Like many others, I have something of a love/hate relationship with Quentin Tarantino. Actually it’s more a love/whatever relationship. I admire him enormously as a film-maker, but he does have missteps and I don’t worship the feet he walks on. I’ve not actually yet seen his previous film, Django Unchained!
I say this to put some perspective on this review. I wanted to go and see The Hateful Eight in its 70mm Ultra Panavision print because such things are incredibly rare – around 100 screens globally are getting this version. 1966’s Khartoum was the last film shot in this format, with a super-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio.
In the UK, I believe that only the Odeon Leicester Square is set-up to show a film in this format, with a capacity of nearly 1700 (this is now nearly 1000 more than the nearby Empire which has been recently sub-divided. Although the BFI IMAX has a bigger screen, the Odeon Leicester Square has by far the largest capacity in the UK. So this is the place to watch a film on this scale. (From reports, it seems that the distributor EFD, fell out with Cineworld and its sibbling the Picturehouse chain, and the Curzon group, over the Odeon getting an exclusive 70mm showing. So they’re not showing the film at all, even when the digital print is made available to all distributors. That seems petty and petulant.)
As well as being a film print, the “roadshow” version we were seeing included an overture of music composed by Ennio Morricone, a twelve minute intermission, and around six minutes’ more footage than the multiplex version. In total then, the runtime of the 70mm print is 187 minutes compared with 167 minutes for the multiplex print.
But what about the film?
Well I thought it was great fun. The camera pans slowly across a snow-covered Wyoming (in fact, it was shot in Colorado), and reveals a stage coach carrying John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – being brought in for the bounty. They meet Samuel L Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren who has his own dead men he too has collected for the bounty, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who says he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock – the town they’re all heading towards. The coach is trying to out-run an oncoming blizzard, and the group finds refuge in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a remote outpost where tired travellers can break their journeys, get a meal and get their horses fed and watered.
The film is divided into six chapters, the intermission coming after the first three, and the film ripples with Tarantino’s trademark dialogue. This is a very funny film.
But things begin to go wrong in the Haberdashery, where much of the film’s action takes place, as everyone gets suspicious of everybody else’s motives. Another stage coach has already arrived there, and its occupants are also deeply suspicious.
It does obviously reference Reservoir Dogs where somebody was the informant, and the casting of Tim Roth and Michael Madsen is likely to be very deliberate. Nobody trusts anybody else.
To say much more would be a shame. But it’s a lovely piece that plays out with a cast that loves chewing on the dialogue they’re given. Tim Roth plays an Englishman, Oswaldo Mobray, who’s plummy voice and behaviours leave everyone laughing. Leigh basically growls throughout the whole film, and Goggins is superb, really standing out on the big screen after so much superb work on television.
The film gets quite gruesome at times, but it never takes itself too seriously, and the set is designed in such a way as to make full use of the widescreen frame. There’s nothing new here, and there obvious comparisons with some of Sergio Leone’s work.
We get a flashback sequence, and even a voiceover by Tarantino himself at one point. But I found this all to work well with the structure of the film, and didn’t get pulled out of it.
A number of people have complained about the length, but even though it’s a bit over three hours, I actually didn’t find it too long. Because we got a twelve minute intermission (seat yourself near an exit at the Odeon Leciester Square if you want to make good use of this), it actually really helps. And at a time when people binge multiple episodes of TV shows, three hours isn’t much of a stretch if the film is this good. I recently saw 2001 A Space Odyssey at the NFT, and that too retained Kubrick’s intermission, although in that instance it wasn’t observed and the film continued immediately. I would imagine cinema chains should be happy with the idea too since it gives them another bite of the lucrative concessions “cherry.”
It’s great to hear another Ennio Morricone score on this film. Tarantino still uses cues from other films, as he’s always done, but this is the first time he’s actually had an original composition written for his work, and it’s to be welcomed. Even though he is now 87 he doesn’t really slow down. He has recently scored a French drama released a couple of months ago, and an upcoming Italian film with Jeremy Irons. And he has a series of upcoming arena tour dates around Europe. (I’m very tempted by the O2, but those ticket prices!)
However I should add that I subsequently bought the soundtrack and unlike previous Tarantino soundtracks I don’t think that including sometimes quite long pieces of dialogue amidst the tracks and Morricone’s cues, really works in this instance. I imagine that I’ll be skipping those elements quite a lot during repeat listens.
Returning to the film’s format – most of the films shot previously in Ultra Panavision have been “epics”, but this is undoubtedly a chamber piece. Indeed a clever producer could probably get a good stage play out of this material. Let’s not forget that a live reading was indeed presented for an audience before the film was shot.
But the film is very good, and well worth seeing – especially in a big 70mm print if you have the chance.