On Monday I had the chance to go to a screening of the Magnificent Seven. This is a remake of a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. I had been planning to see the previous films before this new film but the opportunity presented itself so I took the unorthodox approach of seeing the newest film first. Now I have seen all 3 films and can let you know what I thought of all things Magnificent Seven. Maybe I could call it the Magnificent 21 and make it a triple feature?
Let’s start with Seven Samurai:
Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is a truly epic film. At 3 1/2 hours it is intimidating and long but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In Japanese with subtitles it is not for the faint at heart filmgoer who isn’t willing to work for their movie.
It tells the story we will see in all of these films. It’s a village that is being manipulated by bandits who are stealing their harvest The villagers decide to hire samurai to protect the village led by Kambei, a ronin who is bitter at his own servitude in his life. Then there are 6 others- Sichiroji, Katusushiro, Heihachi, Kyuzo, Gorobei, and Kikuchiyo. All 7 have their own story arcs and personalities.
Where the other 2 films treat the bonding with the village as more after-thoughts that is the main story behind Seven Samurai. The villagers don’t trust the Samurai as there is a stiff class divide between the farmers and the samurai. Katsushiro faces particular struggles as he becomes involved with Shino, a farmers daughter.
You have to think of Seven Samurai more like you are binge watching a show on Netflix. It is episodic but in a good way. Nobody could endure any of the pieces for 3 hours whether battles, class struggle, romance or preparation for the bandits; however, together it all works as an amazing film. The acting is first rate and the cinematography is stunning from Kurosawa. There’s about 30 minutes that are completely in the rain, which is amazing to look at. I found myself getting very involved with the people especially in the last hour and half.
Seven Samurai is definitely the best out of the 3 films because of its scope and characters but it is probably the least rewatchable and digestible, so it depends on what you are in the mood for.
Overall Grade A+
Next up Magnificent 7 (1960)
The samurai has been turned into the cowboy, which makes sense given their similar place in American folklore. In this version a Mexican village is raided by bandits who threaten to return and take their harvest. The villagers meet Chris Adams played by Yul Brynner who they hire to protect their town from the bandits. He gets 6 of his buddies to help because he feels sorry for the people.
Horst Bucholz, Brad Dexter, Charlese Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Steve McQueen make up the rest of the Magnificent 7 and they begin to help the town be ready for the bandits to return. Each of the 7 have different insecurities and weaknesses but they do their best to train the people. In one nice moment the men realize they are eating all the food in the village so they decide to share it with the town. There is a real sense of bonding with the Mexican people and getting to know them.
Horst Bucholz’s Chico has a larger role than I was expecting- falling in love with local Petra and acting as a spy in the bandits camp. Chico find out they are nearly as desperate for food as the villagers. The two groups fight it out and it works because you have gotten to know the men like Chico and Steve McQueen’s Vin Tanner.
All of the performers are top notch in this film, which is part of the reason it works. There is nobody like Yul Brynner as far as I’m concerned and he is great here like always. You completely buy him being the leader for both the people and the 6 other men.
Some of the Mexicans can be caricatures that made me a little uncomfortable but over all an entertaining film with engaging action and performances.
Overall Grade- B
In our latest version we have director Antoine Fuqua taking a crack at the Magnificent 7 story. This version follows the 1960 film pretty closely but it amps up the violence at every turn. This new take won’t be for everyone but I found there was entertainment to be had.
Instead of a group of bandits this time we get an evil capitalist named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Unlike the 1960 version where the bandit’s men were starving, Bogue just wants power and more land. It’s the classic big bad greedy man. He was a real snooze fest in the movie to be honest.
But to open the film Bogue burns the church to the ground and murders Haley Bennett’s husband for standing up to him. She finds Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisolm and hires him to fight against Bogue and his army. Chisolm then gathers together his crew of 6 and they begin to train the town to defend themselves.
I really liked this cast. Denzel Washington is a movie star and he shines with swagger and charisma. Chris Pratt is great. Ethan Hawke is grizzled and weary. Vincent D’Onofrio is fantastic. I loved how diverse the cast was with Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeir all playing unique roles with a lot of heart to them.
The thing that separates this film from the other two is the violence. I can’t believe it is a PG-13. There are probably 200+ men that are killed in various ways throughout the movie. We see stabbings, shootings, arrow kills, explosions, the list goes on and on. The last act of the movie is as kinetic and crazy a fight scene as anything I’ve ever seen.
I guess you either think stuff like that is fun or you don’t. I kind of did believe it or not. Plus, the stars sell it 100%. The stuff with Bogue is pretty lame and it does drag in the middle and the characters are more rote than in the other 2 versions. They are pretty much excuses for the violent action so it depends on whether you like that kind of thing or not.
Also nice to hear a lovely last score from the late James Horner.
Overall Grade- B-
Also, A Bug’s Life is definitely based on this mythology, which evidently everyone already knows but me! Learn something new every day!
Have you seen any of these films and what do you think?
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