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Six or eight or twelve years after the Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. The passengers, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), race towards the town of Red Rock where Ruth, known in these parts as “The Hangman,” will bring Domergue to justice. Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former Union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be the town’s new Sheriff. Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie’s, they are greeted not by the proprietor, but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob (Demian Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock, after all. (From the Weinstein Company’s official synopsis)

 Hateful 8, The
I’ve read some claims that Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful 8, is somehow a loose remake/combination of Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio, 1968) and Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s Cut-Throats Nine (Spanish: Condenados a vivir, 1972). Though it’s true that Tarantino is known for lifting ideas and images from his favourite films and, indeed, Corbucci’s film in particular had already inspired parts of Django Unchained, the similarities here are mostly textural. For instance, The Great Silence takes place during a historic blizzard (the Great Blizzard of 1899) in the Rocky Mountain area. The snowfall strands a mute gunslinger and gang of ruthless bounty hunters in a small Utah town, where a forced confrontation ends in utter tragedy. Tarantino’s characters don similar costumes, the major protagonists meet during a similar stagecoach ride, the story is framed by a similar snowstorm (probably not the same historic blizzard, though, since it is set in Wyoming during the 1860s, not Utah in 1899), and Hateful 8 ends on a similarly bleak (but entirely different) note. The only connections to Cut-Throats Nine are more snow-bound scenes, a cabal of cruel characters hiding secrets from each other, and a number in the title. I don’t doubt that Tarantino is familiar with Marchent’s film and that he may have had it at the back of his mind while writing Hateful 8, but there’s little in terms of shared content between the films.

Ultimately, outside of its location/era, a couple of horse scenes, and certain fashion choices, Hateful 8 is barely a western at all. It certainly starts like a western, but, relatively early in the epic 167-minute (general release) runtime, its epic scale is reduced to a locked-room/drawing-room mystery structure. This detective fiction subgenre usually revolves around an ‘impossible’ murder mystery and is most easily defined by the works of twentieth century authors, Agatha Christie ( And Then There Were None,1939) and John Dickson Carr ( The Hollow Man, 1935). Given the breadth of western fiction (literally thousands of films, books, short stories, comics, and TV shows), I’m sure Tarantino isn’t the first to fold the genre into the drawing-room tradition, but what’s surprising is that he has drawn more direct inspiration from a completely different drawing-room mash-up – John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). The connections between Hateful 8 and The Thing are difficult to overlook, considering the inclusion of a bearded and brash Kurt Russell, the hostile winter environment, and a number of recycled cues from Ennio Morricone’s original Thing soundtrack (see the audio section for more on Morricone’s contributions). Other, less obvious connections include drawing-room prerequisites, specifically a restrained group of possible suspects who are not what they seem. Carpenter’s film is also known for its allegorical content (which it borrows from Howard Hawks’ 1951 original The Thing from Another World) and this didn’t escape Tarantino’s interest. When it isn’t entangled in the mechanics of Agatha Christie-isms, Hateful 8 can be a potent and bitter exploration of America’s current racial climate.

 Hateful 8, The
Adopting a whodunit narrative structure and setting a racially-charged, allegorical story just after the end of the Civil War is the type of clever concept that fans have come to expect from Tarantino. Unfortunately, beyond recognizing plot devices and appreciating some of the deeper symbolism, the actual story is discouragingly standard-issue, including some pretty clumsily placed twists and a predictable dénouement. When the gears are turning, unique plotting isn’t a requirement, but we have come to expect Tarantino to manufacture surprises from familiar content and Hateful 8’s screenplay just isn’t very intriguing beyond its greater concepts. The bigger sin is Tarantino’s return to storytelling trademarks. For decades now, he has successfully broken apart narrative structures and changed the order of stories in ways that magnify impact and challenge his audience. It’s such a typical Tarantino-esque touch that fans even speculate that the events of one of his more orderly film, Death Proof (2007), are actually reversed (I don’t buy it, for the record). The Kill Bill films (2003, 2004) were the ultimate expression of this pattern and I had thought they marked a sort of end to this brand of Tarantino product. With the exception of a few flashbacks to quickly establish character back-story, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained were mostly chronological tales. They were also arranged in semi-episodic, scene-to-scene structures that drew comparisons to Sergio Leone and John Huston. It felt like a new chapter and, as it begins, Hateful 8 appears to be an extension of that chapter. It’s a return to the intimacy and limited locations of Reservoir Dogs (1992), but with a more mature and thematically complex edge.

