The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino can be a really polarising filmmaker. By some, he’s hailed as a pulp auteur with an original take on popular genres and with a great affection for traditional techniques. Others, on the other hand, might see him as a mere remix artist of obscure tropes and stories, stylishly repackaged for new generations. In either case, he made quite a career for himself, spanning over two decades, and received a significant critical acclaim for his eight feature films and handful of guest-directing duties on other people's projects. The Hateful Eight marks a significant turn in his career, from a musical perspective at least. For the first time, his film features an original score commissioned specficially for this occasion. Tarantino is a real control freak when it comes to music selections and that aspect alone marks one of his definite stylistic trademarks. True, Kill Bill Vol. 2 featured some original pieces from Robert Rodriguez, but it is only now that he decided to hand over his baby to someone else to look afer. And, of course, that might result with score that the director wouldn't necessarily expect, or want…

Ennio Morricone is a living legend of film and a true hero for Tarantino. The two were supposed to be collaborate before on several occasions. Previous films featured many classic tracks from Italian’s broad repertoire, but The Hateful Eight features a full original score from old master. While Quentin expected to hear a new take on iconic spaghetti western, the resulting music has more in common with horror music and composer’s own The Thing from 1982. It is no surprise, given that this new western was partially inspired by that classic John Carpenter film, both in terms of plot and its desolate wintry setting. On top of that, Morricone insisted that filmmakers should also feature unused segments from that score in The Hateful Eight ('Besitiality’ is featured twice in the film).

In the end, Morricone ended up recording much more material than originally planned and a vast majorityof it, if not all, we can hear on the very generous soundtrack album from Decca. The 72-minute presentation features about 52 minutes of Morricone’s score with song selections and Tarantino's signature film dialogue tracks sprinkled in between. While most listeners might prefer to separate those into separate sections, this presentation works very well in breaking up a fairly monotonous and steadily depressing mood of the original score.

The tone is set straight way with the ominous ‘L'Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock - Versione Integrale’. It is undoubtedly the finest piece on this album and will certainly be a strong cadidate for future soundtrack compilations. The simple wandering theme is repeated constantly while menacing low woodwinds seem to recall another master of suspense Bernard Herrmann (who would use this section to similar effect in his famous scores). The chanting chorus is the only real linking element between The Hateful Eight and old Morricone westerns. The material is later reprised in several other tracks, often in very similar orchestrations. In ‘I Quattro Passeggeri’, it is accompanied by the more modern drumkit and there also quiet variations to be found in cues like ‘La Musica Prima del Massacre’. In the said track, we also hear two other short thematic ideas. One of them is a creepy lullaby-like glockenspiel motif that becomes ever-present on the album. It is often coupled with yet another one that is pretty much identical to Kylo Ren’s theme from the latest Star Wars score by John Williams. Funny coincidence, that the two soundtrack albums from those two film music legends should be released on the very same day. All three themes tend to appear right next to each other in various configurations, often repeated ad nauseam to unsettle the listener.

Some standout moments feature the exciting ‘L’Inferno Bianco’. The repeating woodwind figures create a truly delirious mood while pizzicato strings serve as an interesting comical counterpoint to the violence portrayed on screen. This material is later reprised in ‘L’Inferno Bianco - Ottoni’. ‘Ragi di Sole Sulla Montagna’ brings achingly beautiful woodwind passages that are simulteanously tender and anxious. On the other hand of the spectrum, ‘Sei Cavalli’ brings menacing and brutal brass to the forefront . One surprisingly heroic moment comes with the two ‘La Lettera di Lincoln’ (one of them features film dialogue), in which Morricone gives us a warm and noble solo trumpet solos that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lincoln biopic. The album ends with a brief tense coda in ‘La Puntura Della Morte’ that brings things to a sudden and unsettling end..

While soundtrack presentation offers a well rounded listening experience, the film situation looks somewhat different. The fact that Morricone’s tracks are a dominant feature of the album might be surprising given that this three-hour long film itself features very little score at all. All the principal ideas are presented, of course, but they are customarily adjusted to Tarantino’s vision and never presented in full as recorded. The use of music in the film certainly helps to establish the desolate and cold world in which this story takes place but it doesn’t really drive the narrative as such. The Hateful Eight feels more like a theater play, rather than a cinematic spectacle. It comes then as a surprise that Morricone should win an Academy Award for this particular work. Nothing to do with the compositional quality, of course, but it hardly establishes itself as a significant ingredient to this film's success. To be honest, Tarantino could have used other tracks from The Thing to the same effect. But then, an Oscar for Morricone was long overdue and few people would question composer's skill and command over his craft.

The Hateful Eight is an oppressing but highly intelligent score from a master composer. It doesn’t necessarily break new ground for him and certainly shares some similarities with numerous of older works from his rich oeuvre. But the sheer artistry of writing definitely stands above most 2015 scores and, like John Williams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, demonstrates a true class. As an excercise in suspense and carefully constructed tension, Morricone once again re-establishes himself as a master of suspense and puts many of his younger colleagues to shame. With a collection of simple motifs and carefully executed orchestration, he’s able to unleash more terror than most composers can could with an entire roaring and growling orchestra. And we should be grateful he’s still with us, and showing everyone how it’s done.

-Karol Krok

The Hateful Eight is out now from Decca Classics

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