It's right above the title on The Hateful Eight's opening credits: "The 8th film by Quentin Tarantino." An oddly self–referential, almost boastful way to begin a movie, that phrase is meant to inspire wonder at the filmmaker's influence and impact over the last 23 years, all achieved with what is essentially a handful of films. It's also a reminder that no other filmmaker would have moved heaven and earth to present the lavish "Special Roadshow Engagement" of The Hateful Eight in 100 theaters across North America, including AMC Elmwood Palace 20.
Tarantino shot The Hateful Eight in Ultra Panavision 70 film format, which yields images wider and more detailed than that of conventional film. It was used for only nine "event" movies in the 1960s, including Mutiny on the Bounty and Ben-Hur. To pull that off, the director had antique Panavision lenses — including the one used to shoot Ben-Hur's legendary chariot scene — restored and retrofitted to work with modern cameras. Many of the 100 roadshow theaters had to be equipped with refurbished vintage 70 millimeter film projectors in a painstaking process that began long before Tarantino started shooting his movie.
The roadshow edition of The Hateful Eight adds an overture, an intermission and several minutes of footage not included in the standard version of the film, and each moviegoer receives a beautiful 16-page, 10-by 10-inch printed program just as roadshow audiences did in the 1950s and '60s. It all adds up to a unique experience that harks back to a distant era.
But far from an exercise in nostalgia, The Hateful Eight is pure Tarantino: self-indulgent, racially charged, graphically violent to the point of absurdity and entertaining in the extreme. Like all the director's films, it gleefully reimagines and subverts a familiar form — in this case, the epic Hollywood Western — for the sheer fun of it. It's another Tarantino movie about movies, but one with real satiric bite regarding present-day realities of race and justice in America.
Most of the action takes place inside a rural cabin in post-Civil War Wyoming. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) tries to stay alive while transporting infamous outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock for public hanging and a $10,000 reward. Ruth picks up two fellow travelers (Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Coggins) before holing up at Minnie's Haberdashery, a one-room roadhouse where four mysterious strangers (Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Demian Bichir) already are waiting out a coming blizzard. The value of Ruth's prisoner transforms each into a mortal threat, especially since things are not exactly as they seem.
The story is surprisingly intimate and small-scale in the context of the roadshow presentation, but that is the big idea that drives The Hateful Eight. The film quickly settles in on the haggard faces of its powerhouse ensemble cast, all veterans of Tarantino films except Leigh and Bichir. Except for a few grand mountain vistas that open the film, the ultra-widescreen cinematography only brings us closer to Tarantino's distinct and hard-bitten characters. It's a counterintuitive but highly effective use of the medium.
For all its glories, the three-hours-plus roadshow edition of The Hateful Eight is ponderous and a little long-winded before arriving at the explosive events of its final act. But that, too, seems an intended element of Tarantino's immersive and finely constructed film. As event movies go in today's Hollywood, it sure beats IMAX 3-D.