuing to work his magic, following his career resurgence after NEBRASKA (2013).
While many would describe this film as a western, I hesitate to do so after screening it because that category is too limiting. I think of it as more of a suspenseful mystery, taking place in the Reconstruction era along the Overland Trail in southern Wyoming. When I think of a western I think of a protagonist of moral fortitude pitted against one or several evil-doers. But as the title alludes, perhaps it’s all eight characters that possess a ‘hateful’ edge of antagonism and not so much of the protagonistic nature.
Ultimately, it’s all of these factors- the story, the cast, the music, the characters, the cinematography, and even the special attention to details like the roadshow experience combined- plus Tarantino’s writing that will make THE HATEFUL EIGHT a fan favorite and a timeless classic to come. I for one am grateful that Quentin Tarantino is not just a solid filmmaker, but a true film fan in the classic sense.
*(By the way, I never got that special program.)