When his newest, Django Unchained hits theaters this Christmas, it will have been three years since the words "Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino" graced cinema screens. Each one of his films is so unique; spanning so many genres- that every new film's release becomes an event. And as Christmas tis the season for Oscar buzz, could this be Tarantino's first taste of man-shaped gold since Pulp Fiction? Well, let's take a look.
Scroll to bottom for trailer.
Hit play: As the Weinstein Company logo fades, the opening chords of Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave" engulf the soundtrack.
We see the scar-crossed backs of shirtless, shoeless (foot fetish, although in this case they are men's feet) slaves-- chained together in a line as they are marched over a vast distance and into the night by two armed and rather imposing horsemen.
They are stopped in a clearing by a dentist's stagecoach (identified by the wooden tooth on a spring that graces the coach's top). The supposed dentist (Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds) greets them.
"Amongst your inventory, I've been led to believe you possess a specimen that I am keen to acquire."
His lantern light falls upon the face of one of the slaves (Jamie Foxx).
Schultz: "Then you're exactly the one I'm looking for."
The slave master's intervene. "Hey, stop talkin' ta him!" Schultz turns and smiles politely.
Politely, because he knows that in about three seconds he will shoot both men right off their horses. And he does just that. Cue the James Brown song. Aw yeah.
The chains come off and Django is released. Schultz grins: "Do you know what a bounty hunter is?"
Here's where the plot kicks in with a little help from Wikipedia: The film follows "Django (Foxx), a freed slave who treks across America with Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter. Together, they try to retrieve Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the charming but sadistic Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his band of ruthless slavers."
The trailer reveals more. They are also hunting the mysterious Brittle Brothers, a band of dangerous outlaws that apparently no one has ever seen. No one-- except Django.
The film's plot may have been at least partially inspired by the novel 40 Lashes Less One, by Elmore Leonard, the author of Rum Punch which was the source material for Jackie Brown (1998). 40 Lashes is about two convicts (one black, the other a Chiricahua Apache) who are freed from the famously brutal Yuma Prison, on the condition that they must first help track down a posse of vicious gunslingin' killers. In the late 90's, Tarantino publicly mused about adapting 40 Lashes Less One into his next screenplay. Then came Kill Bill, so 40 Lashes never happened.
Back to the trailer:
What stands out most is the humor. Tarantino has always been condemned by critics as a cynical pop-culture puppet. They highlight his violence but rarely, his spirit of comedy.
Perhaps that moment in Pulp Fiction where Vincent (John Travolta) accidently shoots Marvin in the face, stuck in their craws. The blood hits the windshield and it's horrible. But as Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) berates his partner for making such an ill-timed mistake ("The car didn't go over no motherf@ckin' bump!"), it suddenly becomes funny. Sick and twisted, certainly. But very funny. (Even funnier is when Jackson and Travolta are later forced to clean the car.) This trailer displays this same dark irreverence. Look no further than the line: "Kill white folks and get paid for it? What's not to like?"
Tonally, what we've seen feels very close to the first trailers we saw on Inglorious Basterds. Lots of bad-ass period-coolness, crossed with a few witty one liners. In this ad, many images stick out in my mind: The blood splattering on white flowers. DiCaprio's smug smile, his cigarette holder perched between his ivory fingers. Django's bright blue overcoat as he cracks a whip over a bearded white man's torso. Is there anyone whose films are more suited to be cut into trailer-form than Tarantino's?
This marks his third collaboration with cinematographer Robert Richardson and I'm impressed. Since Kill Bill, Tarantino has been gradually developing his visual skills. Today, they are finally on par with that of his trademark dialogue, which was always a strong suit. For the first time, I can unquestionably recognize a certain look or shooting style that has crystallized as he has matured over the past few films. And the few moments we've seen from Foxx, Waltz and DiCaprio play out beautifully. They're clearly having a good time. I expect more than a few highly quotable lines of dialogue from these characters.
Overall, this feel likes another winner for QT, one that could conceivably turn into his biggest financial hit. Basterds topped out at $320 million at the box office but, given that the tone of Django feels slightly more fun, I have very high hopes. His audience seems to be growing. And so it should. Tarantino is one of the few true, original voices in modern cinema.
Django Unchained arrives Christmas Day 2012.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.