THE HATEFUL EIGHT – Ennio Morricone
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Ennio Morricone has been providing music for Quentin Tarantino’s films for a long time, but it is only recently that he has done so intentionally. Tarantino’s first six films – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds – featured an eclectic, hand-picked selection of music comprising classic rock songs and score cuts from Tarantino’s favorite movies. Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds most notably made use of music from several classic Morricone scores, including tracks from films such as Navajo Joe, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Big Gundown, Revolver, and Allonsanfàn, among others. Tarantino has been both praised and criticized for this approach; some love his idiosyncratic re-purposing of this music in a new and vital setting, while others say that their familiarity with some of the pieces causes a disconnect, diminishing their impact in their new context. Years ago, when questioned about his musical ideology, Tarantino said that he didn’t trust any composer enough to understand, and then musically reinterpret, his cinematic visions – the “soul of his movie”. Tarantino’s stance on this matter began to soften somewhat prior to his seventh film, Django Unchained, and at one point the rumor was that Ennio Morricone had agreed to score it – if anyone could get Tarantino to change his mind about the impact and importance of an original score, it would be Morricone. However, circumstances led to this not happening, and the final soundtrack featured an original Morricone song, “Ancora Qui,” but no original score.
Subsequent to the release of Django Unchained, Morricone apparently made several disparaging statements about Tarantino, saying he used music “without coherence” and that he “wouldn’t work with him again, on anything,” rendering the prospect of a true Tarantino-Morricone collaboration increasingly unlikely. However, when Tarantino began work on The Hateful Eight, rumors again began to emerge that Tarantino and Morricone had reconciled, and that the composer would write the film’s original score. This time, the rumors were true, and Morricone began working on the music; originally, Tarantino planned to have Morricone just write an overture and a main theme, and use unused music from Morricone’s score for the 1982 sci-fi film The Thing for the rest of the score, but Morricone was so inspired by the film that he kept writing, and ultimately provided Tarantino with 50 minutes of original music. The final mix of the film does include three tracks from Morricone’s score for The Thing – “Eternity,” “Bestiality,” and “Despair” – as well as one cue, “Regan’s Theme (Floating Sound),” from the score for Exorcist II: The Heretic, but the bulk of it is brand new, a first for a Tarantino film.
The Hateful Eight is a mystery whodunit presented as a western; it stars Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson as a pair of bounty hunters travelling by wagon through the mountains of Wyoming to the city of Red Rock to collect their spoils; Russell is transporting a live prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is scheduled to hang for murder. All of Jackson’s prisoners are already dead. After picking up a third man (Walton Goggins) who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff, their wagon is caught in a massive snowstorm, and the travelers are forced to seek refuge at an isolated way station where four others – Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth – are already sheltering. Before long, discord and mistrust between the eight develops, with jealousy, bitterness, and racial tensions left over from the civil war coming to the surface. The Hateful Eight contains all Tarantino’s trademarks – expletive-laden and verbose dialogue, gallows humor, idiosyncratic narrative jumps, brutal violence – but it’s also an exceptionally beautiful film, with veteran cinematographer Robert Richardson capturing some spectacular snowy mountain landscapes, and production designer Yohei Taneda re-creating the look of post-Civil War era America with great authenticity. It is also helped immeasurably by Morricone’s music, which ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels.
Ennio Morricone is known for his music for westerns – scores like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good the Bad and the Ugly are legendary – but he actually hasn’t scored one since the little-known Bud Spencer film Occio Alla Penna in 1981, 34 years ago. It’s also been quite some time since Morricone has written the score for a (fairly) mainstream American film, the last being Ripley’s Game in 2002, although the last one to have any kind of wide release was probably Mission to Mars in 2000. As such, The Hateful Eight is something of a landmark release for film music aficionados, and should be celebrated as such. The phrase ‘Morricone western’ has certain musical connotations that lead to preconceptions of what the score will sound like; however, ever the innovator, Morricone’s score for The Hateful Eight sounds nothing like those classic Sergio Leone movies, and instead has much more in common with his suspense-filled thrillers of the 1970s and 80s, especially things like Città Violenta, La Classe Operaia Va in Paradiso, the aforementioned Revolver, Massacre in Rome, Peur Sur La Ville, and The Untouchables. The Hateful Eight is a tense film, balanced on a knife-edge of hair-trigger anger, and as such those tight, intense rhythmic ideas play much more into Tarantino’s vision.
The first main theme of the score is “L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock,” a nervous-sounding march built around a 16-note thematic motif, with repeated ideas for bassoon, contra-bassoon, and tuba, all of which is underpinned by an unexpectedly contemporary hi-hat cymbal lick and stark, stabbing strings. Morricone says, “the sound these instruments produce can express the drama, the rage, the despair and the irony that are the main themes of Tarantino’s story. They are a healthy, bodily sound. They also express a criticism towards the leading characters of the film.” As the piece develops it adds new touches to the orchestration – muted trumpets which echo off each other, a thunderous drum interlude – and even presents a B-phrase, a swirling sort of action motif accentuated with gruffly chanting male voices. It’s a quite wonderful piece, full of ominous anticipation, hinting at the carnage to come, but which remains thoroughly musical throughout, progressing intelligently with rhythmic and instrumental variation for its entire 7½ minute length.
