<< - - - ----- CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ----- - - - >>
There are a number of lessons to be learned from Quentin Tarantino's new film, for audiences, for filmmakers in general and for Mr Q specifically. The first film to be shot in the Ultra Panavision 70 format since Khartoum, a film which is only slightly younger than I am, and released with an overture and an intermission as an exclusive Roadshow Presentation complete with a souvenir brochure, it's as much an attempt to revive a style of movie exhibition as The Grindhouse Project was to bring a nostalgic flush to those of us who at least like the idea of grubby fleapits running triple bills of trash and sleaze. And probably equally doomed, sadly. Still, we can all learn from the experience....
For us audiences, the main lesson to take home is that cinema rules, and the bigger the better. If you're watching The Hateful Eight on your tablet or your phone, then you're really not watching it: a home viewing is as pitiful a substitute for the Full Quentin as a battered VHS pan-and-scan tape of Suspiria is of the Full Dario. (That's even if you've paid for it, which at this point you haven't - so if you're watching a pirated stream, then you should gouge your eyes out in shame, you pathetic scum, because you don't deserve them.) In the full, insanely wide 2.76 aspect ratio that only a proper cinema can offer, even a substantial TV system isn't going to match up. You're cheating yourself, so get your backside to the biggest screen you can find. It's worth it. Secondly, we should accept the value of films aimed at adults: The Hateful Eight is a mainstream film going out to national cinemas with an 18 certificate and there's no question that the film thoroughly deserves it for gore, violence, swearing and racial slurs. Films for grownups, rather than dim teenagers, should be encouraged and the red 18 should be a badge of pride.
As for filmmakers: film trumps digital, both for shooting and for projection. I watched The Hateful Eight on 70mm on the massive screen at the Odeon Leicester Square (even if I was nine rows back in the balcony) and it looked fantastic, partly because it's shot on proper film rather than digital. Digital can look great, and sometimes it's so good you can't tell it's not celluloid, but there's something real about film that just doesn't translate into pixels and strings of binary code on a hard drive. I know digital is cheaper, and admittedly most films don't need it, but it just looks and feels so damn good on screen. Hire a good DP who knows what he's doing with lenses and filters and lights because he (or she) will turn even a sequence of half a dozen people arguing in a shack into something visually rich and exciting. While you're at it, hire a composer (such as Ennio Morricone, making a long-overdue return to American movies) who knows how to write for an orchestra rather than a bank of drones and drum machines, and who can convey moods with melodies and harmonies rather than ambient hums and thuds. These people might cost, but they're worth their corn because they will elevate your film.
The other thing I took away from The Hateful Eight is the sense that Quentin Tarantino really needs to learn the value of brevity. The Hateful Eight runs 167 or 187 minutes, allowing for the intermission and overture, and some slight editing between release versions, and certainly in the first chunk there's anything up to half an hour that could be lopped out to no ill effect. Tarantino is one of those directors who doesn't have the guiding hand of a producer or a test audience to suggest he trim it down a bit, and perhaps he should because the good stuff tends to get a bit diluted by the verbiage (see also Death Proof's action-to-prattle ratio). It may be good verbiage, but it gets in the way and there were stretches in Act One when I was actually getting a little bit bored and that's something I never thought I'd say about a Tarantino film. I'd also like to suggest he cut back on the N-word which is tossed liberally back and forth throughout by pretty much everyone, which I found wearing and tiresome, regardless of whether it's historically accurate for the post-Civil War setting.
As for the movie itself.... the first half, in which Storming Sam Jackson and Storming Kurt Russell arrive at a rest stop on the way to Red Rock (there to deliver prisoner Jennifer Jason Leigh to the new sheriff, who may or may not be Walton Goggins, and the hangman who may or may not be Tim Roth) and find themselves trapped for a couple of days by a blizzard with a handful of strangers who may or may not be who they say they are, gets a touch repetitive; a situation which isn't helped by everyone living up to their billing as thoroughly Hateful. However, post-intermission, events pick up dramatically as the film turns into a whodunnit (with Jackson solving the murder of someone we haven't seen and we weren't even sure was killed) and most of the cast getting messily and bloodily dead. There are obvious comparisons to Q's own Reservoir Dogs (Michael Madsen and others shout and kill one another in a confined space) and John Carpenter's The Thing (Kurt Russell and others argue in a snowbound shack as to who isn't who they say they are, and three tracks of Morricone's score to that film are dropped, surprisingly appropriately, into proceedings), but the film is its own beast, with everyone giving it some serious thespian welly and projecting to the rear stalls like the live theatre production it could so easily be.
Taken as a whole, The Hateful Eight is pretty damn good: I think I liked it more than Django Unchained but still probably prefer Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill Vol 1. Quibbles about the overlength and racist abuse aside, and ignoring the fact that everyone's pretty much a scumbag (I'm not convinced that the mistreatment of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is misogynist given that she's more thunderingly hateful than at least two of the others), it's a mesmerising watch, particularly in the second half when everything starts to come together. It's a pity it takes so long to get there, but when it does it's absolutely worth it. Particularly when projected on a massive screen from a 70mm print in Ultra Paravision.