Friday, January 8, 2016
At the Movies: "The Hateful Eight"
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino, 2015.
Rotten Tomatoes: 74% Fresh
Director Quentin Tarantino is among other things a movie dork’s movie dork, so when he decided to film a Western spectacular he didn’t just unpack the usual equipment. Instead, he resurrected 70 mm UltraPanavision, a high-quality super widescreen film format last used in 1966. Before the film hit general theaters it was given a roadshow release – another antique concept – at 100 or so theaters that were either capable or specially retrofitted to project this kind of film. The only theater in Oregon so blessed was our own Hollywood, so Mrs.5000, Maddy, and I met up after work to buy into the biggest cinematic hype currently available for people who aren’t into the whole Star Wars thing. It was fun! …although it probably would have been more fun if we had gone one day later, the day that Tarantino showed up in person to say hi and take Q & A.
So, yeah, fun event! But what about the movie?
Well, it was both very entertaining and frustrating. At intermission – this is a very LONG movie – I noticed the young guy in front of me tweeting that Hateful Eight was “the smash hit of the season,” and I thought I might agree with him. But by the time the closing credits rolled, I was feeling some disappointment. Let’s break it down:
Visuals: The outdoor scenes are smashing in their UltraPanavision splendor. Most of the action, however, takes place indoors, in an all-purpose store and inn that is, quite intentionally I’m sure, a cleaned-up version of the all-purpose store and inn from Once Upon a Time in the West. There is plenty to look at in here, too. The film format doesn’t get quite the workout it did in Ben Hur, perhaps, but did it need to?
Dialog: One of Tarantino’s strengths throughout his career has been entertaining dialog. Most of his characters are smart and articulate and spend time talking about things unrelated to the plot mechanism of the film they are in, and it’s an interesting comment on movie dialog that this alone is often enough to make them seem very funny indeed. The conversations among the characters in The Hateful Eight are among the best parts of the movie.
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender: The Old West was a real cauldron of people from all sorts of backgrounds – cowboys and Indians don’t begin to cover it. It was an international frontier, with folks from China, Japan, Mexico, and all over Europe. The white Americans represented a political spectrum that had recently expressed its differences in outlook over four years of blood-soaked civil war. It was also a place where some women could carve out an unorthodox social role for themselves, and where others could be trod on by their menfolk with impunity. Most modern Westerns have a clue about all this, and so does The Hateful Eight. And that’s terrific.
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender: Did folks from these different backgrounds come into conflict in the West? Sure. The characters in the film sure do! You’re going to see venomous racial epitaphs, a black guy getting spit on, and a bound woman being verbally abused, slapped around, and punched in the face – all in the first ten minutes. Well, OK. It’s "the Hateful Eight," not "the Snugly Seven". The characters are hateful, right? But why is the verbal and physical abuse FUNNY? Because it is: everybody was laughing, including me. But you have to admit, it’s a weird kind of joke, and not necessarily one that caters to the better angels of our nature.
Plotting: In the first half of the movie, Tarantino sets up a terrific old-fashioned closed parlor mystery like something out of Agatha Christie. The titular eight jerks (plus a decent enough stagecoach driver) are stuck together in a blizzard, and we gradually learn about the web of connections and resentments that connect them together, and give them a dazzling array of reasons to dislike and distrust each other. Some mysteries are left conspicuously unexplored: Why is the prisoner a prisoner? Is the cowboy really just here to visit his mom? Are the owners of the all-purpose store and inn really on vacation, or is something more sinister going on? In the second half of the movie, we do get answers to these questions, but the answers all pretty much all come at once, and turn out to be a lot less interesting then the questions were. The web of relationships ends up not being very important. That was kind of a letdown.
Petty Anachronism: The Hateful Eight is not at an attempt at pure historical veracity, and it doesn’t need to be, but it does create and sustain an illusion of nineteenth century-ness. Twice, though, Tarantino willfully breaks his carefully created world. The first is a lovely montage of a stagecoach surging through a snowy mountain forest while a White Stripes song plays on the soundtrack. I like the song, and I liked the visual montage, but pairing them only shows us that Tarantino is so cool that he can sabotage his own movie and we can like it or lump it. I lumped it.
The second is a narrator (Tarantino himself, I believe) who jumps in at one point to rewind the film, explain in mock-formal terms what each of the characters is up to, and introduce a new piece of information. This intrusion at least serves a purpose: coming just after the intermission, it catches us up to the large number of balls that the film has in the air at that point. But it is also flamboyantly self-aware, mocking the very idea of narration while indulging in it, for no particular reason. With Tarantino, anything might be homage, and here he might be thinking about the important, universally respected, and flat-out dreadful Ingmar Bergman art flick Persona, which also features a pointlessly self-mocking narrator.
Violence: The Hateful Eight takes as a guiding principle that exaggerated violence, especially when it arrives at an unexpected moment, is funny. And it is, sort of, although see “better angels” above. In this film, Tarantino takes the principle about as far as it can go. The Hateful Eight is a considerably more gory film than many honest slashers of thirty years ago. It goes without saying that the red spatter is beautifully filmed in 70 mm UltraPanavision.
More entertaining then it deserves to be, potentially frustrating if you compare it to its potential. Not very enriching. Not a great choice for kids. Not a great “date movie,” depending on whom you want to date. Recommended for people who have enjoyed other Quentin Tarantino movies. Not recommended for people who have disliked other Quentin Tarantino movies.
Michael5000's imdb rating: 7.
Concurring Opinion Filed by Maddy: I would just emphasize that the funny scenes were very, very funny. From the stagecoach driver wrapping himself in a fur and flopping in front of the fire as shamelessly as a walrus to the look of semi-hysterical joy on Chris Mannix's face when he realizes that the Major is placing him in a position of authority -- never mind that he's the subordinate or at least junior partner of a black man -- all the bits that aren't sickeningly violent or misanthropic are amusing. Or, like Daisy Demergue's song, unexpectedly touching.