As I stated for my take on the new Star Warsmovie, there are times when it is more important for a movie to be fun than good. I truly felt that was key for Star Wars, and the fact that it was good was a nice bonus. That bonus is once again struck with Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, The Hateful Eight70mm Roadshow.
Being born and having lived most of my life in New York City, I’ve always had opportunities to see just about every film that plays in a theater if I so choose, no matter how small or widespread the release. Since moving to Las Vegas a few months ago, it has been a culture shock of sorts to find that I no longer have those opportunities as for the most part if it isn’t a huge major studio production, it probably isn’t going to be playing anywhere closer to me than in Los Angeles.
I knew that once it hit wide release, Tarantino’s film would be playing here, but I was very excited to find out that the Roadshow of the movie would be swinging through town a month earlier for a showing, on a 70mm film print, with a musical overture, and a 15 minute intermission.
The theater was sold out, and 5 minutes after it was supposed to start an usher came to tell us there was a problem with the projection equipment, and they were trying to get it to work but if they couldn’t, it would be shown digitally – still 70mm, but not on film. The crowd, largely composed of semi-inebriated and ironic t-shirt wearing youths no older than 30, booed wildly. A few minutes later the lights dimmed and the overture started.
Right away you realize you’re in for something special – veteran composer Ennio Morricone, no stranger to the western, serves up a beautiful score that manages to swell perfectly for the grand scale establishing shots out in the mountains, and yet remains refrained and even manages to wink (in as much as audio can wink) at the audience for Tarantino’s long and ridiculous indoor conversations. And it’s not surprising that the score knows when to take itself more seriously, as the cinematography is nothing but.
With the majority of the film taking place in one room, cinematographer Robert Richardson really plays up the claustrophobia by showing the grandness of the outdoors – every shot in the outdoors, filmed in 70mm in Colorado’s Telluride section of the Rockies as it doubles for the film’s location in Wyoming, is stunningly gorgeous – and then shrinks it considerably with the dangerous beauty of the imminent blizzard that traps the characters together. Of course, once stuck indoors, Robertson doesn’t let up and uses light, shadows and an interesting set to create some truly memorable shots – one particular stands out, a simple shot of Samuel L. Jackson’s character filling the frame and looking at the camera, drinking a cup of coffee. As he slowly lowers the cup, the steam rushes up at his face, moves off, and slowly spirals outwards along the bottom of the brim of his hat. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Sam Jackson in movies, but that immediately became my favorite shot of him as it made him seem more menacing than anytime I ever saw him point a gun (or, I suppose, a lightsaber).
And Sam Jackson is menacing in the film – he is great in it, as everyone involved is. My favorite turn may have been played by Walton Goggins, whose bombastic and over exaggerated nature lends itself perfectly to the script. Tarantino’s script – if you like Tarantino scripts – is not only good enough to keep the audience engaged throughout the long movie, but it might just be his funniest one yet. I remember laughing plenty when seeing Pulp Fiction in the theater, and in fact all of his films have made me laugh, but never so frequently as this one.
Now, as stated, that’s if you like Tarantino’s writing. There are the long, crude and vulgar speeches, and horrible not-safe-for-quoting-at-work phrases used over and over – but the structure of what was said, combined with the perfect timing of the actors’ delivery, allows the dialogue to (along with the score) wink at the audience and make the vulgarity the joke itself, reminding me of the incredible prose that rose from the vulgarity of the dialogue in HBO’s Deadwood.
The story is a dangerous whodunit with life and death stakes, and because of its structure it’s a good one – but maybe more importantly, Tarantino’s rambling asides, delivered perfectly by a tremendous cast, let the film breathe and have fun. And if you’re going to sit in a theater for over 3 hours, you better be having fun (somebody please tell that to Christopher Nolan). You also better have an intermission, which brings me to the one real gripe I had – the crowd.
During the intermission, I ran to the bathroom and while on the line, heard around 100 different guys talking about how beautiful the film print looked, and how happy it wasn’t digital. I got back to my seat where everyone around us were all talking about how great the film print looked. No one there seemed to be able to tell it was in fact digital – maybe I just remember the days of film projection better, maybe it’s because that scene in Fight Club made me unable to NOT see the “cigarette burns” that flicker on screen when it’s time to change reels, but I was watching for the and they never came. I thought it was very obvious it was digital the whole time, and no one else seemed to notice – they were all surprised when we were all given free passes on the way out as an apology from the theater. It was nice to get, but I didn’t feel it had been necessary – I’d had a lot of fun.