Recently I saw Quentin Tarantino’s, The Hateful Eight, and it left me wanting. Mostly it left me wanting there to be any reason as to why the director decided to film it in 70mm when he barely utilize the format. It also left me yearning for Tarantino to revive his standard of tone and pace, and in short tighten up a bit — in his most effective films Tarantino may meander, but everything has a purpose, in his less effective works Tarantino’s tendency to allow scenes to linger can make for awkwardness, and sometimes causes good actors to act poorly and amateur actors to be next to intolerable. Nonetheless both seem calculated, it’s just that the latter appears to have something missing in the equation.
Whether this is his way of harkening back to the grindhouse films he saw growing up (and now owes so much to), or if it could be described as sloppy filmmaking, I don’t know. I don’t think Tarantino is a sloppy filmmaker, but perhaps he could do with exploring a new theme, because The Hateful Eight could have done with some more profundity. The violence, blood, and sounds of the film are on par with what the audience has come to expect from Tarantino, but the message of the film seems to not only be redundant, but almost pointless in execution. This is not to say the themes of revenge and race politics in the film are not still relevant, but that Tarantino failed in making them relatable.
Many people have compared The Hateful Eight to Reservoir Dogs, but the only real aspects the two films have in common is that a large part of each movies take place in one room, two of the stars of Dogs are also starring in Eight, and both films deal with the concealment of identity, beyond that however Eight is lacking in the human element seen in Dogs – the heart of the film is effectively left out int the snow. The only reason I could think as to why this would be so is that the point of the film was the exploration of pointlessness. Showing the absurdity and needlessness of hatred due to race discrimination as perceived by a modern audience, and pointlessness of violence that comes from fear and mistrust stemming from that hatred, though important topics, it seems to be somewhat muddled in the execution.
Seriously though, what was the point of filming in 70mm? There were a few truly stunning exterior long shots, but most of the film was shot in variants of medium close-up. Which to be fair makes perfect sense considering Tarantino seemed to be going for a classic American Western style, which was known to consist of expensive exterior long shots and the more confined medium shot — it would be accurate to say medium close-ups were once a staple of American filmmaking.
However, the film seems a bit confused. The grindhouse films Tarantino so often calls his “teachers” were made with little budget, often using unknown or amateur actors, sometimes filmed in a guerrilla style, and would usually have their seems showing all over the place in terms of being “unperfect” films, but they were nonetheless entertaining, and depending on the film, impactful.
The thing is the people who made these films weren’t trying to make “bad films” or “grindhouse” films. They were simply trying to make movies that said what they wanted to say, films that told the stories told nowhere else and didn’t follow the rules of “conventional” cinema. In modern filmmaking any attempt to recreate the time or feel or style of these films is more often than not just that, a recreation, rather than a creation. This is why any modern attempt to make grindhouse films is so often only a mirrored idea of the style rather than a continuation of it — the modern grindhouse shouldn’t even be given the same label as the original grindhouse films, because they are more like cousins than siblings.
But back to The Hateful Eight.
The film is simply not effective in terms of how the 70mm film was used past the opening shot. Everyone in the theatre awed at the snow covered hills that stretched across the screen, but all the shots that followed were lacking in the marvel of the format and called into question why the choice to use it was even made — was it pure gimmick? A money grab? A harken back to films of old? Or just because they could? I’m all for more movies being shot with film, and having one shot in 70mm is a real treat, but it is also not a cheap venture. I would like any film I watch to be purposeful, because there are few things in the cinematic world I distain more than waste, but sadly while watching The Hateful Eight any sense of purpose seems secondary to an elbow in the face.
The revenge driven Eight was entertaining enough, but the use of 70mm film was a real let down, especially after Tarantino’s last film, Django Unchained, raised audience expectation and rekindled faith after the release of the jumble that was Inglorious Basterds. Sadly The Hateful Eight is more akin to Basterds than Django, which is to say both value entertainment over substance, and come off more like a mess of ingredients that don’t quite make a recipe. There is a lack of depth in The Hateful Eight, and what depth that is attempted in the film seems too obvious and not properly integrated, rather than being the driving force it was seemingly meant to be. By the second half, the film feels more like a poor remake of Clue with more blood, more cussing, and less payoff.
I will admit that I did enjoy the film as much as I could, like others in the audience I laughed and cheered and enjoyed the experience. Sadly that’s all I got from the film, it was an experience, an in-theatre entertainment that holds little weight after viewing is concluded. It made me mad, but not in a good way. That being said, I do want to watch the film again if only for the masochistic need to further understand why it didn’t hit the mark for me.
If Tarantino is attempting to makes films like the ones he viewed while growing up, he is sadly misguided — even his “Grindhouse feature” Death Proof is simply holding a mirror up to films that contributed to the original grindhouse style. Death Proof is at best a parodic, or revisionist attempt. That being said, the modern “grindhouse” movement has very few (if any) examples that could be considered “real” grindhouse pictures, especially considering grindhouse (like film noir) is not considered a genre, but rather a style. The difference being that once genres like horror or comedy are established by their consistent and duplicable iconographies they are considered constants whereas styles are defined as periodic, meaning they are popular for a time but do not constitute becoming a genre, because the style of film eventually dies out, though like film noir it can come back, often redefined (aka neo-noir).
Reflecting on the original films that contributed to the style we now refer to as “grindhouse” there is a common vein in the films — they were heavily based in politics and even if this wasn’t the main focus, these films were made to say something that was lacking in “conventional” genres – sadly Tarantino sometimes seems to forget this by focusing on the style more than substance, or seemingly having little to say that he hasn’t already told us.
It could be that Tarantino has set his own bar too high to surpass it, what with films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction being among his first released, which is undoubtedly a high standard to maintain. All I know is when Death Proof came out I cheered, when Inglorious Basterds was released I grimaced, and when Django came out I believed I could finally have hope in Tarantino again. Now. I just don’t know. Maybe his new standard is to make a good movie every second time, but being that he has released just under ten features in his career it makes for a weighty percentage to allow.