It’s the last release day of 2015, because Hollywood knows we’re all going to be too hung over or hooked on bowl games to go see anything but Star Wars. The Force Awakens rocketed past $600 million domestic and $1 billion worldwide, and it’s showing ridiculous staying power for a film that opened so strongly. There’s nothing in its way until Ride Along 2 on the 15th, but I somehow get the feeling the anticipation for that one isn’t going to derail Rey and her gang. I’d pick Kung Fu Panda 3 as the most likely speed bump, but at the rate this thing is going, it’ll have enough money not to even care by that point.
But it is a release day today, albeit an expansion for those of you who don’t have the luxury of living near one of Quentin Tarantino’s hand-picked movie viewing venues of choice. I was able to see The Hateful Eight’s 70mm road show presentation, although I went more out of impatience at not wanting to wait a week than out of some obligation to the format. You could tell the theater was a little out of practice: it forgot to fully open the curtains when the film started, we had a Windows Active Desktop screen pop up over the image for about a minute early on, and they skimped big time on the program booklets so that maybe one out of ten people got one. But we didn’t experience any of the horror stories like the film breaking that had come out of some of the other 70mm screenings. This’ll probably mark me as an uncultured Neanderthal to some, but I wasn’t blown away by the presentation. It looked great, but not much better to my eyes than a good, crisp digital projection. You ask me, it’s a case of “This was the old way of doing things and that’s inherently better,” like listening to vinyl and watching movies on VHS. I’ll take progress, thanks.
As for the film itself, if you’re not a fan of Tarantino, this definitely isn’t the movie that’s going to change your mind. And if you are a fan of Tarantino, you’re in for three hours of bliss. It’s the director at his foulest, bloodiest best, using the poetry of both language and violence to spin a tale about the line between truth and fiction, the line between respect and hatred, and how easily those lines are blurred when it serves our purposes. And on a surface level, it’s a crackling Agatha Christie drawing room mystery with swearing and shooting. Tarantino is up to his old tricks again as far as linear storytelling goes, jumping backward in one of the chapters for a scene that’s agonizing in its inevitability yet still riveting to watch.
The entire cast is on fire, so much so it’s hard to pick a standout, since everyone has one or two moments wherein they absolutely shine. Since so much of the exposition rests on his shoulders, I’d have to single out Samuel L. Jackson as the bounty hunter Marquis Warren, who gleefully puts the screws to friend and foe alike. But you also have to love Walton Goggins’ racist sheriff-to-be Chris Mannix, Kurt Russell’s John “The Hangman” Ruth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue, the prisoner around whom the characters and plot revolve. The whole thing is just some good old fashioned Deadwood-ian frontier Shakespeare.
And honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing it again without the intermission the road show presentation added into it, mostly out of curiosity as to how it plays (it’ll be slightly shorter). The break comes at a key moment in the film, at which you could probably use a breather, but I’d like to see how things feel rocketing right into the next chapter.
So if you’re looking for something besides hair of the dog and football and lightsabers, you could do a whole lot worse than letting Tarantino ring in the new year for you. But I’d be okay with it if you went and saw Star Wars again. I probably am too.