Home > Film Reviews > Bring me the scalp of Quentin Tarantino

Bring me the scalp of Quentin Tarantino

Imagine you have an acquaintance named, let’s say, Dave. He’s always hanging around when you’re with your friends, and most people seem to really like him. Trouble is, you’re not entirely sure why. Apparently, he once did something really funny at a party, and to be fair to the guy, he does sometimes interject in conversations with snappy one-liners which are moderately amusing, if terribly attention-seeking. Most of the time, though, he never shuts up about his specialist subject, which is film. He has seen a great many more films than you, and boy, does he know it.

Dave’s counterpart in the world of movie direction is, if you hadn’t already guessed, Quentin Tarantino. He’s back – and he’s eager, if not to please, then just to be noticed, with his new movie, Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately for us, he’s produced yet another egregiously self-indulgent, meandering, and terrifically boring movie. I can’t emphasize that last point enough – calling this movie utterly, unconscionably, interminably, outrageously, unbelievably dull would be trivialising the awfulness, and the tragedy is compounded by the fact that someone, somewhere (I’m looking at you, Quentin), must’ve thought all this was cinema gold. You must do everything in your power to avoid this movie. Here’s why.

The film’s (ahistorical, obviously) premise is this: the Nazi party are premiering a new film by Dr. Goebbels at a small cinema in occupied France, and all the Nazi top brass are going to be present. It says a great deal, incidentally, that I would probably rather watch this propaganda-fest, which appears to consist entirely of an endless sequence of a sniper shooting Wilhem-screaming American soldiers, in its entirety than watch Inglourious Basterds itself. Anyway – Brad Pitt and his group of scalp-hunting Jewish commandoes who make up the infamous (among Nazis) unit, the Basterds, would very much like to blow up this cinema. That’s it. Until you have seen the film, you will not believe the amount of mileage Tarantino thinks he can extract from this feeble setup. Metaphors about pulling teeth don’t even begin to describe the feeling of slow, drawn-out agony this film provokes.

This is the bat I'd rather be smacked with than have to watch this film

This is the bat I'd rather be smacked with than have to watch this film

An illustration: one scene involves that party game in which participants stick a card with a famous person’s name to each other’s heads, and then have to guess the identity of the one stuck to their own head. I hate that party game. This scene goes on for what seems to the viewer to be an infinite time, and one can barely resist the urge to scream out the names on the cards – spoiling the game perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, inching the film a little closer toward its distant and longed-for conclusion, and the sweet release of the credits beginning to roll.

But that’s the point, a Tarantinite would argue.  There’s nothing much by way of a plot in any Tarantino film (though I suppose Reservoir Dogs may be an exception), and you’re meant to enjoy the wonderful dialogue, style, and copious references to obscure films of yesteryear. But the question then becomes – how far can Tarantino go before the film becomes a pointless, soggy mess? The answer: about as far as Inglourious Basterds, which appears to care about its audience’s enjoyment levels the same way the Basterds care about the Nazis they butcher. There were points where I thought the Nazi whose head is split apart by a baseball bat-wielding Eli Roth near the beginning had a lucky escape – at least he didn’t have to sit through the rest of this turgid, empty-headed snoozefest. There’s non-expository dialogue, which is fair enough, and then there’s this, which is basically a non-expository movie.

I haven’t yet even touched on the slightly ugly moral aspects of the film. For instance, the final act is hardly a hugely enlightened gesture to the world’s Jews, saying as it does ‘I know that you want revenge on the Nazis, and here’s how best to get it – burn them all in a big oven (in this case, a cinema-turned-oven) while a film of a Jewish face, projected onto the billowing smoke, cackles and shrieks above the carnage. The way to get vengeance is to be just like the Nazis yourselves’. To say this left a bad taste in the mouth would be quite the understatement. There is, of course, very little point in making this kind of argument, for the simple reason that it’s perfectly clear Tarantino doesn’t care in the slightest. If it might possibly be deemed ‘cool’, he’ll put it in the movie regardless of how unsavoury or needless it is. He may as well trademark the phrase ‘style over substance’, and run it as a tagline on all of his films, as he utterly and absolutely embodies it at the most literal level of its definition.

And, admittedly, that style can sometimes be entertaining. Both Pitt and Mike Myers, who cameos as an absurdly posh English general, put in highly entertaining performances, raising a few laughs. But these precious moments of (fairly easy) comedy are literally all the movie has to recommend it, and they’re not remotely worth sitting through two and half hours of soul-destroying tedium. I think it’s time we started to care less about our fictional acquaintance Dave, and Quentin Tarantino along with him. Maybe it’s time to admit that they’re nothing but a pair of boring basterds.

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  1. August 25, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up on the dullness of this movie. I can spend my money on going to see The Final Destination in 3D instead!

  2. grammarking
    September 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Well I liked it. So ner.

  3. September 14, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I enjoyed it, but it was very slow indeed. If I hadn’t consciously slowed my expectation of pace right down at the start (Which I did during the hilariously slow Nazi arrival at the farm in scene one, then further still during the shack conversation) then I too would have spent the whole, long, long, film listing the many ways I despised it and screaming with boredom.

    But I liked it, despite its often odd soundtrack, irritating inability to see the difference between historical inaccuracy and unbelievable inaccuracy (only 2 guards outside Hitler’s box for a whole cinema full of top nazi leaders?) and the use of sudden action to shock after long periods of slow conversation.

    As Colonel Landa says; “Uh uh uh!… Wait for the cream.” Although then you might say you spent the whole film waiting for the cream, and no cream ever materialised.

  4. Marc Surtees
    September 21, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Hi Stuart,

    Sorry for using the blog to contact you. No-one I know has your email. Could you contact me about the debate at Skeptics in the Pub.

    Marc Surtees
    msurtees@paradigmshift.org.uk

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