When the main takeaway for a movie is its aspect ratio and negative stock, you’ve got some problems.
However, that’s the predicament I find myself in following a presentation of Quentin Tarantino’s latest, “The Hateful Eight.”
My boyfriend wanted to see this one in all its glory via a special presentation only available in select cities. The exclusive 70mm Roadshow engagement is three hours and seven minutes long, with a 20-minute intermission. Not to mention, a projectionist oversees the whole experience.
Going in, I had these wild ideas about how awesome the film would be. The trailers were just so-so for me, but this was a Tarantino film and an opportunity to see a film like it would have been presented at the height of Hollywood’s powers in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. It had to be awesome, right?
“The Hateful Eight” is extremely similar to a play, which is interesting because Tarantino is reportedly hoping to write a script for the stage. I actually left the film a little confused about what exactly the 70mm did that made the film different, so I asked.
My guy explained that Ultra Panavision 70 provides a more detailed, wider image. It allows for amazing shots of sweeping landscapes and scenery.
OK, that makes sense. But, why the devil was “The Hateful Eight” shot in 70mm? The majority of the story takes place in a stagecoach or a haven for weary travelers called Minnie’s Haberdashery. There were a couple of nice, grand shots at the beginning and maybe a few throughout the film, but for the most part, the movie is focused on small interior shots.
And, the final product feels like a wasted opportunity due to these decisions. All the elements for something fantastic were there.
Tarantino has wonderful ideas. His brain is enormous and chock full of creative ideas. He’s the man who brought us films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2,” both of which I enjoyed. He’s a film nerd, just like a lot of us. And, he had this big idea to create this movie on actual film and have it played on actual projectors equipment that most theaters don’t even own nowadays as a throwback to a high point in cinematic history, when you could see actual film feeding into the projector.
And the cast was fantastic, many of whom had been featured in previous Tarantino films. It’s got so many top-tier character actors and film stars that it should have worked based solely upon their strengths.
Eight strangers are stuck in a haberdashery while they wait out a blizzard on their way to Red Rock. There’s the Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), the Hangman (Kurt Russell), the Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the Mexican (Demian Bichir), the Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), the Sheriff (Walton Goggins), the Little Man (Tim Roth) and the Confederate (Bruce Dern). They don’t trust each other, and we as the audience aren’t sure who we can trust either.
Russell’s character, John Ruth, is taking Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to be tried and hanged for murder. They have the most abusive and painful-to-watch interactions, with Ruth at one point saying, “I want us to work out a signal system of communication. Like when I elbow you real hard in the face, that means shut up.” The first time he pistol whipped her in the face, I gasped while another audience member laughed loudly.
But that’s what the story is built upon. Each of these characters is vile, and the story progresses from one uncomfortable situation to the next as we learn more about them.
The film is post-Civil War, and each character still harbors hate, prejudice and less-than-honorable intentions from that grim, bloody era that tore apart this country.
Take Goggins, for instance. His father was the leader of a Rebel band of renegades, and he doesn’t take too kindly to having to share the same air as a black man. Goggins, who might be best be known for his runs as Shane Vendrell on the FX show “The Shield” and Boyd Crowder on FX’’s “Justified,” somehow manages a careful balance between being completely horrible and somewhat likable.
But that’s the beauty of a Tarantino film. Even when the characters are dishonorable, disreputable and downright incorrigible, there still manages to be moments of levity that can sometimes trickle in. One moment Goggins’ Chris Mannix would make me shake my head in disgust, then manage to make me chuckle a few scene later.
As you can tell in this description, there are elements of “The Hateful Eight” that work beautifully. It’s a bit of a mystery at times, as we wonder where Minnie of Minnie’s Haberdashery has gone, in addition to other mysteries that must be solved as the film progresses. And it’s a story of survival, as we wonder if tensions will build to the point of (even more over-the-top) violence, or if Ruth will claim his $10,000 bounty on Daisy, or if anyone is going to make it to Red Rock at all. I can’t say too much though, or I’’ll spoil the surprises.
Unfortunately, all of those surprises and the real action of the film come after the intermission. The first half is a slow build with monologues and lots of conversation that don’t necessarily build tension or progress the story. The back half is when the proverbial crap hits the fan.
I remember I texted Weekend Editor Steve Wildsmith during intermission to tell him I was a bit bored at this film he’d already seen. He promised it would get better. I’’m not too sure if it did, and it disappoints me to say that.
“The Hateful Eight” could have been the grand epic of our time. I believe in Tarantino’s hands and head, it might have been. However, too many opportunities were squandered like the film stock.
In the end, a talented director/writer, a fantastic cast and a grandiose idea for filming just couldn’t save this one. Maybe I went in with my expectations too high, but unfortunately, Tarantino did, too.