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The Hateful Eight: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Hateful Eight (2015) movie poster The Hateful Eight

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2015 / Running Time: 168 Minutes (multiplex cut) / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Chris Mannix), Demian Bichir (Bob), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (General Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O.B. Jackson), Dana Gourrier (Minnie), Zoλ Bell (Six-Horse Judy), Lee Horsley (Ed), Gene Jones (Sweet Dave), Keith Jefferson (Charly), Craig Stark (Chester Charles Smithers), Belinda Owino (Gemma), Channing Tatum (Jody), Quentin Tarantino (Narrator - uncredited)

Buy The Hateful Eight from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Well-known for his appreciation and emulation of various film styles, Quentin Tarantino makes his second consecutive western in The Hateful Eight. The distinctive, uncompromising writer-director announced
this as his next project two years ago, cancelled it after the script leaked on the Internet, then changed his mind and decided it to make the movie anyway. However you feel about Tarantino's movies, you've got to be glad he put his vision over the actions of those who leaked the script.

Billed the 8th film by Tarantino in marketing and the opening credits (a count that ignores films he partially directed like Grindhouse, Sin City, and Four Rooms and those he merely wrote, like True Romance), Hateful is what we've come to expect from the filmmaker: extremely violent, absurdly profane, and inspired by a hodgepodge of influences both highbrow and low. The film is set in snowy Wyoming some time before Christmas and several years after the end of the Civil War.

Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman suspected of murder who is worth $10,000 dead or alive. There's no question how Ruth will deliver the outlaw: he is nicknamed "The Hangman" because he always turns in his bounties alive, enabling justice to prevail in the form of a hanging. Reluctantly, Ruth lets Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Union major who carries around a personal letter from his late pen pal Abraham Lincoln, aboard the six-horse stagecoach that is being pulled through the snowy, mountainous terrain. Also joining the party and being spared a death by freezing is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern rebel who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, the town to which Ruth et al. are headed.

"The Hateful Eight" opens with multiple people requesting a ride in the six-horse stagecoach of bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell).

With a severe blizzard looming, the party of five (counting driver O.B.) settles in at Minnie's Haberdashery, where nearly the entire remainder of the film will be spent. There, they meet Red Rock's jolly British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), racist old Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), quiet cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and a squint-eyed named Mexican Bob (Demiαn Bichir, channeling Eli Wallach). These four men all invite various degrees of suspicion from Ruth and Warren, which is justifiable because little is what it seems to be here.

After well over an hour of character development through conversation (with the occasional elbow to the face, almost always directed at the lone woman), Tarantino's taste for violence surfaces in a tense showdown that kills off a character. This being a Tarantino Western, you assume most of these individuals will end up dead. The question is more about in what order and under what conditions they will die.

In its Roadshow release, our first death was immediately followed by an intermission. That's right; Tarantino embraces old methods like never before. The film dramatically changes tone in its second act. A narrator (Tarantino himself, putting on airs) starts talking and calls attention to something we had no reason to notice at the end of Act I. Suddenly, Hateful Eight becomes an Agatha Christie mystery and Warren is our Hercule Poirot. When a coffee pot is poisoned, Warren decides conspiracy is afoot and everyone's either a suspect or dead.

The body count predictably rises in a characteristically graphic way. Two characters projectile vomit blood repeatedly before dying. Another is shot in the genitals. One gets their head blown off, as it only can in the movies. No one gets through the film unscathed. Instead of solving the mystery at the very end Christie-style, Tarantino lets us know what's what before returning to Warren's candid and colorful detective monologues that try to reach the same truth.

Major Marquis Warren (top-billed Samuel L. Jackson) emerges as the Hercule Poirot of this Agatha Christie-like mystery.

By now, no one can doubt Tarantino's prowess as a director. There was a time when it seemed as if his career, celebrated as so influential and trailblazing in the 1990s mostly on the success of Pulp Fiction, would fizzle out as he pursued martial arts and B-movie homage to declining returns. Then, 2009's Inglourious Basterds became an unlikely blockbuster, earning him rave reviews and his third and fourth Oscar nominations. He followed that up with 2012's Django Unchained, another film lavished with admiration not just from violence-appreciating young males but also critics,
the general public (who made it his second consecutive hit), and the Academy, who awarded him a second Original Screenplay statuette (and Christoph Waltz a second Supporting Actor one). Arriving on Christmas Day from The Weinstein Company, the prestige-driven studio that distributed his previous two Best Picture nominees, Hateful Eight seemed destined to extend Tarantino's critical and commercial relevance, despite boycotts that law enforcement agencies have vowed in response to his seemingly ill-timed leadership of police brutality riots.

