Album Review: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight
Music composed by Ennio Morricone
Music conducted and orchestrated by Ennio Morricone
Music performed by Czech National Symphony Orchestra
Music recorded at CNSO Recording Studios, Prague
Album running time: 72 minutes
Available on Decca Records

Ennio Morricone has a history with Quentin Tarantino, even if Morricone wasn't involved for most of it.  As an ultimate fanboy, Tarantino's soundtracks for Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004),  Death Proof segment of Grindhouse (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012).  It was also for 'Django' that Morricone wrote the original song, "Ancora Qu" and said he wouldn't work with Tarantino again (which was later recanted).  For The Hateful Eight, Tarantino looked to Morricone to write an original score to his Western, and he accepted.

The film became a first for Tarantino - first it's shot in the expansive 70mm, and second, has an original score, not just a hand-picked mixtape.  The resulting album for The Hateful Eight contains all of Morricone's original score, a few pop songs, plus separate tracks of dialogue.  In this review, I'll only be covering the original score tracks.

The bulk of the score is based on two original themes, and many album tracks are derived from these melodic ideas.  And yes, track names are in Italian. 

L'ultima diligenza di red rock builds a bassoon motif (Main Theme, for easy reference) over held notes both quite low and quite high.  It sets the tone of distant violence amid a stark winter backdrop.  The repetitive pattern gets more instruments added to it as the dissonance grows.  A male choir joins in, as the woodwinds add a swirling motif to the mix.  It almost could pass as a horror/Godzilla-like cue by the end.  Overture is a slow build, with bells and low strings in a Herrmann-esque hypnotic ostinato (Second Theme).  A new melodic idea gets passed around in solo woodwinds as low brass continue to creep in.  A brief reference to the Main Theme bassoon motif from the last cue ends the track.  Narratore letterario continues the hypnotic bells, with the Main Theme added in,  stabs of tremolo strings and brass jabs add another texture into this track.  

L'ultima diligenza di red rock #2 continues the thematic material of the first track, building to a larger climax.  Neve explores more of the eerie sustained string and woodwind writing in this lengthy track.  Hints of past motifs appear in various forms with the hypnotic Second Theme qualities taking full form.  Sei cavalli brings the timpani and brass jabs to the forefront with dissonant brass added in.  Raggi di sole sulla montagna changes the tone from previous tracks, an almost impressionistic cue for woodwinds and strings which gives me reminders of Ravel.  Neve #2 continues another slow sustained strings build on the Second Theme with the Main Theme appearing in the foreground and background of the cue.

I quattro passeggeri
brings back the Main Theme on bassoon and the tapping high hat cymbal heard  earlier plays over a pizzicato string section.  La musica prima del massacro breaks apart the aspects of Main Theme and Second Theme in a slower (still eerie) arrangement.  L'inferno bianco (Synth) is full of nervous energy and builds tension on some repetitive figures.  The way he uses pizzicato strings as a pseudo-percussion instrument is interesting.

Sangue e neve returns us to the Second Theme with a building string section on the Main Theme.  This variation is more intense and quickly drops off at the end.  Hope you liked the earlier track, because L'inferno bianco (Ottoni), is the brass version of the same cue.  Neve #3 is not too far from the Neve material heard earlier, a slow manipulation of both Second and Main Theme with a low string petal point.  La lettera di lincoln appears in 2 versions, instrumental and with dialog.  The brass writing is fitting for the reading of Lincoln's letter held by Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). The trumpet solo is naturally noble and feels like a cousin of the trumpet tune "Taps".  The album ends with La puntura della morte, a brief (!) string crescendo that is used earlier in the film.   
When originally tasked, Morricone wrote the longer cues and promised to provide the themes that Tarantino wanted.  It's clear that these themes are the backbone of the score, with most tracks on the album breaking apart and adding slight variations to the themes.  While not incorporated on the album, Tarantino turned to other (previously written) Morricone cues to add into the final film.  Those include "Regan's Theme" from The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and "Eternity", "Bestiality", and "Despair" from Morricone's unused score to The Thing (1982).

Giving something different than the Western scores he composed 40-plus years ago, Morricone composed a tense and evocative score. As noted before, the film result is a bit different than on the album, which might be a little difficult to make through.  As his 6th Academy Award nomination for Original Score at the age of 87, he has his best chances of winning in the category. (Sidebar: he won a Honorary Award in 2007 for his career in film music.)  

Tarantino, the Morricone fanboy, finally got his original score he was looking for, and the Morricone fanboys got a brand Western new score to admire.  Seems like a good deal to me.       

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