The Revenant is a two-and-a-half hour western that pushes the limits of cinematography and brutality in modern film.
The Hateful Eight is a three-hour western that pushes the limits of characterization and brutality in modern film.
On the surface, these movies seem very similar in terms of setting and tone, which is why many people have been comparing them in recent weeks. The truth is that these films have just as many differences as they do similarities. For example, The Revenant is a film mostly devoid of dialogue in favor of grander set piece moments. In contrast, most of The Hateful Eight is composed dialogue, and its story rarely steps out of the confines of a small inn.
Another difference is even clearer. The Revenant is one of the most celebrated films of 2015, earning a sweep of coveted Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography (among others). The Hateful Eight was almost entirely snubbed.
But does that mean The Revenant is the better film?
My gut answer is no, without pause. The Hateful Eight is my favorite movie of 2015, with The Revenant coming nowhere near the top of my list. I thought it was above average, but nothing truly special as a whole.
Am I right about this? Or has the Academy done a better job analyzing these two films? That’s what we’re about to find out in this week’s Which is Better. I’ll break these movies down by category, evaluating which one edges out the other.
I decided to keep this category as broad as possible, allowing for both films to be merited based on how artistic they are. And this is no easy decision.
Emmanuel Lubezki was the cinematographer, again working with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu after their collaboration on Birdman. And the results are pretty much the same, as film, every shot of The Revenant is downright gorgeous and even revolutionary, with the entirety of the film being shot in natural light.
Quentin Tarantino (director of The Hateful Eight) also got help from an old friend of his, Robert Richardson, who is the cinematographer behind Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained.
And in some ways, the cinematography of The Hateful Eight is just as revolutionary, as it was shot in Ultra Panavision 70 and Kodak VISION 3. Its limited release 70mm format is an experience that’s been missing from cinema since 1966’s Khartoum.
But what makes The Hateful Eight even more unique is how this 70mm format and wide aspect ratio is utilized. In the past, this type of filmmaking was popular when massive epics like Ben Hur needed that extra wide angle to show off large scale and spectacular settings. The Hateful Eight only has a handful of scenes that devote the sweeping 70mm shot to scenery, and it’s merely used to demonstrate the isolation of the characters.
Surprisingly, the majority of The Hateful Eight actually takes place indoors, which might seem like a waste of this compelling format. Yet it works incredibly well because the wide aspect ratio gives you the novel experience of a murder mystery dinner theater.
For that reason, The Hateful Eight pulls off what could have been a cheap gimmick in one of the most creative ways possible. Still, that doesn’t make it the more beautiful film.
After all, very few people actually saw The Hateful Eight in this 70mm format, unlike the widespread distribution of The Revenant. It just doesn’t stand on its own in the same way, and from a technical standpoint, The Revenant is a more stunning movie, with entire set pieces devoted to showing off Lubezki’s incredibly unique vision.
It’s a tough one, but I have to credit Lubezki for crafting a masterwork from such a grim premise and location. The Hateful Eight is also superb, but it’s just not on the same level.
The Revenant gets the first point.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s hunt for an Oscar has truly become a legendary joke among movie buffs and mainstream audiences alike. In fact, much of the popularity surrounding The Revenant can arguably be explained by the widespread desire for people to see if this is his year.
And in a lot of ways, I agree with them. The Revenant absolutely showcases DiCaprio at his best, proving he’s one of the most talented actors alive. But it’s strange to root for him when you consider how little dialogue and (in some ways) character he ultimately adds to his role as Hugh Glass.
Granted, dialogue isn’t everything, and its lacking certainly doesn’t diminish the obvious commitment on DiCaprio’s part. It’s just hard to praise an actor who stares at the camera at one point, as if to Jedi Mind Trick the Academy into giving him his due.
Of course, there’s one other highlight from The Revenant, and that’s Tom Hardy’s performance as Fitzgerald. In my opinion, Hardy was vastly more memorable and entertaining, and he easily had the best quotes of the movie (not that it was much of a competition).
The Hateful Eight is almost all character, on the other hand. And that’s saying something about a movie that doesn’t really have a lead actor or actress. You’d think this would hurt its chances, but it’s actually quite admirable how well the ensemble performs with limited screen time devoted to each character.
To be fair, a few of these characters are overshadowed by the true heavyweights: Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh all deliver extraordinary performances. If we were judging this category solely by classic one-liners, this would be an easy choice.
It’s a tough because The Revenant only has the performances of DiCaprio and Hardy to make its case, while The Hateful Eight benefits from several incredible performances offered by a much better cast, overall.
Unfortunately, you can’t weigh this choice on the sum of good performances, so I have to give this one to The Revenant. Both DiCaprio and Hardy drove their movie, while the real star of The Hateful Eight actually felt like Tarantino himself most of the time.
Second point goes to The Revenant.
Ah, but which movie has the best characters?