At the same time, Hateful pushes the boundaries for what is considered a prestige picture. This is one violent film. If you had trouble stomaching the final half-hour of Django Unchained, it may be wise for you to leave at the Intermission or perhaps not show up at all (you could rationalize buying a ticket in that you get more movie before intermission than many new films in full). As a film critic, I have inevitably been desensitized by violence. But I'm still not super comfortable with it. You can never dismiss Tarantino's work simply for its violent content, because his movies simultaneously display a level of craft and a love of the medium that are both rare. Still, you wish his films didn't always have to spew fragments of brain and buckets of blood all over the place.

The first act, which will strike action-hungry viewers as slow and uneventful, does an excellent job of compelling with the characters it builds and the atmosphere it establishes. Hateful assumes the feel of a stage play, as these characters come together in this one place and get to know each other, while the wind howls outside. The blizzard backdrop supplies a hint of a holiday special, from A Muppet Family Christmas to Netflix's recent A Very Murray Christmas. No one here sings Christmas carols, though at one point Daisy does pick up a guitar and sing while others nail the establishment's broken door shut with two pieces of wood as they have to repeatedly throughout.

As in Django, the violence is inevitable and the bloodshed is extreme. Whereas that over-the-top final half-hour did spoil Django for me, Hateful is not as derailed by its carnage. But, it remains a much more interesting film when people are relating to one another without their guns drawn, which applies to most but not all of the first act up until its bizarrely uncomfortable taunt involving a forced fellatio flashback.

That element of character study never disappears even when crimson enters the color palette. These characters are complex and all morally ambiguous. Tarantino remains capable of turning a phrase like few screenwriters can. His stories and dialogue may be full of anachronisms and contemporary themes, but that what it makes them so interesting to today's viewers.

Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) looks to collect $10,000 for delivering outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to justice in Red Rock.

The cast is as uniformly strong as you expect them to be. Every principal gets a chance to shine, though some more than others. After playing a very different kind of character in Django, Jackson is back to being Tarantino's textbook definition of cool. His presence puts a racial spin on things. You are sorely mistaken if you think that Tarantino is going to let criticism of his extensive use of the N-word change him; if anything, that blood-boiling slur might even be more rampant here than it was in the filmmaker's slavery movie. Jackson, who has appeared in nearly all of the director's movies, clearly approves of Tarantino's word selection and as one of Hollywood's most focal and beloved African-American figures, his opinion would seem to hold more weight than detractors, even his fellow multi-film director Spike Lee.

Russell's presence enforces a thematic link to John Carpenter's classic sci-fi horror film The Thing. In his mid-60s, Russell seems to be on the verge of legend status, but though his career has noticeably thinned in recent years (he hardly acted between Tarantino's Death Proof and Furious 7),
this does not quite feel like the revival that Tarantino is credited with extending to John Travolta and, less permanently, Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Though he grants his character some appeal, Russell doesn't fully embody this broad personality to the extent that he could.

Roth, reuniting with the director twenty years after making three straight films for him, is a bright spot, getting to put his comic delivery to better use than anything his between-Tarantino career has. Madsen enjoys his own reunion with Tarantino, which briefly rescues him from direct-to-video hell. As the lone woman, Leigh proves to be a good fit for the director and enjoys a small renaissance between this and her formidable role in Charlie Kaufman's acclaimed stop-motion comedy Anomalisa. As you could have guessed, Leigh was the sole member of Hateful's strong ensemble cast to earn an Academy Award nomination, for one of the year's rare truly supporting roles of note for women. (In her first trip to the Oscars in a career spanning over thirty years, she lost to breakout star Alicia Vikander, for The Danish Girl.)

Though Tarantino failed to gain entrance into the Original Screenplay and Director categories (which was somewhat understandable after all the shade his recent controversial interviews have thrown on his peers) and the film failed to crack the Best Picture field of ten, the film still predictably competed for Best Cinematography and Best Original Score honors. The former boasts countless striking compositions and deft maneuvers from Robert Richardson, Tarantino's DP since Kill Bill. The latter features brand new music from living legend and 2007 honorary Oscar winner Ennio Morricone, whose iconic spaghetti western themes Tarantino has repeatedly licensed. Most will agree that Morricone's cues are one of the best features of the movie, including the Academy, who gave him his first competitive Oscar over John Williams and other competition.

Like Christopher Nolan did with Interstellar, Tarantino uses his clout and drawing power to turn The Hateful Eight into a means for extolling the virtues of film over digital projection. The director shot the movie in Ultra Panavision 70 and had it projected in the long retired 70mm format in around a hundred theaters around the world that are designated to carry a special roadshow edit (which apparently runs 6 minutes longer than the multiplex edit). As I understand it, my critics-only screening gave the full roadshow cut but only in now standard digital projection. Even so, it was clear that, being the utter film geek he is, Tarantino relishes this opportunity to use and promote an old format. You can even imagine him getting giddy about the logos and opening titles he places on the film, unmistakably inspired by those spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and others. One only wishes that in his admiration for the genre, the director would know that enduring westerns never devolved into full-on bloodbaths that undercut their storytelling.

