The release of a new film from Quentin Tarantino is always a major event. Over seven distinct and acclaimed films, he’s asserted himself a place as one of the most beloved filmmakers in history. However, his eighth film, ‘The Hateful Eight’, seemed to leave some audiences disappointed. It wasn’t badly received, but the film was criticised for its length and apparent lack of purpose. It seemed to be the same tricks Tarantino has always pulled, and audiences were apparently getting tired of them. That might have been the general consensus, but my own personal response was the complete opposite - not only did I absolutely love ‘The Hateful Eight’ from beginning to end, it might be one of my favourite Tarantino films.
The set-up is beautifully simple - a group of men and one woman are trapped in a remote building in the middle of a blizzard in Wyoming just after the Civil War. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter taking outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to hang. Trapped in Minnie’s Haberdashery with them are seven other men, and Ruth is convinced that one of them - possibly more - are there to free Daisy. The problem is, he has no idea which man it is.
Tarantino’s narrative is basically an Agatha Christie mystery, but the screenplay is bolstered by his usual cavalcade of terrific characters and whip-cracking dialogue. ‘The Hateful Eight’ really isn’t more than that on the page, just a simple story with great characters intended to entertain. The commentary that underlay ‘Inglorious Basterds’ (2009) and ‘Django Unchained’ (2012) is nowhere to be found; there doesn’t appear to be any hidden message in the film, which for its enormous length and detail seems to work against the film. This isn’t unusual for Tarantino though - his films have always been about great characters and dialogue first, films like ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) almost devoid of narrative entirely.
He’s up to his usual tricks in ‘The Hateful Eight’, and they still have the freshness they’ve always had, but what makes this film so extraordinary are the new tricks he employs. ‘The Hateful Eight’ is a spectacular piece of filmmaking, easily the most cinematic work he’s ever done. By using Ultra Panavision 70, he and cinematographer Robert Richardson offer breathtaking visuals, whether they be the epic landscape of the untamed west or the cramped interiors of the Haberdashery. The frame is wide and the image is deep, like you’re watching a lost classic of the 60s resurrected. By keeping the action to (mostly) a single location, it gives Tarantino clarity and focus that recalls the early explosive energy he showed in the similar ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992), but here we see a filmmaker in control of his faculties, leaving indulgence behind and focusing on the specifics of character and situation, all of which he does so with great surety.
He also assembles a superb ensemble, which also includes Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and James Parks. However, as great as they all are (especially Russell and Jason Leigh), the film belongs to Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, the only man Ruth can trust. This is career-defining, awards-worthy work from Jackson, arguably his finest performance yet, and one that reminds you of his enormous talent. Every moment he appears on screen is electric, and during the film’s more operatic and preposterous moments, his thorough understanding of Tarantino’s style and approach allow them to land beautifully.
What caps the entire film off though is Ennio Morricone’s jaw-dropping score. Rather than taking the obvious route, he has composed one of the great horror film scores of our time, and even though ‘The Hateful Eight’ is far from the genre, the contrast that comes with the marrying of image and score is spectacular, making an already enormous movie feel truly epic. Despite composing over 500 scores, 87-year-old Morricone won his first ever Oscar for 'The Hateful Eight', and even though it was an honour long overdue, it was also thoroughly deserved. It is a masterpiece.
Does Tarantino's eighth film show the director stepping out of his comfort zone? Not particularly. Is it an overly original idea? Not so much. And yet I found myself totally hypnotised by this film from beginning to end.
Does Tarantino's eighth film leave you with any significant comment on the human condition? Not really. Does it show Quentin Tarantino stepping out of his comfort zone? Not particularly. Is it an overly original idea? Not so much. And yet I found myself totally hypnotised by this film from beginning to end. It has all the best hallmarks of Tarantino’s work, but executed with a maturity that pushes his craft to another level. Perhaps most important of all though, I found 'The Hateful Eight' endlessly and wildly entertaining. It might not be particularly profound, but it’s a cracking story told damn well - and sometimes that’s all you want. I’ll be happily stepping into Minnie’s Haberdashery man more times in the future.
PICTURE & SOUND
I was pretty excited to check out this film in high definition, considering it was shot on 65mm, and I’m happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint. The 1080p 2.75:1 transfer looks absolutely stunning, crystal clear and brimming with detail, but still retaining the natural grain and depth that comes with shooting on film. Of course it doesn’t have the same pop that it would on 70mm stock, and some of the colours are a bit richer than they were at the cinema, but overall there’s not much to fault. The same can be said of the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. The dialogue comes across beautifully (very important in a Tarantino film) and the score sounds rich and full, always present but never drowning out the dialogue.
Unfortunately, the version included on this disc is the Theatrical Version, which loses the Overture, Intermission and a few extra minutes that were included in the 70mm Roadshow Version. They might not sound like a huge loss, but without them, you do lose some of the vintage theatricality that Tarantino so carefully crafted.
Apart from the lack of the Roadshow Version, the other major disappointment with this release is the extras. ‘Beyond the Eight: A Behind the Scenes Look’ (4:58) is a woefully short and shallow behind-the-scenes look at the film, nowhere near enough time to dig into such a fascinating film, and ‘Sam Jackson’s Guide to Glorious 70mm’ (7.49) is a good-natured introduction from Jackson and Tarantino to the 70mm Roadshow format, which seems odd considering that isn’t included on this disc. Hopefully the lack of extras means a more substantial special edition is on its way, with both versions and more extra material. For now, this just doesn’t feel good enough.