From the outset, The Hateful Eight has been a Big Deal. Tarantino was gonna do it, but the screenplay leaked, so he wasn’t gonna do it, until there was a reading, so he was doing it again. I paid pretty much zero attention during this entire period. I figured if it was a thing that was going to happen, I was going to see it. I like Tarantino’s films, and I expected to like this one too. So even once it became a reality with trailers and the like, I pretty much ignored it. I was going to see it anyway, so why bother? I knew that it was shot on a dead format, and it was a Big Deal that Tarantino revived this 49-year-dead type of filmmaking. I knew that it was going on a road show, so that long-dead format could be shown off in all of its resurrected glory. (It’s funny to think about resurrection on Christmas, but only to someone who isn’t thinking all that hard about Christianity. Easter is the resurrection day. It’d have been funny if The Hateful Eight was released on Easter.)
I knew that it was a Western. I knew that I’m not particularly enamored of Westerns, but I did genuinely enjoy Django Unchained (as I have genuinely enjoyed other well-made Westerns), and so I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of my interest in the film.
I knew that it was called “The Hateful Eight.” I knew that it was Tarantino’s eighth movie, so that’s kind of cute, I guess, but it’s also his third to last movie (supposedly), which means it’s a Big Deal, because there’s only two left after that. I didn’t know for sure but I thought that the name might have been a callback to The Magnificent Seven. I thought maybe it would be this grand epic adventure. The use of a format that was intended to show off sweeping vistas (it’s ultrawide, and if you see it projected you’ll notice black bars at the top and bottom) would have implied as much.
But as soon as I stopped knowing things and started thinking things I got in trouble. Because The Hateful Eight isn’t what I expected at all. Instead, it’s this curious little thing that is, honestly, a whole lot more interesting.
The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Release Date: December 25, 2015 (Limited); January 6, 2015 (Wide)
I’m certainly not the first (and will absolutely not be the last) to point out how fascinating it is that The Hateful Eight was shot on Ultra Panavision 70. As I said before, this format is meant for showing vistas. It’s wide, brilliant, epic. The movie, when seen in the road show format, runs more than 3 hours including its 12 minute intermission. There’s an overture, where you listen to Ennio Morricone’s score, which may not be his best but is certainly epic enough to get you pumped up for adventure. You assume that you’re gonna see sights, particularly landscapes, that will boggle your mind. The opening shot has something of an epic feel to it. It’s Jesus (oh hi there, Christmas!) on a cross in the middle of nowhere. The shot is obscenely long, showing you very little as the credits play. You get a vista at the end of it, a pretty cool one too, and it hopes you like that vista, because you ain’t getting many more like it.
It’s a slight exaggeration to say that this is a one-location film. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say it’s a two-location movie. The majority of the film, yes, takes place in a cabin. But the first couple of chapters take place in a carriage. There are run-ins with folk outside the carriage, but everything is based on what’s within, and there are some conversations where you sit and watch two people talk, knowing that those vistas you were expecting are off to the side, but wow can’t you just see every little detail in this carriage? You’re aware of the epic look and sound – movies just aren’t like this anymore – but you’re hyper-aware of it because it just doesn’t seem to fit the material.
Here’s an intimate story about a bunch of dudes and one lady in a cabin. The lady, Jennifer Leigh, is the Important character. She’s the head of some gang, and she’s been bounty hunted by Kurt Russell. (They say “Dead or Alive,” but he likes them “Alive.”) He’s convinced people want to take her from him, since she’s worth a whole lot of money and is also the leader of a gang with plenty of people waiting to set her free. Some of the people in the cabin are on Kurt Russell’s side. Some are neutral. Some are not. At least one is indifferent to Kurt Russell but not particularly happy with Samuel L. Jackson. There’s plenty of hate to go around, and much of it is played out in Tarantino’s signature talk-y style.
Here’s the thing: If you don’t like Tarantino’s writing, you’re not going to like The Hateful Eight. You probably could have assumed that much, but it bears repeating, because this movie is absolute, unadulterated Tarantino. And how you feel about Tarantino will radically change how you perceive the effectiveness of the drama. One friend thought it was great and only periodically masturbatory, and another thought it was meh and little more than a one-man circlejerk. (How’s that possible? I dunno, but Tarantino could definitely pull it off.) I fell closer to the former than the latter, but it honestly didn’t bother me either way. I was swept up in the whole thing. With just two locations, the emphasis shifts to the actors, and Tarantino pulled in an all-star cast. Each person gets their time to shine, and all of them do. Alliances form and break, hidden motivations are revealed in spectacular fashion, and it’s just generally full of wonderful intrigue. I can see why there was a reading of this script, because it would be cool as hell even without all of the extra stuff going on.
Well, that’s true for the first half. After the intermission, the film changes. It begins with voiceover, something you don’t see in the first half, and it’s bloodsoaked, the way Tarantino’s movies often are. But it’s also when the Big Reveals all take place, and boy are there some interesting ones. This is a film that begs for repeat viewings, because a whole lot of things happen that you realize in retrospect were telegraphed in fantastic ways. It makes you want to go back and see those things as they happen and then catch all the ones you missed. It’s all this big, interconnected jumble of actions, and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
It’s also imperfect, but in ways that ultimately don’t matter. If you’re a fan of Tarantino, you should see the movie. If you aren’t but live in one of the selected cities, consider the Road Show version anyway, because the whole experience is Worth It. If you’re not a fan and don’t live in one of those cities, though, you shouldn’t bother. This will not be the movie to change your mind about him and his work. This is typical Tarantino. I like that. I enjoyed it. And I’m going to see it again. I don’t think that anything else needs to be said.