The first two acts have the potential of a Sidney Lumet or Billy Wilder stage-play adaptation. There are issues, some of them narrative (why does the cabal of villains carry on a three-hour charade – complete with elaborate back stories – instead of simply jumping John Ruth the second he shows them his back while nailing the door shut?), many others regressive in the context of the director’s greater career ( Reservoir Dogs is easily Tarantino’s weakest movie and I wasn’t thrilled by the recurrence of its structure), but the machinery moves with enough momentum to disguise the deliberate, some might say slow pacing. But, just as he’s building to a crescendo, Tarantino sticks a wrench in the works and grinds the movie to a halt for a real-time flashback to the events leading up to the dénouement. It’s less of a clever subversion and more of a poorly planned prank. Depriving the audience of a climax to stretch out the suspense is certainly a tried and true narrative technique, but this flashback very anti-climatically unravels about 20 minutes of completely unnecessary events that could’ve been revealed in a quarter of the time, or, better yet, covered quickly via dialogue. Afterall, Tarantino himself already provided narrative descriptions earlier in the film to coincided with the return from the intermission. Instead, the formerly sky-high stakes are put on hold to indulge in a nearly separate mini-movie populated by characters we’ve only just met and already know are going to die.

 Hateful 8, The
On the more ‘problematic’ side of things (to use the parlance of our time) is the Hateful 8’s misogyny issue. Daisy is a villain among villains who is abused primarily by her captor, John Ruth (a character that represents the hypocrisy of the American western hero), but, as the final act rolls around, she is gleefully degraded and eventually murdered. She’s never achieves equal footing with her male counterparts and only comes close to controlling the situation when she unloads a mouthful of a empty threats that never come to fruition*. Her function in the story is more or less the same as Broomhilda’s (Kerry Washington) role in Django Unchained – the princess in the castle. Both characters passively wait for men to rescue them from other men. The only difference, which seems to be key to some viewers, is that Daisy is designated a criminal. In my Django Unchained review, I lamented the film’s lack of a proactive heroine, because every single Tarantino film since Jackie Brown (1997) has centered around a smart, tough, and capable female character. While I can appreciate Hateful 8 being some kind of mirror image companion piece to Django Unchained, where Tarantino interpreted the hero’s journey as a fairytale and Broomhilda was cast as the title character’s ‘reward’ for his achievements, I still regret the loss of the Tarantino heroine.

The chief shorthand argument to the contrary is the assurance that the movie is called Hateful 8 and all of the characters are intended to be scumbags. While it is true that the (non-flashback) characters are depicted as pretty awful people that do terrible things throughout the (non-flashback) sequences, there’s no doubt that Marquis and Mannix are the protagonists of this particular saga. Marquis’ cause is tainted by some ignoble actions, but it is completely righteous, given the film’s post-Civil War timeframe and analogous intent, and Mannix’s turn from hayseed to a conscientious law enforcement leader that rejects his racist heritage is the spiritual climax of the entire film. The overwhelming male-driven conspiracy against Daisy’s health and safety could be considered a greater statement on the treatment of women by men on both sides of the racial divide (as has also been theorized), but why would Tarantino want to undermine such a potent comment on real-world racial politics by burying a secondary allegory further beneath the text?

 Hateful 8, The
I can acknowledge that the western genre, in general, is not particularly kind to ‘strong women’ (Carpenter’s The Thing also famously featured no women at all). And if there was ever a filmmaker that had a tenuous relationship with women, it was Sam Peckinpah. Beyond its troubling gender politics, predictable plotting, and questionable structure, Hateful 8 is a sufficient successor to the Peckinpah brand of nihilistic masculinity. The fact that it’s a follow-up to a successful western ( Django Unchained), but rarely accounts for the western tropes its advertising promised actually solidifies the comparison further (whether Tarantino intended it or not), since Peckinpah himself infiltrated mainstream cinema with ‘socially acceptable’ westerns, before springing the horror of The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) upon unsuspecting audiences. Like Hateful 8, those movies were caked in blood, torture, death, and subversive themes. Tarantino fails to evoke the same level of incendiary provocation, but he does pervert common film concepts of manhood and retribution with pervasive, stomach-churning violence.

* Apparently, Tarantino wrote a private draft of the script from Daisy’s point-of-view to “justify” her brutal death to himself. If this is true, why wouldn’t he include any of these supposed justifications in the context of the movie? Why leave it to the audience to infer it?

 Hateful 8, The

Video


Most readers probably recall how big of a deal Tarantino and The Weinstein Company made out of the fact that Hateful 8 was shot using Ultra Panavision 70mm. Because he and cinematographer Robert Richardson had specifically designed the film for this throwback format, Tarantino wanted some theaters to actually project Hateful 8 in printed 70mm. However, the majority of major theaters across the US have already converted to all-digital projection – not to mention that, even before the film-to-digital revolution in Hollywood, Ultra Panavision 70mm projection was already an incredibly rare projection format (this was only the eleventh movie to use it). In fact, the last major 70mm release (let alone Ultra Panavision) to surpass 100 screens was Ron Howard’s Far and Away, back in 1992. So, in an elaborate and expensive (some might say petulant) gambit, the celluloid-obsessed filmmaker and production company retrofitted a number of theaters with the appropriate equipment and ran a special ‘roadshow’ version of Hateful 8 that included a twelve-minute overture/intermission, plus some longer shots and exclusive inserts. The roadshow release remains a one-time theater-only experience and will likely never be released on home video. This Blu-ray includes the shortened ‘digital projection-ready’ version that was seen by most theater-goers.

