If you have any love for Quentin Tarantino’s films or anticipation for his latest, you might wonder: “Do I really need to see The Hateful Eight in the 70mm Road Show?”
Absolutely. Positively. Accept no substitutes.
The latest blow to Tarantino’s attempt to resurrect Panavision’s luxuriant, brief-lived Ultra Panavision 70mm format came last week when news that “high quality DVD screener” digital copies had been leaked online. But watching The Hateful Eight that way instead of on a 70-mm projector would be like Googling “Mona Lisa” and staring at a thumbnail instead of seeing DaVinci’s masterpiece in person at the Louvre.
You may think that in an age where we’ve been conditioned to pay a premium for IMAX 3-D, an "obsolete" film format from 50 years ago would be just a curio. But in the case of Ultra Panavision, they truly don’t make them like they used to. Ultra Panavision came from an era when the studios, pressured by the rise of TV, were willing to shoot the moon. But the decision to film in larger formats proved so expensive that studios eventually abandoned it. In the end, only 10 films were ever shot and projected in Ultra Panavision, most notably the paragon of cinema epics Ben Hur. That makes The Hateful Eight only the 11th film in the format.
And that only tells half the story. Tarantino’s decision to use a 65mm camera negative, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s decision to shoot The Master in 65mm, offers twice as much film area, richer hues, and a level of detail that surpasses even 35mm film. Yet even The Master used 35mm here and there, and adhered to the narrower 1:85 format. As for IMAX, even when you can find a theater with a genuine IMAX screen, the films themselves are not always shot on large format film. Tarantino, however, wanted to use every last inch Ultra Panavision would give him, and thus the Roadshow required an enormous logistical and financial undertaking for the Weinstein company to outfit theaters to project The Hateful Eight in 70mm, whose travails The Verge chronicled. (In addition to a few minutes of extra footage, the Roadshow starts with a moody overture of Ennio Morricone’s score and provides an intermission à la the original roadshows of the 50s and 60s, making it a truly unique cinematic experience.)
When you see the film itself, however, you’ll understand why. The colors and detail of the image are crisp and rich with a luminous quality that makes a mockery of digital projection. And you can tell that Tarantino has deliberately slowed down the pace to luxuriate in the wide, snowy vistas of Telluride before he locks his characters inside the cabin that proves the crucible for film’s Agatha Christie-esque plot. The irony is that Tarantino has made a chamber piece on a format intended for wide-open epics—and the extra space means that often the majority of the cast are within the camera’s view. Tarantino accordingly uses the blocking and placement of his actors to play with this tension: Every character suspects the other and you can feel that frisson all the more with so many of them sharing the frame at any given time. However, Tarantino’s use of 70mm proves most providential when coupled with his love of close-ups: Samuel Jackson’s face becomes a mountainous vista all its own as he reacts to every plot turn and spews out his characteristic diatribes.
Ultimately, Tarantino may have luxuriated a little too much, at least in the first half: The molasses-slow build-up feels as much a showcase for the format as a prolonged set-up for the plot. But after the intermission, as Tarantino squeezes the vice tighter and tighter, the story ignites and the film progresses ever more inexorably to the inevitable bloodbath. As far as his filmography goes, this one feels most aimed towards unrepentant cineastes, but if you can catch the roadshow, you’ll see that Tarantino has served up a spectacle that you won’t find anywhere else this season.
If you’re willing to pay a premium to re-buy old Bowie albums on vinyl or you appreciate the difference between custom-tailored suits and off-the-rack, do yourself a huge favor: see The Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm.