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Cool, Tarantino wrote a novel based on his film and released it in paperback before a hardcover edition.

Retro design. Advertisements for similar fiction on the last few pages. A new tagline: “Hollywood 1969 … You shoulda been there!”


The elaboration on the tale’s side stories is just as intriguing as the film and offers more insight into the characters.

And that’s cool, too, until the cowboy plot drags slower than the delightfully low-key scenes at the center of the film and becomes a boring read. What pulls you into the movie is practically skipped in the book. (The reason Tarantino’s a director, I suppose.)

This time around, I found myself losing track of the fictional characters inside a story of fictional characters representing a fictionalized version of historical fiction.

Yeah, maybe that was what he thought would be cool enough to keep our attention, but I’m not entertained by premises.

Author Elmore Leonard was always the coolest without ever seeming to try. That’s the definition of being cool. (Ironically, Leonard’s novel Be Cool, sequel to Get Shorty, was one of his worst.)

This being Tarantino’s first novel, I don’t know what I’m supposed to consider cool (or interesting).

By the end of Tarantino’s 8th film The Hateful Eight, I said, out loud, “Yeah, so?” not understanding what compelled him to tell the story.

By the end of his film Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, I was satisfied to witness him balance cool with technique and succeed with proper storytelling and interesting characters. I wasn’t watching Tarantino challenge himself and fail (like all of that nonsense in Django Unchained or his self-indulging self-awareness in the first half of Death Proof, which I still question – self-exploitation or self-centered?).

After reading the last page of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I was … confused.

Why didn’t Tarantino really mess with his audience and release the novel before the movie (actor photos and all on the cover)? Because the story’s intensity isn’t as elaborate and compelling as it is in the film and, if anything, is all together passed over. The novel concentrates more on Hollywood and movies as opposed to what occurred outside the studios in 1969. That’s cool, but the awareness and integration of the outside world is what worked so well in the film. The novel’s focus on outside events, however, reads more like distractions or beginnings for another, different book.

Looking back on the 400 pages, I think execution for coolness was not Tarantino’s objective but my own (seeking it out in those pages, not in life … because I’m pretty darn cool, man).

I also think the movie (which was far better) ruined the book for me. And that’s … actually pretty cool!

In the end, the novel-based-on-film isn’t Tarantino’s best work, but I appreciate his ambition.

[Note: Ignore reviews about this being a “pulp” novel. I swear, the critics don’t understand the term or genre.]
Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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