THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson,
Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth,
Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.76:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Two featurettes
Length: 168 Minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2016
“No one said this job was supposed to be easy.”
“Nobody said it's supposed to be that hard, either.”
Has Quentin Tarantino been on a bit of down slide lately?
I had this discussion with my wife yesterday after nestling in for his latest (and possibly longest) film, The Hateful Eight. It was well-casted and lovingly shot in 70mm Super Panavision, making the ratio of the screen a super-wide 2.76:1 as opposed to modern standard widescreen of 2.35:1, meaning this movie is as wide as Ben-Hur was in the day.
It's the latest self-indulgence for Tarantino, who has always been a walking lexicon of movie history. This was his newest blast back to the past. Some of those, in recent years, like the old “feature presentation” and “coming attraction” reels, the grain and grit of the prints, bits of throwback music and more have been fun for audiences.
Here, the results look beautiful, but...who has actually seen a Super Panavision presentation of this movie? Theatres just aren't equipped to display movies this wide, much less project them. How much expense and time was added to the making of the movie to construct cameras who could use these 60 year old lenses, developing the film stock that could support it...all for something very few will ever see?
Which brings me back to my talk with my wife. We both agree: The Hateful Eight is the most gorgeous looking Tarantino picture to date. The details in the shots and the construction are masterful. The problem is, QT seemed to fall so in love with the look he was getting for his film that he forgot about giving us interesting characters and a story worthy of them. At nearly three hours, we started to fidget every time Quentin seemed to be stretching shots out longer than necessary, or lingering for extra moments over shots of horses in motions or scenery. It was like every so often he called out for everything just to stop so he could admire his own view. In other words, this is a long movie that didn't need to be that long.
The Eight of the title start with John Ruth (Russell), a bounty hunter on his way to bring the murderess Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to justice, but with a blizzard on the way, he reluctantly stops his stagecoach to pick up fellow bounty hunter and former U.S. Army major Marquis Warren (Jackson). The group grows by one again when they pick up Chris Mannix (Goggins), a one-time member of a marauding Confederate group who now claims to be the new sheriff of the town Ruth is going to. Tensions between Mannix and Warren are naturally high right off the bat.
When they reach Minnie's Haberdashery, a store oddly enough with no hats, they meet up with the Mexican Bob (Bichir), who claims to be running the place in Minnie's absence, Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), a Brit who claims to be the new hangman, Joe Gage (Madsen), a quiet cowboy, and General Sandy Smithers (Dern), a Confederate general who, like Warren, still wears the uniform.
It's an intriguing group, that by Tarantino's own admission, he wanted to bring together to see what would happen. Sadly, not a lot actually happens, at least nothing that doesn't seem forced, almost like it was written by a bad Tarantino imitator. There is meant to be a mystery at some point when characters start to die, but in order to call attention to it, Tarantino appears out of nowhere to offer actual narration to make sure we understand a key element of the plot. Can you imagine if he had done that in Pulp Fiction? “Okay, now we're going back a few days, before Vincent was killed by Butch...”
Then, there's some predictability...we don't know exactly what, but we know at some point, another shoe is going to drop. Why? Because a lot more actors were shown in the opening credits than have appeared on screen for the first half of the movie. Sure enough, like a bad magician, we reach a point where everything stops, we switch gears, and are told “here's what's REALLY going on in the story”. It felt like a cheap parlor trick rather than Tarantino's usual brilliant mastery of timelines.
So, back to our original question: has Quentin Tarantino been on a slide? Inglorious Basterds was a good movie, and one I still like to watch from time to time, but one that for me was decidedly a little less than everything else he had made up to that point. Still, as my DMC comrade Gordon correctly pointed out, lesser Tarantino is still better than most other filmmakers at their best.
Then came Django Unchained, which seemed like an explosion of relapse for a recovering addict. For two prior movies, Tarantino had all but avoided the “n” word, which had been a frequent subject of controversy for him, and this movie seemed like he was making up for all the time away, in addition to seeming to show an almost fetishism for brutality.
Now, with The Hateful Eight, it's all about wallowing in pure ugliness. We're told that Domergue is a murderess, but that doesn't make it pleasant to see her constantly beaten, her teeth knocked out, vomited on and so forth. Other bits of violence are over the top and hard to believe, such as the finale (which I won't give away) in which two weakened men perform a near impossible task, involving a weapon that appeared out of nowhere, and how could they even have assembled it? And a story of one character telling another about how he killed his son in the most humiliating and awful way imaginable is just adding complete misanthropy to the misogyny.
And yet, there's the filming...shots again are so beautifully constructed, with gorgeous landscapes and gritty interiors, and masterful framing scene after scene. Why, though? Was the purpose to mash the beauty of the technique with the ugliness of the action and the nihilism of the story? If so, what was QT trying to say?
The answer, my wife and I agreed on, was probably nothing. The Hateful Eight really is just a talented filmmaker indulging in pushing two extremes to their farthest edges simply because he could.
If I haven't already made it clear enough, this is a stunningly beautiful film that looks glorious in high definition, and framed correctly for the widescreen most never saw in theatres. Every detail of 70mm shows brightly here, from the individual flakes of snow in long shots to even the stirring of dust in the interiors. Much of the film takes place in low lit settings, but there is no grain or compression evident, thanks to the space offered by Blu-ray. Color schemes are much closer together than normal, but still every shade is distinct, and every detail is as crisp as I've seen. It will be hard for another release to top this disc in this department this year.
I almost forgot to mention Tarantino's other throwback in this film: the score by legendary Ennio Morricone. The score is one of the other treats of the movie, apart from the visuals, and once again, this Blu-ray delivers the sweep and spectacle with a potent and dynamic DTS HD track. From the silent moments to the all-out fury, the uncompressed surround delivers remarkably, and even though the dialogue gets very quiet from time to time, I never missed a word. Highest marks.
The only extras are a very short behind-the-scenes featurette, and another featurette on 70mm, which is actually kind of interesting (but short).
The Hateful Eight is a great Blu-ray, but a puzzling misstep of a movie from a great director. Watch it for the amazingly indulgent but beautiful visuals, but don't be surprised if you end up joining my wife and me in thinking that Quentin Tarantino really needs to go back to basics for his next project.