Hans here with a little analysis of the film that raped the competition this past weekend, Inglourious Basterds (conundrum: when they spell their own title incorrectly, do you still have an obligation to spell it correctly?)
I’m still not quite sure about my feelings toward this film. My first reaction after the lights came up was that it was really indulgent. Very long, a lot of dead space, certainly quite a few places where it could have stood to be shorter. I’m not one of those people who minds long films as long as the story itself is rich enough to deserve its length. Basterds simply didn’t feel that way. Most of the reviews I’ve read have contested that we may as well get used to Quentin Tarantino’s self-indulgence; it’s not like this is his first film and he did make two movies, Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, that were originally supposed to be one four hour movie. I don’t get it. You don’t let someone off the hook just because their previous work demonstrates that this is what they do and we should just get over ourselves for expecting them to do anything different. You hold everyone to the same standard, and in this situation Tarantino seriously tried my patience with a film that, in many instances, sat on the brink of putting me to sleep.
I was surprised when I saw that the film grossed $37.6 million this past weekend. I was expecting $20 to $25 million. Tarantino has a lot of name value and he is one of the few directors of our time where audiences are chomping at the bit for his next film, but Grindhouse showed us a profound chink in his box office armor: with no real stars and a run time surpassing three hours, it was easy to understand why the experiment in exploitation cinema flopped. When I saw that Basterds was 152 minutes, I immediately winced. It just didn’t look like the story was rich enough to support its length.
The film has a lot of interesting stuff going on in it that reflects the mythical, larger-than-life sensibility Tarantino has about his own work. Each film is its own epic and there is no escaping it. If you’re a film buff, going to a Tarantino film can be the high point of your cinematic year considering most everything he does is a not-so-shrouded act of homage. But I was taken aback by the amount of disposable stuff that there was in this film. Tarantino is probably the worst judge of his own stuff because he will leave something in simply because it amuses him or enlivens his appreciation of the material. I’m happy that he likes sharing with the class, but he needs an editor with the stones to tell him his movie is going nowhere in certain passages.
The length is the primary reason I’m surprised the movie coralled so many butts in the front row on opening night. I’m sure once audience members saw that a great deal of the movie was going to be in subtitles, they checked their watch and whispered to one another “when is Brad Pitt going to show up?”
Have no fear, casual movie-goer. Pitt walks into this film after about thirty minutes and I could feel a jump in the enjoyment barometer of the audience around me. This was the reason they had come to the film: Mr. Pitt, with a mustache and a scarred neck in full on WWII garb speaking like one of the Dukes of Hazard.
The Weinsteins were very intelligent for building the film’s marketing campaign completely around Mr. Pitt’s appearance, especially considering that movie star driven films have come up short money-wise quite a bit at this summer’s box office (The Taking of Pelham 123 is a good example). But Mr. Pitt, one of the most beloved and recognizable faces on the planet, perhaps more for his off-screen exploits than on, is proof positive that the title of movie star still means something, and if you put that particular movie star front and center in the public’s consciousness to a prominent enough degree, they will shell out to see just what you are selling.
It makes you wonder how much Basterds will drop in its second week though. Reviews have been positive, but not out-of-this-world positive. And I’m sure the film’s length as well as its heavy use of subtitles will make word of mouth on the film weak. That and the fact that Mr. Pitt, whom the marketing campaign indicates is the center of the film, is in less than half of it. I can imagine all of these as big bad reasons why audience members won’t be shelling out to see this flick in its second weekend. Wax on, QT, but edit yourself a little bit.