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Click above to purchase "The Magnificent Seven: Special Edition" at amazon.com

 

The Magnificent Seven
Special Edition

review by Anthony D.

 

Running Time: 129 minutes

Directed by John Sturges

Studio: MGM

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Audio Commentary, Documentary, Photo Gallery, Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Mono, French Mono, Spanish Mono, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (16 Scenes)

Released: May 5th, 2001

The farmers of a small, Mexican village know that when their crops are harvested, a band of bandits (led by accent-affected Eli Wallach) will come and take everything. Upon the advice of a village elder, they decide to hire gunfighters to lead them into battle, with little hope of monetary compensation. They stumble upon a wise, aging gunslinger, Chris Adams (Yul Brynner, a long way away from Siam), who is touched that he villagers would sacrifice their harvests, leaving them on the verge of starvation. Adams is joined by Vin (a career-defining turn from Steve McQueen), who has come to his aid before in a tight situation. Circumstances add five more fighters to their league, including the soft-spoken, knife-wielding Britt (future Oscar winner James Coburn), Lee (future Man from U.N.C.L.E), Harry Luck - an old friend of Chris' (Brad Dexter), money-hungry Bernardo O'Reilly (a sinewy, youthful Charles Bronson) and Chico (Berlin born Horst Bucholz making his American film debut following a stunning turn as a murderer befriended by Hayley Mills in Carol Reed's "Tiger Bay) - a young, quick-tempered gunslinger-wannabe. These magnificent seven, go to the village and teach the villagers the way of the gun to prepare them for the next time that the bandits wreak havoc.

If the plot of "The Magnificent Seven" sounds familiar, though you have never seen it, it is because screenwriter William Roberts based his western on a Eastern classic, Akira Kurasawa's 1954 epic, "The Seven Samurai." Roberts has masterfully, and successfully, taken the framework of Kurasawa's film and filled it with thoroughly American western brush strokes. Like its source, "The Magnificent Seven," is a character study, where we come to understand that each of the seven takes part in the defense of the village for a personal reason, and it is these distinct motives that make each individual interesting and sympathetic. Each man's personal code of ethics comes through, one of the chief themes inherent in nearly all of the great western films. Where indeed would Will Kane be in "High Noon" without his personal code of ethics?

Roberts' script was handed to the ever-reliable John Sturges to direct. Sturges has not reached the pantheon of great directors, and is rarely discussed outside of this particular film, but his "The Great Escape" bears a striking resemblance to "The Magnificent Seven;" and his "Ice Station Zebra" is said to have been Howard Hughes' personal favorite film. There's nothing truly special about Struges' direction, though, and with the rare exception, his films seem to be fueled by major injections of testosterone. With "The Magnificent Seven," it is ultimately the shared machismo, and the strongly characterized acting - along with its Robin Hood-like tale - that has made "The Magnificent Seven" into a long lasting, classic American film.

 

The transfer of "The Magnificent seven," though anamorphic (YEAH!),could probably stand a major digital overhaul. The problematic Color by DeLuxe creates unique shifts in tone which weren't the cinematographer's intent: watch how Yul Brynner's brilliant, black, shiny shirt radically goes from deep, rich black to nearly navy blue pigments; fortunately not in the same scenes! The entire film seems to be a lot on the soft side, with a wash-out, faded look to it: skies which normally appear blue, are near white with cream colored clouds floating about. That said, the digital domain does offer up a startling clarity as far as details within the frame are concerned, and Sturges certainly knew how to fill a Panavision frame.

Yippee-kay-ay! Metro has gone all out with a newly mastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, mastered from the original theatrical mono source material, and it is a re-mastering that isn't too trick oriented. (Purists may want to listen to the tinny-sounding original mono track, which fortunately is an option for them). The reason that I would head for the 5.1 track is that is brings an expansive range to Elmer Bernstein's all-too-familiar (and often imitated) score. I know that several viewers in my age range (let's just say that I was alive when the film was released, and leave it at that) will fondly recall "The Theme from 'The Magnificent Seven'" as being an omnipresent part of growing up and seeing cigarette commercials on television. "Come to where the flavor is," the ads urged, and lo and behold, the bold, brassy sounds of Bernstein underscored the presence of the rugged Marlboro men. When the soundtrack does rely on trickery, however, it is not subtle - - but thank goodness it is very infrequent, as exemplified by the buzz around bullet shots in Chapter Five. Dialogue is far too often recognizable as ADR-produced, but even with the vast array of accents, always comprehensible. For foreign ears, there is an alternative Mono track in French; though Spanish and French Subtitles are provided as well as literate English Closed Captioning.

Two humorous, by today's standards, trailers hit off the Special Features. Trailer A is even more washed out than the film itself and in pretty ragged shape with loads of grain, but a minimal amount of scratches. In addition to showcasing Elmer Bernstein's classic theme, the trailer features a fine introduction to the cast. Nearly falling out of my chair, watching Trailer B is just this side of parody with its unnecessary song: "Seven, seven, seven. But they fought like seven hundred. The magnificent seven. Hmmm....They fought for the future to wipe away their past," intoned against Mexican guitars by a serious set of baritones and basses. The Still Gallery, not self-playing, offers a treasure of Behind the Scene shots, Off the Set shots, Portrait Art, Classic Production Art as well as Poster Art. There are some mighty fine photos to be seen there, thus worth checking out. I thoroughly enjoyed the anecdote laden commentary track with several untold tales (largely about John Sturges). The Commentary reunites co-stars James Coburn and Eli Wallch, and is largely conducted by producer Walter Mirisch. This commentary is highly recommended, as it makes a nice companion piece to the brand new Documentary, "Guns for Hire: The Making of 'The Magnificent Seven,'" which is hardly the promotional, nor reverential fare which we're used to seeing on DVD. There's quite a bit here, with interviews from John Carpenter (HUH?) and Chazz Palmenteri (double HUH?) though at least Lawrence Kasdan with his "Silverado" belongs in the documentary. I would have liked to have had this documentary chapter encoded, but it deserves to be seen; preferable after the film since ultimate fates of several characters are given away. The documentary also features several 1970's interviews with Yul Brynner as well as current interviews with his widow as well as McQueen's widow, Nelie. This documentary stands tall, and is always fascinating without being patronizing nor self-congratulatory.

 

Westerns like this one don't come along every day. With it's budgetary pricing, "The Magnificent Seven," and its extras should please genre fans, as well as Kurasawa fans. If you're looking for a retreat from the revisionist westerns of the past decade, one which favors characterization as well as action, there's no denying the magnificence of "The Magnificent Seven." Macho men, classic musical score, wide open spaces and a fine, deft combination of action and adventure, this classic film should reach a brand new audience with this delightful DVD release.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3/5)

(4/5)

(3/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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