I think that all the 70mm did, from a functional standpoint, was prevent them from using any CGI. Otherwise, the film didn’t look any better than a modern film nor any more immersive. Instead, the picture didn’t fit the screen fully and rather than have a rough edge on both top and bottom, our theater chose to raise the image to the top of their screen, so at least the top was a hard line, but the bottom was still a fade-off. That made it slightly annoying, that the focal point was slightly higher on the screen than normal. But more noticeable was that any light colors flickered noticeably. And so any scenes with snow were obviously flickering as you watched.
The first half or two-thirds of the movie seemed good. I felt like the dialogue was less clever than Tarantino’s usual and instead was simply expository and so the scenes seemed a bit long, compared to the payoff. But, the characters were interesting and it did a good job of building up tension and working towards a decent Agatha Christie style who-gunna-do-it.
But then in the second part of the movie, all of the murder-mystery tension goes out the door and instead it turns into a slow blood fest. Not an exciting one, just a few overly-dramatic deaths one by one, with over-the-top blood and exploding head effects that seemed too cheesy to mesh well with the fairly serious tone that everything else had.
We also get a sudden and complete reveal of who everyone is, pretty early into the latter chunk of the movie. And that revelation basically tells us that the first two people to have died are really the only characters that anyone would want to root for in the whole movie. So the rest of the killings, besides being not terribly action-packed and a bit silly, are also all of people we don’t like against other people we don’t like. Watching a bunch of people that you don’t care about kill another bunch of people you don’t care about isn’t very thrilling.
And despite all of the exposition in the movie dialogue, we don’t actually get a very good sense for any of the characters. They all either remain mostly unexplained or display heavily conflicting attributes depending on what the story needs and what Tarantino thinks would be humorous for a second.
Kurt Russel’s character is presented, throughout the movie, as very cautious and suspicious, making all the right choices to try and keep on top of the situation that he’s in. But then he’s caught out as a gullible fool. The characters make a small to-do about his being more moral and just than everyone else, but then he keeps beating on Daisy rather than just tying her hands behind her back and gagging her.
Samuel L. Jackson’s character is presented as a capable and discerning badass, as well as extra canny, who initially seems to like to stay silent, keep his thoughts to himself, and ambush people. But then he turns into the world’s biggest show-off, braggart, and troll. From his latter behavior, it seems implausible that he would ever have survived to the age he seems to be regardless of how smart he may be. He seems to revel in pissing people off and doing it big and loud, where lots of other people would get pissed off as well. That just doesn’t come off as plausible. He also appears to know everything there is to know about the Habidashery and, while maybe not certain who is good and who is bad, pretty confident from early on that there’s a real threat hidden there. Yet he never checks the basement. We’ve also seen that he can set up a clean kill at need, so it makes no sense that he wouldn’t take out the Mexican, who it seems that he had enough information to know was a danger pretty soon in. His cautious investigative style and brash, inflammatory styles are at complete odds.
Walter Goggin’s character is ambivalently displayed as racist or not-really-caring-about-race-too-much depending on the moment and is basically incidental and not terribly smart, capable, nor confident until the last 10 minutes of the film. But then his personality transitions into something else entirely, for the purposes of the plot, but it is displayed for such a short period of time that I couldn’t really say what it is.
And Daisy basically never seems to gain a personality through the whole thing despite quite a bit of opportunity. Does she sort of vaguely enjoy getting beat up? Maybe she’s a masochist, or maybe she’s buying time and plotting. Except she never really shows either. She cackles in joy once she might have the upper hand and makes a decent last speach, but never seemed particularly crafty before that point.
No one else ever given any background, except as a bunch of murder-loving bad guys.[/spoiler]
Tarantino seemed to be resistant to revealing anything about the character’s pasts which could properly flesh them out for us, except via expository dialogue. He wastes his one flashback to reveal what had happened in the haberdashery before everyone got there, all of which gave no amazing revelations (yes, the General’s presence is explained, but he could just as easily have arrived later). If you cut down on the expository dialogue and kill that scene, you could easily have added a few flashbacks into the early life of the characters, to reveal more about their personalities and properly flesh them out. Even the ones who were baddies all along, it should have been possible to show snippets from their past which would present them as one thing, but make sense in a different light after the reveal. You don’t need to refrain from flashbacks entirely, even in a movie where people are lying about who they are.
The choice of Ennio Morricone for the music worked brilliantly. The movie starts off kicking ass by simply letting Ennio’s music play. But then Tarantino ruins this by intermixing some modern selections into the score, which doesn’t work very well when swapping back and forth with Ennio’s music.
Overall, I’m glad to see Tarantino go a slightly different direction, with trying to do something more like Ten Little Indians and less 70s Exploitation. But, ultimately, he wasn’t able to maintain it. The characterization was off; the pacing was off; the tone was inconsistent; the dialogue was long-winded; and Ennio Morricone’s musical abilities were partially wasted.
The movie was enjoyable. I’ve certainly seen worse. But it easily could have been much better. Most of the flaws seem to relate to Tarantino’s inability to restrain himself from being himself. Regardless of tone, characterization-to-moment, or whatever else, if it got in the way of some clever cinematic moment he’d conjured up, deprived him of a head explosion, or whatever else then so be it. I’d probably vote that the movie seems to indicate that he has too many yes-men and fanboys around him. He needed a few people giving him real, critical feedback.