Note: This is a review of the "roadshow" version currently being shown in select theaters in 70mm (read: ultra-widescreen.)
At the very beginning of THE HATEFUL EIGHT, before a single frame of actually filmed footage appears onscreen, you can feel the pure, unadulterated, love that director Quentin Tarantino has not only for old-school westerns of yore but for movies in general. The logo for Cinerama, the widescreen format popularized in the 50s and 60s as a way to get audience members away from their TV screens and into moviehouses, is emblazoned across the screen. The title card implies that not only is Tarantino paying homage to great westerns such as ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST but that he is also transporting us back to that era during which movies were epic events and their glorious, expansive, vistas were projected on massive screens the size of your average office building.
The film begins with an overture accompanied by a beautiful, haunting, score by Ennio Morricone's (another nod to fans of classic westerns) and then a static master shot of a covered wagon traveling ever so slowly towards us from the background. The scene plays out and the opening credits begin. Those familiar with Tarantino's work might recognize the credits' font (think PULP FICTION) and when the obligatory sequence ends and the words "Chapter One" come onscreen, the audience now knows that they are in Tarantinoland and like the best of his work, you know you're going to see something that is original, exciting, and unlike anything else playing at the local cinemas.
To be perfectly honest, when this reviewer realized the movie was going to be divided into chapters, I was a little chagrined as I just wanted to see a good old fashioned western. It was after only a matter of minutes when the director's trademark dialogue was spoken by his latest creation of memorable, expertly cast, characters that I remembered that Tarantino doesn't traffic in old fashioned the way most filmmakers might. Whether his movies are crime dramas (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION) or semi-historical adventure yarns (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED) they are never quite what anyone expects them to be. And that is the director's true gift.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT has a fairly standard Western-centric plotline: gruff bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) attempts to bring wanted criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) across hundreds of miles of pure frozen earth to hang for her crimes but is soon thwarted by a motley trove of murderous ne'er do wells who may or may not be incahoots. However, after several scenes of grim snowy-white vistas being splattered with crimson red blood, the majority of the story moves indoors to an isolated locale affectionately known as Minnie's Habadashery. The fact that Minnie is nowhere to be found is one of many clues that former Civil War soldier Marquis Warren (Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson) takes as a sign that something or rather someone isn't quite right.
What plays out is part mystery, part suspense thriller (think Agatha Christie meets the cast of RESERVOIR DOGS) but 100% pure Tarantino which is great news for fans of his distinguished and ever growing filmography (THE HATEFUL EIGHT is, as the credits announce, the filmmaker's eight film - ah, synergy) but not so good for those expecting UNFORGIVEN or even (shudder) YOUNG GUNS. Suffice it to say that anyone who is paying to see a three hour western - complete with intermission - from the director of PULP FICTION should know what they're getting into.
Would the film play just as well without the 70mm bells and whistles? I say yes, as great characters and dialogue play just as well on regular screens as they do on large format ones. Still, if you are a fan of the western genre but don't mind that the characters talk more than they shoot guns, then you absolutely owe it to yourself to catch the roadshow version of this terrifically entertaining film during its limited engagement. Like the majority of Tarantino's work, THE HATEFUL EIGHT stands head and shoulders above most films released this past year and is not to be missed.