How to watch Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’

By Dan Cava 

December 30, 2015

A Quentin Tarantino movie is always an event and now his newest movie, The Hateful Eight, has been pre-immortalized with a limited 100-city “roadshow” release. The roadshow edition included a handful of movie geek extras: 70mm film projection, an overture and intermission, a handful of additional landscape shots, and a paper program given to each attendee prior to the show. The film is now entering its traditional wide-release run, and all of those perks are going away, but fear not!  In honor of the The Hateful Eight’s special presentation, our film editor Dan Cava presents this easy, four-step guide to getting the most out of  this talky, bloody, snowy western.

‘The Hateful Eight’ program and a knife.

Step #1: Know your film history

Tarantino is first and foremost a remix artist. Sure, he has brought a handful of his own trademarks to dialogue and action scenes, but his great achievement has always been the skillful repackaging of his cinematic influences. Tarantino’s style has always relied on the marriage of old video store genres with new postmodern sensibilities. For The Hateful Eight, Tarantino once again draws liberally from his two favorite western filmmakers: Sergio Leone and Howard Hawks.

Sergio Leone is most famous for his so-called spaghetti westerns: tough, violent, usually starring Clint Eastwood and made in Italy. Leone’s movies often featured squinty men, battered females, flashy camera zooms, endearingly goofy Ennio Morricone musical scores (ooOOooOOoo-wahwahwah), and long buildups to graphic violence– all of which are on ample display in Tarantino’s latest. Once you know what to look for, it’s not hard to see the long running time and moral morass of The Hateful Eight as homages to Tarantino’s favorite Leone film, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.

Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood on the set of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’

Howard Hawks directed another of Tarantino’s (and my) favorite westerns: the John Wayne masterpiece Rio Bravo. Rio Bravo is the ultimate “classic” western in that it is entirely old-fashioned. All the stereotypes about “boring” westerns are confirmed in Rio Bravo: very few close-ups, folksy humor,  barely motivated moments of people singing prairie songs, and scene upon scene of guys standing around and talking. Talking in the barn, talking in the saloon, talking on their horses, and every once in a while using their guns… And then talking some more. Tarantino has used the Rio Bravo approach in individual scenes in the past; he uses it for an entire movie in The Hateful Eight.

Step #2: Know your development history

The Hateful Eight originally saw its debut, not on a screen, but on a stage in Los Angeles in 2014. Some savvy readers may remember that Tarantino staged a “live reading” of the screenplay with a number of actors, a majority of which would go on to star in the film. It’s unclear whether at that point Tarantino ever intended to actually shoot the movie or if the script was simply a writing exercise meant for that first venue.  

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 19: (Clockwise from Top L) Actors Kurt Russell, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell and Tim Roth, director Quentin Tarantino and actors Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, James Parks, Walton Goggins and James Remar, film curator Elvis Mitchell and actors Amber Tamblyn and Denis Menochet pose before participating in the world premiere of a staged reading by Quentin Tarantino: "The Hateful Eight" presented by Film Independent at The Theatre at Ace Hotel Downtown LA on April 19, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
(Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

What is clear now is that the final result feels very much like a stage play. It’s not a “show” movie; it’s a “tell” movie. Whereas in the past Tarantino would be apt to use flashbacks, cutaways, and chapter breaks to visually present character backstories, the exposition in The Hateful Eight comes almost entirely from the actors’ mouths. The characters talk to each other about each other, and that’s how we learn just about everything. Despite the chapter divisions, The Hateful Eight is a two-act drama with much more in common with an Agatha Christie closed-room murder mystery than with the sprawling Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds. In a fascinating contrast to the implication of using ultra-widescreen 65mm film camera and lenses to shoot the film, the story is remarkably contained and interior. The marketing for the movie has often mentioned how 65mm film and roadshow releases were used for massive movies like Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia, but despite the pomp and circumstance around The Hateful Eight’s theatrical presentation, it is one of Tarantino’s smallest films.

Step #3: Know your filmmaker

Tarantino is not shy about the fact that he is purposefully building a cohesive body of work with his movies. His films are his legacy, he knows that, and with each successive film he is consciously defining and reinforcing the term “a Quentin Tarantino film.” Tarantino wouldn’t say that his movies have dialogue and characters; he would say they have “my dialogue” and “my characters.” Each new movie is very much an expansion or embellishment on what has come before it, and that means knowing Tarantino’s older work is a key to understanding his newer work. The Hateful Eight draws from nearly every previous film in the Tarantino oeuvre, most substantially from some of his “minor” works: the “gang of criminals” thing from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the chapter breaks of Pulp Fiction and beyond, the spaghetti Western influences of Kill Bill and Django Unchained, the sudden, stylized violence and surprise voiceovers of Inglourious Basterds, the historical revisionism and racial issues of Inglourious and Django, and most surprisingly but significantly, the lazy and talky rhythm of Jackie Brown and Death Proof.  

The Weinstein Company

The last comparison is the most important: The Hateful Eight pushes the talk-talk-talk-talk-talk-VIOLENCE structure as far as it will go, and audience members who are expecting the brisker rhythms of Tarantino’s last few films may be surprised to find the sheer amount of yakking and waiting we experience during the film’s nearly three hour running time. The Hateful Eight essentially occurs in two places: a stagecoach and a tavern, and the vast majority of the “action” happens in the back half of the film.  Think the bar scene from Inglourious Basterds, but for 167 minutes.

Step #4: Know your restrooms

Like I said, 167 minutes. The theatrical edition doesn’t have an intermission, so you should really think about how comfortably you’ll be sitting when The Hateful Eight’s story eggs start hatching at around the hour-and-a-half mark.

And now you’re ready both to experience The Hateful Eight and to impress your friends with your Tarantino knowledge.  Because if The Hateful Eight is anything, it is exactly what credits proudly and unambiguously proclaim it to be: “the 8th movie by Quentin Tarantino.”

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