This is not strictly a review of The Hateful Eight. It is a recounting of the 70MM Road Show presentation of the film, and the experience as a whole.
……but yes I am a big fan of The Hateful Eight.
The Music Box Theater, Chicago’s premiere movie house for independent and foreign films, is one of the fortunate locations to feature Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight in it’s special 70MM road show presentation. The theater installed a specialized forty foot screen just for the occasion. It seems that curious movie-goers as well as film buffs are responding to Tarantino’s latest experiment quite well, because the Music Box has been selling out these screenings since they started on Christmas day. Not exactly knowing what to expect, I called ahead of time to see if it was necessary to buy tickets before, or if showing up and purchasing on the spot would suffice. I was informed that it would be smart to buy them ahead of time, as it was very likely they would sell out.
Upon arrival, the line stretched out the door for half a block. We ran up to the theater entrance (we being three Flow Motion Members; Josh Stone, Aaron Palmer, and myself, Kyle Flaharty) desperate to make it inside before the film started. once we got there, the majority of the line had shuffled inside. The possibility of the show selling out was apparent, as finding three seats next to each other was no longer an option.
This didn’t bother me, I was happy to find a spot looking firmly in the center of the screen; a screen much wider than I’m used to seeing. To watch a film that’s actually being projected from a reel of is something the general public hasn’t seen in a few years. It’s something I appreciate, but I’m not offended by digital projection. I’m still watching films in the theater quite often, some of them with a lot of digital effects in them. It’s the size, the sound, and the perspective of seeing the film in a dark room where everyone shuts up and enjoys it that makes me want to go. But I can honestly say, when this film starts with it’s white/gray shots of the frozen Wyoming Mountain and it’s surroundings, the images flickered in a way I didn’t expect. And sure enough, those “cigarette burns” that pop up in the corner when the reel is about to switch were there. Every now and then, you could spot a couple tiny little scratches on the film print. This was pretty much what I expected, and exactly what I wanted. This is something Tarantino would make. It’s film-porn. This was like seeing an impeccable oil painting after only staring at acrylic art due to convenience.
Here’s a Western, with an ensemble cast, shot on 70MM film, featuring a musical overture at the beginning and an intermission to break up the story into two parts (although the entire film is in increments of six chapters). That’s either going to excite you or not, but the road show presentation is something delightful for film lovers in particular. For those who can still appreciate Tarantino’s poetically draining dialogue punctuated by spurts of betrayal and gore, this is a must see film.
I actually ended up seeing the standard theater release version before this night just because I was curious about the film. After really enjoying it the first time, I got a kick out of hearing an audience reacting to things that I knew were coming the second time around.
The film’s opening reveals the Wyoming Winter landscape. When the screen goes black, the opening titles carry a little sass with Tarantino’s expected audacity, “The 8th film by Quentin Tarantino”. When these words appear, the driving hi-hat in Ennio Morricone’s score reveal themselves to give the soundtrack a sneaking groove for all the mystery/horror orchestral notes to lay on top of. “The Hateful Eight” pops up in a yellow and red font. It’s a title you’d see on a VHS cover, or a poster for a Spaghetti Western, clueing us in a little more to the vintage approach to the film’s vibe. Once we get to the conclusion of the first half of the film, we’ve arrived at Minnie’s Haberdashery (the rickety cabin where the cast is holed up), we’ve met the characters, and we know there’s some kind of treachery afoot. The screen cuts to black and in big letters, “INTERMISSION” let’s us know we’re there.
I honestly think some films could benefit from intermissions. Many modern blockbusters are close to or over two and a half hours, and although a break in the middle adds a little more time at the theater, it makes it feel like a bigger production. A few minutes to take in “part 1” of the story, if you will. Maybe you want to stretch your legs, if you have to use the restroom, you’re not missing anything for a few minutes. I think that only certain films could feasibly get theaters to go along with this concept. I think a James Cameron epic could gain that level of hype that could convince audiences it’s an “event”.
Tarantino takes an opportunity to welcome us back from the intermission personally. Once Chapter Four opens, we’re greeted by the voice of the Director, informing us of what’s transpired since we’ve been gone. His narration fills us in on a twist that has occurred off screen, introducing a more dire consequence for some of the characters in the unravelling mystery. His giddiness at sharing his story with the audience is clear. This narration also plays in the standard release version. I found it to be surprisingly subtle, despite it’s (again) audacity. But it’s clear that this little note from the Author was designed to dip you back into the story after you’ve been away at the restroom or the concession stand.
In the same way that the latest Star Wars aimed to bring back the feeling of big wondrous adventure untarnished by overly used CGI, The Hateful Eight is reminding us of a time when going to a movie was similar to seeing a play or a bog Broadway show. The Road Show version of the film isn’t presented as just another flick that’ll be on DVD and Blu Ray in a few short months. It unveils as a long-winded mystery with beautiful cinematography and brutal characters.
Some have described this film as Reservoir Dogs in the old West. While that certainly gives you an idea of the setting and tone, the story itself is much less like a jewel heist aftermath and more like a twisted, secluded, six-gun game of Clue. While Reservoir Dogs offered plenty of back stories through flashbacks, we’re only given one glimpse into the past, as the second to last chapter reveals what happens before everyone arrives at Minnie’s Haberdashery.
I personally hope to see more Road Show versions of films, not just strictly Tarantino films either. Seeing a film in this atmosphere was truly a cinematic treat that didn’t feel gimmicky or half assed. By theatrically releasing 70MM film print versions of The Hateful Eight, it forced theaters to maintain the projection of a film. It’s been so automatic for projectionists for the past few years. This did cause hiccups at some theaters, which resulted in improperly presented screenings of the film.
It’s regrettable that some folks had to suffer through not seeing the entire film or having to wait extra long while the film reels were figured out. But it tickles me that theaters did have to go through it, to maintain a projection like they were meant to do. They’re making sure the lights and the celluloid keep going in the right order, maintaining the illusion so we can be swept away into the story.
For me, Tarantino’s films continue to be inspirational. The Hateful Eight was no exception, and this amazing presentation only added to the movie-butterflies-in-my-stomach that made for one of the absolute most memorable experiences at the theater ever.
If you find yourself in Chicago, swing by the Music Box Theater (or any of the great independent theaters in the city) and support local movie houses. This art form will never die, but film is already old news for some. Enjoy it while you can.