I always get excited by the prospect of a new Tarantino film, and I'm really looking forward to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But I've been let down by Tarantino - not very often mind you - with The Hateful Eight. The Hateful Eight is a mystery thriller set in a cabin in the wilds of post-civil war America. It has an amazing cast, a great premise and it's a Tarantino film. What's not to love right? Well, the running time, for one.
The Hateful Eight, a story about 8 people stuck in a cabin together, is 3hrs and 7 minutes according to IMDB. And based on my experience of watching the film, that sounds about right to me. Let's be honest, shall we? 3hrs is too long for most movies, but a story about 8 people in a single location, trying to find the odd one out, should never be that long. By comparison, that's almost half an hour longer than his next longest film.
As much as I enjoy his films, The Hateful Eight left me feeling bored and weary by the end. And I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who feels that way. A film should never leave an audience feeling that way.
The film doesn't need to be that long. It tells a very similar story to Reservoir Dogs (someone in the room is not who they say they are) and it even mirrors the (almost) single setting of Reservoir Dogs. But where Reservoir Dogs was fast and efficient, The Hateful Eight ends up being quite inefficient and very slow.
Now, there is a justification for the slow pace - I guess. One could argue that the length helps to capture the claustrophobia and the boredom of being stuck in a cabin. It also slowly builds the suspense. However, that's not a good enough justification in my book. I've mentioned in my previous essays about pacing that you can achieve that long and drawn out feeling, and easily build up the same suspense, without having to add so many minutes to the running time.
There is an indulgence to this kind of running time in a film like this. It's no coincidence that Tarantino is now making his films longer and longer. He can because he has the power to do so. But I'm surprised no one is pulling him up on it. His first film, and for some critics, his best, was a far cry from this running time. Reservoir Dogs was 1hr and 40 minutes after all.
This is a dangerous trend in cinema. Many of the so-called auteur filmmakers nowadays get away with making incredibly long and needlessly drawn out films. Christopher Nolan, despite being a fine filmmaker, makes excessively long films. So much so that I was shocked to find that Dunkirk was as concise as it was at 1hr and 46 minutes. Think about that - Reservoir Dogs and Dunkirk have almost identical running times. Spielberg and Fincher are no different. They make outlandishly long films (though I find the running lengths for their work a little more tolerable). Michael Bay? Don't get me started...
I would argue that the Transformers franchise would have been better received overall if their running times had been kept to under two hours. I think audiences would have been more forgiving of the glaring issues of the films if they didn't feel so burned out by the end of them. I keep saying time and again that the last ten minutes of a film is what will decide whether or not an audience walks away with a smile on their face. No matter how good the ending is, if they are exhausted, you've lost. And even if the film is flawed, they'll forgive you if it was at least an engaging experience.
This might sound like the rant of a frustrated Tarantino fan, but there are real tangible benefits to having shorter running times. First of all, it allows for cheaper productions. It also allows for more screenings of the film. A 90-100 minute film is going to make more money than a 3hr film on this fact alone. It blows my mind that studios don't seem to recognise this, or opt not to exploit it. It's not just about money though. Audiences will want to return to the film again knowing that it doesn't feel like such an arduous experience just to watch the film in a single sitting. A film that tells its story efficiently will leave the audience wanting more and that is always a good thing.
The Hateful Eight should have been the new Reservoir Dogs - it should have been no more than 1hr and 40 minutes max. Tarantino is a good enough writer that he could have pulled it off and I would be watching it again and again like I do with the rest of his films. But as of right now, I have never returned to that film since its 2015 release. That says something.
(Image copryight: The Weinstein Company)