As if that bold statement on the theatrical trailers, posters, opening credits, and Blu-ray packaging didn't clue you in, The Hateful Eight (2015) is director Quentin Tarantino's eighth film, and the end product couldn't have been made by anyone else. I'll admit to feeling slightly unprepared for offering any kind of expert analysis in regards to his complete filmography: though I've seen most of his movies multiple times---including the obvious candidates, like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction---the only one that's escaped me thus far is 2012's Django Unchained, his first attempt at a Western; as such, I won't be making any direct comparisons between Django and this story, which takes place several years after the Civil War. Even so, there are enough glaring similarities between The Hateful Eight and several of his earlier films that they're almost impossible to miss, and most of them are more than welcome.
Non-stop dialogue? Check. Anachronistic pop songs? Check. Tense stand-offs with loaded guns and a bit of the old ultra-violence? Double check. Though its perspective shifts almost constantly as this 167-minute film unfolds, our story initially follows bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and "The Hangman" John Ruth (Kurt Russell) with captives in tow: Warren has three unnamed corpses worth $8,000, while Ruth is chained to the very-much-alive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a multiple murderer with a $10,000 price tag. They're both en route to Red Rock in a four-horse stagecoach driven by unassuming O.B. Jackson (James Parks), but not before the town's new sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) hitches a ride too. More complications arise as a nasty blizzard follows overhead, forcing a stop at isolated Minnie's Haberdashery to wait out the storm for a few days. Unfortunately, proprietor Minnie Mink (Dana Gourrier) and her husband Sweet Dave (Gene Jones) aren't around; in their place are Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir), Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and reclusive cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), who are either fellow travelers or minding the lodge in Minnie's absence.
There's a lot going on in The Hateful Eight, even though we only see or hear from about a dozen characters in just under three hours. It's a story with layers upon layers of deception and dread: first comes the perilous journey, then the addition of more unsavory characters...and once we hit the 90-minute mark, things turn even nastier. From start to finish, one thing remains consistent: The Hateful Eight serves up a thinly-veiled allegory for historical and current race relations in America, captured perfectly in a setting that takes place just years after the Civil War's end. At one point, there's even a figurative line drawn right down the middle of the expansive Haberdashery, which could only shout symbolism more loudly if "Mason-Dixon" were written in chalk.
Overall, The Hateful Eight should exceed expectations if you're looking for a slow-burning dialogue fest that practically sweats tension. If your favorite parts of Inglourious Basterds were this scene or this other one, you'll be reminded of those at some point. If you enjoyed the stop-and-start pacing of films like Death Proof, there's some of that, too. There's also no shortage of the pitch-black humor present in the director's entire back catalogue, and even a few non-linear revelations for good measure. But that's not to say it does everything right: a reliance on voice-over narration (by an uncredited Tarantino) partway through is completely unnecessary, while the repetition of an accompanying scene is almost insulting to viewers paying attention the first time around.
Still, 10 minutes of nonsense and a few stray nitpicks aren't all that much compared to what The Hateful Eight is able to accomplish as a whole. It's masterfully shot and edited, with a terrific setup and loads of atmosphere that elevate the source material even higher. The dialogue, from top to bottom, is some of Tarantino's very best and the performances are terrific. Tarantino's film is also aided greatly by the music from veteran composer Ennio Morricone, who hadn't fully scored a Western in nearly four decades. It's a fact that pairs nicely with the film's revolutionary visuals: The Hateful Eight was only the 11th feature film shot in Ultra Panavision 70, resurrecting camera equipment and lenses that hadn't been used since 1966. The film's ultra-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio is shared by the likes of Ben-Hur, How The West Was Won, and even It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; that's not to say that The Hateful Eight is better than any of those, but it's definitely the only one in which someone gets shot in the nuts.
