By Michael Kaye
The Magnificent Seven (Review)
It's good to see the Western slowly creeping its way back into the forefront, after a long time away from the limelight. It's also nice to a director like Antoine Fuqua try his hand at the genre, and what better story to tell than an updated version of The Magnificent Seven, which was itself a Western adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's epic Seven Samurai. This movie is specifically a remake of the 1960 John Sturges' film and it stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.
Here's the story, now, stop me if you've heard this one before. Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
Now, normally whenever I review remakes and/or reboots, I'd prefer to judge the film on its own merits. But this time I want to try something new. I'll still give you my brief thoughts on the film as I do with my editorials, but afterwards I want to explore some differences between the 1960 version and the 2016 remake. But for now, here are my brief thoughts.
First, let me set the record straight. Neither of these films come anywhere near the level of Seven Samurai, a movie that still holds up to this day. Now that I've cleared that up, I absolutely ADORED the new Magnificent Seven! Part of me is kind of mad that this movie wasn't released in the summer, because it's a fun thrill ride from start to finish. Antoine Fuqua is one of the best lean action directors working today, and that he's gathered such an incredibly diverse ensemble cast makes this film even better. You know you're going to get a great performance from Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke because of Training Day, and Chris Pratt is doing the "salt of the earth" version of Star-Lord. But the real standouts for me were Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horn, Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, and Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest. The only real weaknesses I could pick out were the screenplay not giving quite enough time to really dive into the development of everyone on the team , and unfortunately Peter Sarsgaard slightly overcooking his performance as Bartholomew Bogue. A good litmus test for whether or not you'll like this movie is if you're a fan of Tombstone, which is a very romanticized version of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
And now, onto a more interesting discussion involving both the evolution of the western, and the evolution of the current MPAA rating system, using both versions of The Magnificent Seven as a spring board.
We'll begin with the evolution of the western, and how the two films really set themselves apart. The original Magnificent Seven was one of the last films in the classical era of westerns, before the focus shifted away from the traditional "good vs. evil" themes and more towards a more dark and gritty depiction of the Old West that you'd see in Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. While the remake has essentially the same plot, it's combined elements from previous westerns with Fuqua's own sensibilities. The characters aren't just direct lifts from the original, they are unique to this version of the story.
But for me, the main difference between the 1960 version and the 2016 version has everything to do with MPAA. The rating system that we use today is still relatively young compared to the overall history of Hollywood. Movies made in the early 60's were still under the Hays Code, which placed a lot of restrictions on content, especially when it came to on screen violence. For example, some of the rules about murder state that "The technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation," and that "Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail." Boy, has a lot changed since then. The MPAA now has 5 different ratings: G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17. Magnificent Seven (2016) is rated PG-13, which isn't quite as intense as R, but they can still get away with showing a lot more in terms of violence, as long as you minimize the blood and gore.
So that was my take on both versions of The Magnificent Seven. I really want the remake to do well at the box office, that way more westerns can be made on a larger scale once again.
Now I want to hear from you guys. Have you seen The Magnificent Seven, and if so what did you think? Also, which is your favorite era of westerns? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where I finally get to talk about one of my all time favorites, Tombstone!