It’s a split verdict from the Pop Culture Happy Hour panel this week on the merits of Quentin Tarantino’s eighth and—on account of having been shot in 65mm Super Panavision, for a 2.76:1 aspect ratio when projected in 70mm—widest feature, The Hateful Eight. I don’t think I was at my sharpest trying to defend the picture. All I can tell is you that I saw its refusal to give us any character to empathize with fully as a strength, not a weakness, and reflective of a deliberate decision by Tarantino. Although more modest in scale and contained in its setting, this is a more complicated film than the two historical fantasias that preceded it, 2009’s Inglorious Basterds and 2012’s Django Unchained. I enjoy and admire all of these films, but it’s very clear in the latter two who is supposed to enjoy the audience’s support. Not so in The Hateful Eight. That discomfiture ain’t for everyone. “The viewership for this one narrows to the self-selected,” wrote my pal Scott Tobias in his NPR review three weeks ago.
When we moved on to discussing how theatrical film exhibition has evolved, I missed my window to mention Sensurround, the gimmick that Universal rolled out with the 1974 release of Earthquake! That’s okay; I used it as my lede for my review of San Andreas eight months ago. You know, The Hateful Eight is only the 11th feature ever shot in Super Panavision 70/Camera 65; of the 10 others, three of them starred Charlton Heston, who is also in Earthquake! That cat sure got around. Imagine the performance he might’ve given in a Tarantino movie.
More trivia: Scent of Mystery, the 1960 “Smell-O-Vision” epic I mentioned, was directed by Jack Cardiff, who was probably better known for the films he shot as a cinematographer. He was behind the camera for a trio of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classics in the 1940s, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes, and then for John Huston’s The African Queen. Much later, after he’d retired from directing, he shot 1984’s Conan the Destroyer and 1985’s Rambo: First Blood, Part II. But not the first Conan or Rambo movies—the ones you can actually defend. Too bad.