This is much easier, thanks to the horrid miscasting of Domnhall Gleeson as Captain Henry in The Revenant. Aside from Fitzgerald, none of the side stories in this movie had me wanting more (except more of Fitzgerald, perhaps).
But The Hateful Eight excels in a big way when it comes to its ensemble, as I mentioned in length earlier. You can make the argument that Michael Madsen should have been swapped out, or that Tim Roth was trying too hard to channel Christoph Waltz (an argument I wouldn’t make, personally). But virtually everyone else in the cast was indispensable.
Aside from casting, the characters in The Hateful Eight were simply more entertaining to watch. They had multiple dimensions (usually hidden) compared to the gruff and simple survivalists in The Revenant. They actually had character arcs and grew as the film went, notably Walton Goggins’ as the Sheriff.
While the performances in The Revenant were more proficient overall, the characters in The Hateful Eight were vastly more interesting, compelling, and memorable.
The Hateful Eight wins this point handily.
I’ll make this quick, since many of you probably haven’t had a chance to study the score yet.
First, you’ll notice that The Revenant didn’t get an Academy Award nomination for Best Score, simply because the composer violated one of the rules for qualifying.
That said, The Hateful Eight also didn’t get nominated, despite Ennio Moriicone crafting one of his best scores in years. What to do?
I actually had to listen to the score for The Revenant after seeing the movie, because I simply forgot all of it. In contrast, I was hooked by the overture of The Hateful Eight (so, before the movie even started).
Aside from that, the song choices littered throughout were masterfully chosen by Tarantino, giving us even more reasons to rewatch the film for new meanings.
The score for The Revenant is fine and all, but it pales in comparison to The Hateful Eight, which gets the point.
The score is tied, and only one category remains. Between The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, which movie has the better story?
It goes without saying that both movies have simplistic set ups. The Revenant is about a hardy (no pun intended) frontiersman looking for revenge against the men who left him for dead. The Hateful Eight boils down to a group of outcasts being forced to spend time together during a blizzard.
The settings, characters, and action are what truly drive the story for both of these movies, though in their own unique ways. And what’s even more interesting is how both movies virtually eschew the typical three-act structure, to varying success.
Let’s just get this out of the way. My biggest complaint with The Revenant was, in fact, its story. Though the first act is incredibly strong with its one-two punch, the movie descends into an overlong and under-edited mess.
The story takes no significant turns, instead pitting more and more obstacles against the main character until none remain. So by the time the final climax came to a head, I had already lost all interest in the plight of Hugh Glass. In a way, I was sort of rooting for Fitzgerald. And nature. And everyone else, really.
Part of my issue with The Revenant was how Iñárritu handled a lot of the characterization of Hugh Glass himself. To break up the action, the writers used flashbacks and daydreams to further explain why we should care about Glass. These moments were probably meant to give us a chance to catch our breath, but they were ultimately too confusing and surreal for most people to grasp.
It’s not that these sequences were hard to understand, by the way. The issue is that using conceptual and abstract storytelling to explain a character who himself is incredibly abstract (thanks to his lack of dialogue and seemingly mythic constitution) is utterly ineffective.
The Hateful Eight couldn’t be more different. Tarantino’s screenplay for this film is a work of art, on the same level as Lubezki’s cinematography for The Revenant.
Every chapter of The Hateful Eight has a clear purpose, with each interaction between each character building toward a shocking finale that few will see coming. It’s a story that’s so engrossing, I found myself amazed that it had been three hours, not thirty minutes.
More importantly, this was a story I had never experienced. The Revenant had one-of-a-kind visuals, but its revenge story was based on a very loose adaptation of a true story. Not much of The Revenant is very surprising or jaw-dropping, save for a few spectacular “pretty” moments that aren’t well-connected.
The Hateful Eight, on the other hand, was far more original and difficult to interpret. It took a lot of analysis and critical thinking for me to find the deeper meanings masquerading as nihilism. The result, which I won’t spoil for the sake of those who haven’t seen the movie, is the simple fact that The Hateful Eight is the product of a master storyteller.
My final decision is that The Hateful Eight is better than The Revenant. Obviously not in every respect, as the latter has superior cinematography and more remarkable performances.
But the characters, score, and story push The Hateful Eight forward by a wide margin in their own right. So much about so much of this movie just works to near perfection, even on the note of cinematic experience. I like to bring this up a lot with these Which is Better articles, but I tend to judge a lot about a movie based on how I left the theater after watching it.
Though its easy to write off these moments as “gut reactions,” there’s truth in evaluating the experience of watching a film. The goal is for me to leave the theater feeling glad I participated in the movie, and The Hateful Eight does that and then some.
The Revenant left me cold, confused for the wrong reasons, and ultimately disappointed. It’s not a bad film, but only because so many disparate elements of it are too exceptional to write off.
So that’s where I stand. What about you? Sound off in the comments if you have something to contribute. And if you have an idea for a new Which is Better topic, be sure to send me your ideas below.
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