I’ve seen every one of Quentin Tarantino’s films, and I’ve enjoyed each one. I largely agree with The Movie Guys’ Jordan and Eddie’s ranked list of his films, although I would put Kill Bill second to Pulp Fiction, and maybe consider swapping Inglorious Basterds with Django Unchained. Like them, I didn’t feel The Hateful Eight was Tarantino’s best work.
While The Hateful Eight has the same embrace of all things cinema as his other films, it feels a bit more mature – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In Kill Bill, it’s immediately clear that the Bride is wearing a yellow jumpsuit because Bruce Lee did. Unless you’re a movie nerd, it may not be clear that O Ren Ishii is wearing a white kimono because Yuki wore one in Lady Snowblood, or that a lot of the scenes in Kill Bill pay direct or indirect homage to Lady Snowblood. And the list of winks to other movie nerds goes on and on in the rest of his films. But The Hateful Eight seems more earnest. A scene of a stagecoach approaching a cabin during a snowstorm doesn’t unfold as a shot for shot copy of an obscure spaghetti western; it’s there because that’s how ANY western – including a post-modern, revisionist western like this one – shoots that scene.
Speaking of scenery, The Hateful Eight is beautiful to look at. I tried to see the 70mm roadshow but didn’t make it, and I am pretty sure – despite the presence of the “photographed in Ultra Panavision 70” during the opening credits – that the iTunes version is not the 70mm version due to its lack of overture and intermission (I imagine even the thought of me watching the 70mm version on my 46-inch TV makes Tarantino’s skin crawl). That said, it’s still amazing. The landscapes approach those of The Revenant, and the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where almost all of the film takes place, looks almost three-dimensional due to the layers of foreground and background Tarantino creates. He also makes amazing use of 70mm’s shallow depth of field, transitioning the focus between two characters in sync with their dialogue. But by far his best move, and my favorite scene in the entire film, is a 180 degree pan used not once but multiple times as part of a long take. Where other directors cut between three characters in a heated exchange, Tarantino chooses to use the lowly pan to transition between speakers.
But aside from its earnestness and cinematography, I’m unsure what to make of The Hateful Eight. That’s usually true for most of Tarantino’s films. Aside from Kill Bill, I sometimes struggle to find a meaning on the first (or even second) viewing. So while I can read an article and say “Yeah, I guess Pulp Fiction is about men of violence deciding to walk a righteous path,” it’s not like I walked out of the theater thinking that. So while I see exactly what Will Standish at Rooster Illusion is talking about when he describes this as Tarantino’s attempt to expose the misogyny and bigotry that are so entwined with American history, or Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at The AV Club means when he says the final scene demonstrates the promise of America rising above its baser instincts, I get it. But I didn’t exactly get it when I was watching the movie.