Everyone from supposed hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) to alleged new sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) is a suspect in Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight."

The Hateful Eight put an end to Tarantino's two-film streak of commercial success. The film grossed $154 million worldwide, barely a third of what the director's previous Western earned three years earlier, and just $53 M domestically, less than a third of Django's $163 M North American haul. With reviews nearly as favorable, you wonder if the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx was a major draw, or if the Django's more abundant action kept moviegoers more satisfied.

Oddly, it is the standard multiplex theatrical release, not the Roadshow edit that reaches home video on Tuesday from The Weinstein Company and their partner Anchor Bay Entertainment. That means you miss the overture at the start, the geeky format logos of the opening credits, the 12-minute intermission, and six minutes of exclusive footage that 70mm-equipped theaters got to include. You've got to assume the longer edit will be coming at some point down the road. For now, though, the film is available on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

The Hateful Eight: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.76:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Both: Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Book-Like Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

You can be sure that The Hateful Eight looks and sounds as it should on Blu-ray. The super wide 2.76:1 image is sharp, vibrant, spotless, and detailed, showing off both snowy scenery and confined compositions with nary a concern. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio enchants with score, howling wind, driver yelps, and steady, crisp, vulgar dialogue.

A behind-the-scenes photo shows Kurt Russell and Quentin Tarantino sharing a laugh on set in "Beyond the Eight." Samuel L. Jackson seems a tad overexcited in his Guide to Glorious 70mm.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

For such an event movie, The Hateful Eight is surprisingly light
on bonus features, getting just two short extras on each Blu-ray and DVD, the former presenting each in HD.

"Beyond the Eight: A Behind-the-Scenes Look" (4:58) is a brisk, general featurette which mixes trailer clips with talking heads, as the cast speaks highly of Tarantino and of each other.

Less typical and more fascinating is "Sam Jackson's Guide to Glorious 70mm" (7:49), which has the actor serve as overenthusiastic host to sell the Christmas Day opening and enlighten us regarding the long-outmoded Roadshow and Ultra Panavision formats. Tarantino, cinematographer Bob Richardson, and others discuss the thinking behind resurrecting 65mm film/70mm projection, retrofitting cameras to work with these old lenses, utilizing the widest frame available, and treating this like the event movies of yore.

No trailers for The Hateful Eight or anything else are found here.

The Hateful Eight's unique menu hangs on long snowy shots while playing an extended excerpt of Ennio Morricone's Oscar-winning score. The Hateful Eight Blu-ray combo pack's slipcover opens like a book to display this tasteful piece of art.

The winning menu plays snowy long shots and excerpts of Ennio Morricone's Oscar-winning score.
Scenes lets you jump to points not just based on titles but on the film's musical numbers as well.

Perhaps the most special thing about this release is the packaging. Though the standard eco-friendly blue keepcase holds two discs and a Digital HD UltraViolet insert like many new releases, it is topped by a tasteful, embossed slipcover (with a sticker touting its three Oscar nominations, but not its one win) whose front opens like a book (a glob of adhesive not so effectively holding it close) to display classy artwork of silhouettes outside Minnie's Haberdashery with drips of blood in the snow.

A blizzard permeates the movie, but we get our best looks at the snow early on, while John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and company are en route to Minnie's Haberdashery.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Hateful Eight puts Quentin Tarantino's crystal-clear strengths and weaknesses on display. The strengths include dynamic cinematic work that lean on the medium's past and a rich, sharp original narrative full of intrigue. The biggest weakness is the inability to tell that story in a way that doesn't simply devolve into over-the-top violence. The good far outweighs the bad, but you wish the writer-director could make that little push towards the greatness he's repeatedly flirted with.

Weinstein and Anchor Bay's combo pack is surprisingly bereft of bonus materials, but the nice menus and packaging plus two fine short featurettes complement a fantastic feature presentation. All in all, there's enough here to warrant a recommendation, even if you don't see yourself carving out all that time needed to revisit the film with any frequency. Just don't be surprised to find a better edition with the Roadshow edit coming in the near-future.

Buy The Hateful Eight from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino: Django Unchained • Jackie Brown • Four Rooms
New to Disc: The Big Short • Creed • Room • Brooklyn • Carol • Concussion • Steve Jobs
Samuel L. Jackson: The Spirit • Jumper | Kurt Russell: Bone Tomahawk • The Art of the Steal • Escape from New York
Michael Madsen: Free Willy | Tim Roth: Skellig: The Owl Man • Broken | Bruce Dern: Nebraska
Once Upon a Time in the West • True Grit (2010) • 3:10 to Yuma (1957) • The Master • Interstellar • Snowpiercer

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Reviewed March 26, 2016.



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