The Hateful Eight’s premise is simple, a bunch of unlikable, mean-spirited thugs have to spend a period of time together under the same roof. A situation that I am immediately familiar with after spending Christmas with my extended family, “no racist Uncle Oliver, I don’t believe killing all the Muslims would solve the job crisis, can you please pass the peas?”
After telling a Jewish revenge story set during WW2 in Inglorious Basterds and tackling the horrors of slavery in Django Unchained, I do have to admire the tenacity of Quentin Tarantino to set most of his movie within the one cabin. I imagine he had to talk the Weinstein brothers down from a ledge after the initial pitch of; “I want to make a three hour period cowboy movie that takes place almost entirely in a lodge in rural Wyoming. Oh and also there is no hero, and every character is despicable to at least some degree. Fifty million dollars please.”
’A bunch of untrustworthy strangers stuck together’, could be a one sentence summary of Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs, and it is true that the two often mirror each other. The same actors, the same dialogue driven plot and the same tendency for random violent acts. The main thing that’s sets them apart is 25 years of Tarantino maturing as an artist. While in Reservoir Dogs we may have seen flashes of weird brilliance, The Hateful 8 has his unique manic style on display from start to finish.
Strangely enough another film that The Hateful 8 bears similarity to is The Thing. Both are set in an isolated cold location, both use distrust as a mechanic to drive the plot, both star Kurt Russell and both have a score by Ennio Morricone. In fact Morricone reworked some of his unused songs from The Thing into the Hateful 8’s score, with the result being one of the year’s best (semi) original soundtracks as well as a knowing wink to the audience. In fact, major elements of the movie play out as a nod to the audience, with the threat of breaking the fourth wall at times. The closest it comes is when the narrator (voiced by Quintin himself) comes in around the halfway point to fill in background details and to recontextualize past events.
Another choice out of left field was to shoot in Ultra Panavision 70mm film (the first movie to do so since 1966) and have a limited release in cinemas that could handle the old format. Depending on your experiences this is going to either be a brilliant choice by an auteur genius or a wanky gimmick from an egotist. Personally besides the unfamiliar aspect ratio and the slight imperfections that you don’t get from digital projection I failed to notice a difference that would justify the hassle. I was however chatting with someone who grew up with the old format and to them it was a nostalgic throwback to their youth. I will re-watch the film in digital projection and update here as to whether my thoughts have changed greatly. One reason to definitely see the 70mm cut is that it is twenty minutes longer with some added scenes as well as an overture and intermission.
The overture provides a “non-visual way of setting the mood using only the music” as was said by the loud dickhead behind me to his girlfriend- destroying the mood that was supposed to be set by the overture in the same waybeetroot destroys a bride’s perfect day. That being said, I do appreciate that the overture does have some artistic merit by allowing the director to cultivate an atmosphere within the cinema, while the intermission has practical merit by allowing me to take a piss halfway through.
The greatest complaint that can be levelled against the film is that it is just another Quentin Tarantino film. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do feel like I have seen this magic trick before. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar; a persecuted person extracting revenge, bouts of extended conversation punctuated by over the top violence, anachronistic music choices (I doubt The White Stripes were around in the 1860’s) and cast members with the surnames: Russell, Roth, Madsen and Jackson. My dog can get really excited for the same food every day; however I feel I need more variety. I hope Tarantino’s next film is either set in contemporary times or is a genre that he has never tackled before. That being said, The Hateful 8 is the most fun you can currently have in a cinema without resorting to the popcorn trick.