Our most fetishistic filmmaker returns with The Hateful Eight—a.k.a. “the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino”—and those with a Tarantino fetish are likely to like the writer-director’s latest tribute to ‘60s and ‘70s film and TV, as well as his own instantly recognizable stylings. But absent the central provocations of the blaxploitational Django Unchained and the history-rewriting (and cheerily misspelled) Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s new playdate will teach some of his fans that they’ve at last outgrown him.
The director’s pulp fictions amount to comic-book movies without the superheroes, or, in this case, without heroes (come to think of it, at half the length, Hateful Eight might've nicely evoked the short-form punch of an EC Comic). As the title promises, the post-Civil War potboiler has scoundrels—eight, at least—circling each other and, eventually, pouncing and bleeding. After some exterior shots of a snowy stagecoach, The Hateful Eight goes fetchingly stagy, in the vein of an Agatha-Christie locked-room mystery or a claustrophobic horror movie.
A snappy ensemble runs with the self-serving survivalists-cum-suspects-cum-victims, all spewing with relish Tarantino’s patented patois: bounty hunters Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth (Kurt Russell), near-feral prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, sadly squandered), Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), hangman Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth, doing his best Terry-Thomas), Mexican henchman Bob (Demián Bichir), brooding cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and not-so-innocent bystander General Sanford "Sandy" Smithers (a perfectly ratty Bruce Dern).
Though messy and bloated, The Hateful Eight has its selling points: that cast, having a ball putting on a show; Tarantino’s knowingly overripe dialogue and unfolding-narrative trickery; and photography—of epic Colorado scenery (standing in for Wyoming wilderness) and the frontier squalor of makeshift waystation Minnie’s Haberdashery—by three-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson (JFK). The filmmaker’s fetishes here include Western trappings (from the plot inspired by TV oaters to the mostly-new Ennio Morricone score) and a "roadshow" size and shape (the Ultra Panavision 70 film format). [Check your local listings to see if you’re getting the 187-minute Roadshow presentation in 70-millimeter film projection—with collectible program—or the 167-minute digitally-projected version.]
Tarantino’s movie-nerd indulgences steep his films in a cinematic tradition while also reflecting something of a creative deficit. Hateful Eight, more than any previous Tarantino outing, recycles the filmmaker’s own work: the leaner if no meaner dog-eat-dog plotting of Reservoir Dogs (itself a heady mix of the derivative and the fresh) and a roster of no-longer-shocking offenses (the filmmaker continues to relish the “n-word,” homosexual rape, and blood-spurting violence).
Even Tarantino’s greatest provocations and most mischievous entertainments have been mostly shallow, and for all its amusements along the way, Hateful Eight noticeably flounders in patches of bald exposition and clunky narration. Most damaging is the general absence of something to say, beyond ye olde critique of self-serving human folly and the film’s one truly arresting riff: whitey-hating Warren’s self-congratulatory ode to selling b.s. with pathologically confident bluster. With this literally last-minute effort, Tarantino confirms that the musically braying Warren is both the character who comes closest to being a hero and the character who best resembles his creator.
Anchor Bay Entertainment does an okay job with its initial release of The Hateful Eight, in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD special edition, but let's face it: this release is only the harbinger of a more important release to come. That's because this set includes only the shorter 168-minute cut of the film and not the roadshow version of 187 minutes. The slim selection of bonus features—somewhat expanded in a Target-exclusive version—also suggest there's more in store down the road.
Happily, the film gets a spectacular A/V treatment. Given the depth and detail of the 65mm celluloid source material, it would've been criminal if the picture quality were anything less than perfect, and this disc doesn't disappoint. Sharply detailed and richly textured, the disc ably handles the film's mostly interior look with precision color calibration and contrast, and the exteriors prove particularly breathtaking in their wintry glory. Film grain lends the image its requisite natural look, capping a beaut of a transfer. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is equally impressive. Tarantino's signature source music and Ennio Morricone's Oscar-winning score get the full-bodied treatment they deserve, and while Tarantino's dialogue always rises above, the sound effects pack punch, from the expected explosive gunshots to the whipping wind that batters around the rear channels while we're trapped in the haberdashery. Every element is well-placed and clean as a whistle.
Those paltry bonuses are twofold: "Beyond the Eight: A Behind the Scenes Look" (4:58, HD), a promotional EPK with some talking heads and film clips amounting to less than five minutes of behind-the-scenes "insight," and "Sam Jackson's Guide to Glorious 70mm" (7:49, HD), which allows the star to explain the Ultra Panavision process and the work of cinematographer Robert Richardson.
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