By Roger Thomas
After seeing the new version, I re-watched the original “Magnificent Seven” so I could compare and contrast the two.
This will probably be blasphemy for some film historians, but I like the new version better than the original or any of the three sequels that followed the 1960 classic. Of course, none of the western “Seven” films are quite as powerful as the original source material, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film “Seven Samurai.” Writer William Roberts and director John Sturges gave credit for the inspiration for their film six years later.
Basically “Samurai,” the original “Magnificent Seven” and the new “Seven” are about villages or towns that are facing criminal bullies. The bullies want what the villages have and because the people are weak, the bullies get what they want. At least until the villagers hire protection and assistance. In each film there is a leader among the hired protection who goes out and recruits others who will help with the cause.
In the new version of “Seven” two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington is the gunslinger who gathers his gang to defend a small town from those who want to mine the area for gold. In the original film, it was a portion of the village’s food supply. Times have changed, and the ante has been raised.
Other cast members who do good work in the film are Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Peter Sarsgaard, who plays the nasty villain, and Ethan Hawke, whose character has a secret that becomes evident as the plot thickens.
Among the other strengths of the film, there are several. The cinematography, especially the sweeping landscapes, are simply beautiful.There is some of that in the original film, but many of the shots in 1960 are obviously recorded on sound-stages. The production design throughout the new film is strong. And the score, including the iconic theme from the original film, is used well. I have fond memories of the original music theme because we played it often in high school band. When the same exciting anthem began over the closing credits, I was humming along with the music.
There is another element that enhances the film. If you go back and watch the original, there is a lot of violence but almost no blood. In fact, when someone is shot, and many people are shot in the film, it is usually depicted by a red spot that appears on the shirt of the fallen. In 1960, films were not as violent as many are today. Besides, my guess is that they were trying to market the film to older children, teenagers and adults.
The new version of “Seven” is targeting the same crowd. There is a lot violence in this film, and as in the original, a lot of killing. But there is very little blood. When blood is present, it is a little more realistic than it was fifty-six years ago, however it is still done tastefully. There is very little in the film that would be objectionable to a majority of film fans.
In closing, I go back to what I said at the beginning; this new version of “The Magnificent Seven” is better than the original. It is not a great film, or one that will be remembered for years to come. It is simply fun from beginning to end. A good time at the cinema.
Though the film is not often profound, there is one quote I did like. Emma Cullen, played by Haley Bennett, a townsperson that seeks out protection for her town, is asked this question, “So you seek revenge?” She replies, “I seek righteousness. As should all. But I’ll take revenge.” There is a lot there in a few words.