The second main theme is “Neve,” a cold, desolate piece for austere high strings, gently fluttering oboes, and an incessant metallic pulse intended to mimic a ticking clock, a musical conceit Morricone has explored before in his scores for A Few Dollars More and Il Mio Nome é Nessuno. It seems to have a sense of inevitability, with a hint of violence buried deep within, and is quite brilliant in the way it ratchets up the tension. It actually appears initially in the “Overture,” where it sometimes plays in counterpoint to the Red Rock theme, and later forms the backbone of “Narratore Letterario,” where again the contrapuntal writing for both themes is in evidence, but gets its fullest explorations in the three “Neve” pieces. The longest, clocking in at an astonishing 12 minutes, is an exercise in patient audience manipulation, as Morricone presents different shifting layers of sound, overlapping instruments, fading in and out, hinting at themes, in a masterful way.
The score is built almost entirely around these two recurring ideas. The shorter version of “L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock” in the seventh track focuses mainly on the more agitated string writing and chanting voices, to superb effect. “I Quattro Passeggeri” revisits the ominous duet between the bassoon and contrabassoon, and the most aggressive performance of the Red Rock theme comes during the gripping “Sangue e Neve,” while “La Musica Prima del Massacro” is the literal calm before the storm, with the gentle glockenspiel motif and the gossamer woodwinds providing a counter-intuitively pretty prelude to the violence to come.
But this is not all the score has to offer. Elsewhere, Morricone engages in some quite brutal brass-led dissonance, most notably towards the end of “Narratore Letterario,” and later in “Sei Cavalli.” Balletic, almost impressionistic, interplay between different parts of the woodwind section earmarks “Raggi di Sole Sulla Montagna” as an intriguing cue. The two “L’Inferno Bianco” cues alternate synths for brasses while presenting a nervous frenzy of rapid-fire percussion and penetrative pizzicato string writing. The one hint of warmth comes during the finale, “La Lettera di Lincoln,” during which Morricone presents a noble, patriotic-sounding trumpet melody reminiscent of the funeral piece from Il Ritorno di Ringo that Clint Eastwood used over the end credits of his film American Sniper.
Of course, with Tarantino being Tarantino, he pads out his soundtrack album with several dialogue tracks, Jennifer Jason Leigh singing an old Australian folk ballad, and a handful of songs, including “Apple Blossom” by The White Stripes, “Now You’re All Alone” by David Hess from the soundtrack to the film The Last House on the Left, and “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” by Roy Orbison, written for the 1967 film The Fastest Guitar Alive, in which Orbison played the leading role. The songs are all actually very good, but the dialogue tracks can be easily programmed out for more fluid listening experience – thankfully, Tarantino was wise enough not to layer them over Morricone’s music. None of the cues from The Thing or Exorcist II: The Heretic are included on the soundtrack, and unfortunately neither is the beautiful country song “Ready for the Times to Get Better” by Crystal Gayle, which plays over a montage sequence.
The Hateful Eight is brilliant music by anyone’s standards, but the fact that it was composed by Ennio Morricone at the age of 87 is nothing short of remarkable. Despite his advancing years and less-than-perfect health, Morricone has proven here that he remains a vital, interesting, relevant composer capable of writing surprising and challenging music for top-tier films, just as he has been doing since he first burst onto the world stage in 1964. It would have been so easy for him to dig into his back catalogue and ape a couple of his classic Spaghetti Western scores – and, in all probability, many people were hoping that he would do just that, including Quentin Tarantino – but the fact that Morricone saw that this film needed something different is testament to his deep understanding of film, his capacity for innovation, and his standing as one of the true greats working in film music anywhere in the world.
Buy the Hateful Eight soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock [Versione Integrale] (7:30)
- Overture (3:11)
- Major Warren Meet Daisy Domergue (dialogue) (0:32)
- Narratore Letterario (1:59)
- Apple Blossom (written by Jack White, performed by The White Stripes) (2:13)
- Frontier Justice (dialogue) (1:50)
- L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock #2 (2:37)
- Neve [Versione Integrale] (12:16)
- This Here is Daisy Domergue (dialogue) (1:01)
- Sei Cavalli (1:21)
- Raggi di Sole Sulla Montagna (1:41)
- Son of the Bloody Nigger Killer of Baton Rouge (dialogue) (2:43)
- Jim Jones at Botany Bay (traditional, performed by Jennifer Jason Leigh) (4:10)
- Neve #2 (2:05)
- Uncle Charlie’s Stew (dialogue) (1:41)
- I Quattro Passeggeri (1:49)
- La Musica Prima del Massacro (2:00)
- L’Inferno Bianco [Synth] (3:31)
- The Suggestive Oswaldo Mobray (dialogue) (0:47)
- Now You’re All Alone (written and performed by David Hess) (1:29)
- Sangue e Neve (2:05)
- Neve #3 (2:02)
- L’Inferno Bianco [Ottoni] (3:31)
- Daisy’s Speech (dialogue) (1:32)
- La Lettera di Lincoln [Strumentale] (1:41)
- La Lettera di Lincoln [Con Dialogo] (1:46)
- There Won’t Be Many Coming Home (written by Bill Dees and Roy Orbison, performed by Roy Orbison) (2:44)
- La Puntura Della Morte (0:27)
Running Time: 72 minutes 31 seconds
Decca/Verve/Third Man Records (2015)
Music composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone. Performed by The Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Ennio Morricone. Recorded and mixed by Fabio Venturi. Edited by Bill Abbott. Score produced by Ennio Morricone. Album produced by Quentin Tarantino, Coco Francini, Richard Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh and Stacy Sher.