Ultra Panavision (which is technically shot 65mm and printed in 70mm) has the size and detail to make a spectacular 1080p, 2.76:1 Blu-ray experience. The best-looking images are the vast snow-caked vistas at the beginning of the movie, where the 70mm is able to capture the massive scale of the outdoor locations. The interiors are brimming with fine texture and complex patterns beyond the capacity of a 35mm source, but I’m pretty confused as to why Tarantino was so obsessed with shooting this particular movie in large format, considering that the majority of the action takes place on a single, extremely confined set. Given Ultra Panavision’s capabilities and the breathtaking quality of the capacious location shots, I would’ve loved to see something more along the lines of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) with sweeping panoramic views of natural beauty. Alas, we’re forced to settle for the most epic ‘bottle episode’ ever put to film. Grain texture is tight, as expected from the large format, yet the appearance is still quite organic, minus any obvious DNR tinkering. Tarantino and Richardson also stay true to their pro-film stance by not digitally grading/colour-timing the footage. The colour qualities are natural and only as consistent as the chemical process will allow, meaning that skin tones are eerily orange and not every single angle of the set features the exact same browns and blues. That said, Hateful 8 also isn’t a particularly vivid film, so the hues aren’t exactly going to jump out of the screen. Dynamic ranges are impressive enough to reveal the tiny differences between shades during darker sequences, all without sacrificing the strength of the black levels.

 Hateful 8, The

Audio


There’s plenty of information concerning the filmstock Tarantino used and the way it was projected for the roadshow release, but I can’t seem to find any verification that it was mixed for the era-appropriate 70mm Six Track stereo. Regardless, the digital screenings were mixed for digital sound, as represented on this solid, uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. While there aren’t a lot of directional enhancements (the winter winds are nice and swirly) or rear channel additions (listen carefully for the faint screams of burning soldiers as Mannix describes Marquis’ crimes to Ruth and Daisy), the sound design is tight and dynamic. Dialogue is naturalistic and clean enough to discern whispered words just as well as shouted denouncements. The richest and loudest elements on the track are usually Ennio Morricone’s moody, Oscar-winning theatrical score (a first for the 87-year-old composer, who had otherwise won an honorary Academy Award in 2007).

Morricone’s work on Hateful 8 is significant beyond its award-winning qualities. Tarantino usually creates musical soundtracks by combining library tracks from his favourite movies and, quite often, these cues are Morricone compositions from spaghetti westerns, macaroni combat, and giallo movies. When he approached Morricone to write original music for Inglourious Basterds, the two parted on bad terms and Tarantino diverted back to catalogue entries. For whatever reason (perhaps money, though Morricone also claims to have liked the script), the two overcame their differences and Morricone wrote a number of brand new cues for Hateful 8. He also did it in the old Italian style by supplying Tarantino with the material and allowing him to pick and choose. What’s even more incredible is the fact that some (reportedly three) of the orchestrations were originally composed for The Thing, but rejected by John Carpenter, who replaced most of them with his own compositions (at least one of them can be heard over the menus of Universal’s first DVD release of Carpenter’s movie). In addition, Tarantino mixed in a track from Morricone’s score for John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) along with pop/folk excerpts, including one from Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972).

 Hateful 8, The

Extras


  • Beyond the Eight: A Behind the Scenes Look (5:00, HD) – A quick ‘n fluffy behind-the-scenes featurette with EPK interviews (interestingly enough, the footage from the film is brighter and oranger than the transfer proper).
  • Sam Jackson’s Guide to Glorious 70mm (7:50, HD) – Another EPK in which the actor, Tarantino, and other cast members hype the film, explain the roadshow concept, and describe the value of large-format film, including footage from their Ultra Panavision tests.


 Hateful 8, The

Overall


Hateful 8 has the makings of a great movie and is a worthy spiritual follow-up to Django Unchained – another flawed, but ultimately more coherent and satisfying movie. There are delectable character interactions and thematically rich moments (most of them relegated to the first two hours), but it falls short, thanks to an underwhelming screenplay, bad editing choices (it’s really starting to look like Tarantino’s long-time editor, the late Sally Menke, had been his secret weapon all along), and the dubious messages attached its female lead. The 70mm footage looks spectacular in 1080p video and the DTS-HD MA sound is quite rich (specifically Ennio Morricone’s music), but, like most Tarantino home video releases, this Blu-ray’s extras are weak and short-lived.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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