As such, The Hateful Eight's unique format demanded more than a traditional release: Tarantino assembled a slightly longer cut that earned a series of 70MM roadshow exhibitions in select theaters across America, all of which were specially equipped with the right equipment to take full advantage of the format's increased level of detail. Of course, the "regular" theatrical edition is what most of us saw, and that's what we get on Anchor Bay's Blu-ray: we're treated to a pitch-perfect A/V presentation, but the lack of extras is disappointing. Luckily, the film's obvious appeal and solid replay value make this a disc worth keeping...for now, at least.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original ultra-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio, The Hateful Eight looks gorgeous on this 1080p transfer from Anchor Bay; those with projectors will love it, while anyone with less than a 40" TV will be squinting pretty hard. Though shot in unfavorable conditions, the snowy outdoor sequences fare very well with excellent detail, subtle but accurate color saturation (without the blue filters as seen in the trailers, which I don't remember in the theater either), solid contrast and shadow detail, and even plenty of noticeable textures. In contrast, the dimly-lit interior scenes---including those in the stagecoach and Minnie's Haberdashery---still hold up nicely despite their lower visual ceiling. This is a clean image that, partly due to its heavy and memorable environments, looks pitch-perfect on home video. It's obviously a few notches below the film's limited 70mm roadshow presentations...but since this Blu-ray represents The Hateful Eight's more common "regular" theatrical version, it's almost pointless to draw such comparisons. Without question, a five-star effort that shows no signs of manipulation, poor compression, or unsightly wear-and-tear.
DISCLAIMER: The resized screen captures and promotional stills on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Not to be outdone, the fully enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (also available as a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dub) creates the necessary level of detail to showcase both the more demanding outdoor elements and the front-loaded dialogue scenes shot inside. Music cues, including Ennio Morricone's Academy Award-winning instrumentals and a few anachronistic pop tunes (The White Stripes, Roy Orbison), are full-bodied and dynamic, often stopping and starting on a dime between scenes. Otherwise, rear channels are mostly reserved for extreme weather conditions, stray sound effects, and off-camera dialogue. It's an extremely effective effort from start to finish, balanced very well and serving up more than enough aural excitement for a film that's basically 90% dialogue. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles have been included during the main feature, but only English subs for the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation, and Packaging
With its clean, no-frills design, Anchor Bay's interface loads quickly with minimal distractions. The main feature is broken into just over a dozen chapters, with separate options for audio/subtitle setup and bonus features. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed, eco-friendly keepcase with attractive cover art, a Digital Copy
redemption slip, and a matching matte-finish slipcover that opens to reveal cropped artwork from one of The Hateful Eight
's original poster designs (below left).
Easily this release's weakest element, Anchor Bay's extras include two surface-level production featurettes that are easily available on YouTube and elsewhere. "Beyond the Eight: A Behind-the-Scenes Look" (5 minutes) is a quick look at location shooting and the on-set experience featuring a handful of cast and crew sound bites, while "Sam Jackson's Guide to Glorious 70mm" (7 minutes) explains the roadshow release with a quick history lesson. Although not advertised on the packaging, there's also a Music Selection interface hiding in the chapter index, which lets you easily access all of the film's 22 main music cues. Overall, I was expecting a lot more...and although a few retailer-exclusive editions will be offered, fans shouldn't have to jump through such hoops.
It's been almost 25 years since Quentin Tarantino made his first big splash with Reservoir Dogs...and if you haven't fully embraced his style of filmmaking yet, The Hateful Eight won't do much to change your mind. Armed with a terrific ensemble cast, plenty of razor-sharp dialogue, shocking twists and turns, and no shortage of homages to earlier films (including his own), it's a memorable experience from start to finish with only a few small hiccups along the way. Yet the film itself is almost overshadowed by its unique presentation: filmed in Ultra Panavision 70, The Hateful Eight also benefited from a series of well-received 70MM roadshow exhibitions across the US (which included 20 minutes of additional footage, among other things). Anchor Bay's Blu-ray represents the "regular" theatrical version and offers a flawless A/V presentation but little in the way of extras. Whether or not the complete roadshow version ever makes it to disc is anyone's guess (Grindhouse was great, but Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair is still MIA); in the meantime, curious newcomers and established fans would be crazy to pass this one up. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.