The Hateful Eight: 70 MM Roadshow Edition

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The Hateful Eight: 70MM Roadshow Edition
(2015; dir. Quentin Tarantino)—First impressions: Formally striking but morally bankrupt, just like always. What a waste of a potentially awesome widescreen format. What a way to spend Christmas night.

Second impressions: Maybe The Hateful Eight isn’t so disappointing after all. Maybe once you wash all the blood off your face and out of your hair, it’s actually pretty effective in its savage and meaningless way. Maybe I’m just being contrary because so many other people love QT so unconditionally, it’s embarrassing.

Or maybe when it comes to Tarantino movies, I shouldn’t trust my first impressions.

I am a deeply conflicted QT fan whose minor-to-major issues with most of his films has never prevented me from seeing them on the day they premiere. And once I found out that the “Special Roadshow Engagement” of The Hateful Eight was coming to my town a week before its nationwide release, I even bought my tickets in advance, like I was going to an unrepeatable event. Rather than running down The Hateful Eight’s numerous strengths and weaknesses, though, I want to focus on the roadshow experience—the first of its kind in American theaters since Khartoum in 1966.

Like many cinephiles, I love celluloid a lot more now that it’s virtually extinct. And I’ve been very fortunate to see Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jacques Tati’s PlayTime in the 70mm format; in fact, the Kubrick and Tati screenings are two of the most profoundly affecting moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. Celluloid has a depth and warmth that digital photography can’t yet replicate; the browns and blacks in particular have volume and presence onscreen, and larger vistas, like a stagecoach wending its way through the mountains during a blizzard, are stark and elemental and man-made in a way that digital photography often isn’t. The format is ideal for capturing the nuances of the human face as well; Samuel L. Jackson’s unblinking glower, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s cruddy teeth and Kurt Russell’s magnificent walrus ‘stache are a few of The Hateful Eight’s more indelible physiognomical details.

I remember seeing the reels for the 70mm 2001 in the theater lobby and thinking that they were as big as stagecoach wheels. As Chapin Cutler of the specialty projection company Boston Light & Sound notes, the Ultra Panavision 70 format for The Hateful Eight is even bigger. According to Cutler, “Each shipping case is 5 ft. x 5 ft. by 1 ft. thick. When loaded, it weighs about 400 lbs. . . . With the reel full, out of the box, the film and reel weigh about 250 lbs. Four people can easily lift it onto a platter deck.”

The informative if overenthusiastic program notes in the 16-page Hateful Eight booklet handed to me by the woman who took my ticket assert that “The exclusive 70mm Roadshow engagement of The Hateful Eight pays homage to and recreates the grand film exhibition style popularized in the 1950s and ‘60s and that brought audiences to theaters with the promise of a special event. Taking place in the nation’s largest and grandest theaters, Roadshows presented a longer version of the film than would be shown in the film’s subsequent wider release, included a musical overture to start the show, an intermission between acts and a souvenir program.”

Great! I’d never call the AMC Southdale in Edina, Minnesota one of the nation’s “grandest theaters,” but I’m glad the management there made the efforts to accommodate Tarantino’s mad vision. I liked the slow burn of Ennio Morricone’s eerie, chiming overture, which plays before the film starts (there were no trailers beforehand) and mirrors the uncharacteristically slow burn of the film’s first 100 minutes. If I could guess which scene won’t make the cut of the official release edition, I’d say it was the one where two shady characters stake out the path to the outhouse as the blizzard gets worse. Tarantino’s decision to stay indoors most of the time is a strange one, and I wish he’d done more with the theatrical arrangements of tables, beds, chairs and chains in the mountain outpost where all of the action takes place. But there’s a musical number that plays with racking focus and the superwide format very well in case you thought he had no reason for shooting things the way he did. Also, the intermission is perfectly timed.

Some random notes:

  • Has any white male filmmaker ever enjoyed using the words “nigger” and “bitch” as much as Tarantino has? The knee-jerk defense for his kind of verbal button-pushing is, of course, that he’s challenging PC limits for entertainment and authenticity’s sake. Fine, whatever. So all he’s doing is portraying a bunch of racists. But he sure loves listening to those racists be racist, doesn’t he? Are we supposed to? Or are we supposed to be offended, thus PLAYING RIGHT INTO HIS HANDS? If that’s so, then perhaps the true antecedent of The Hateful Eight is not the Spaghetti Western. It is Blazing Saddles
  • Although the commemorative booklet informs us that, “The cast and crew would eventually finish the shoot on a Los Angeles soundstage, which was chilled below freezing temperatures to mimic the Telluride (Colorado) climate,” there’s no genuine feeling of wintery chilliness in the film. As a guy who’s spent his life in the snow, this is a hard one to explain but an easy one to spot. I just didn’t believe they were all that cold. (The champ in this regard remains Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller.) 
  • The best part of this Western is when Samuel L. Jackson starts sleuthing about and turns it into a mystery. His long fact-finding mission slowly and inexorably turns into the kind of scene for which Tarantino is best known—a long monologue filled with thinly veiled threats disguised as folksy, profane erudition. 
  • One scene in particular plays on prior knowledge so effectively that it is as nerve-wracking as anything Tarantino’s ever done.
  • Food for thought, per critic Armond White of Out (and, amazingly, The National Review): “Tarantino exploits gay porn—and repressed gayness—in the same vein that he notoriously exploits race.” You’ll know what I mean when you get there. 
  • Relevant Tweet #1, from Rembert Browne: 
  • “there's nothing that has been allowed to slide, by liberal & conservative folks alike, quite like the notion of the big scary black person.”
  • Relevant Tweet #2, from someone named Zodiac Motherfucker: “TARANTINO REALLY DOES BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER. THIS THEATER IS LIKE A MELTING POT OF ASSHOLES"
Happy to be counted among them!

Grade: B+

[Editor's Note: This review refers to the 70 MM film edition of The Hateful Eight, which is not screening in Memphis. The nearest theaters screening in this format are Ronnie's in St. Louis and the Carmike Thoroughbred 20 in Franklin, TN. A full review of the film as it appears in Memphis will run in the Flyer's January 7 issue. 


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