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MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Sturges
Cast:
Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Brad Dexter, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, James Coburn, Rosenda Monteros
Writing Credits:
Akira Kurosawa (screenplay, "Shichinin no Samurai"), Shinobu Hashimoto (screenplay, "Shichinin no Samurai"), Hideo Oguni (screenplay, "Shichinin no Samurai"), William Roberts

Tagline:
They were seven - And they fought like seven hundred!

Synopsis:
Spectacular gun battles, epic-sized heroes and an all-star cast that includes Academy Award winners Yul Brynner and James Coburn, together with Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach and Charles Bronson, make The Magnificent Seven a legend among westerns. Spawning three sequels and a successful television series, and featuring Elmer Bernstein's Oscar-nominated score, this stunning remake of The Seven Samurai is a "hard-hitting adventure" (Newsweek) and "an enduringly popular" (Leonard Maltin) cinematic classic.

Merciless Calvera (Wallach) and his band of ruthless outlaws are terrorizing a poor Mexican village, and even the bravest gunmen can't stop them. Desperate, the locals hire Chris Adams (Brynner) and six other gunmen to defend them. With time running out before Calvera's next raid, the heroic seven must prepare the villagers for battle and help them find the courage to take back their town ... or die trying!

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 128 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 1/10/2006

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Actors Eli Wallach and James Coburn, Executive Producer Walter Mirisch, and Assistant Director Robert Relyea
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
Disc Two
• “Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven” Documentary
• “Christopher Frayling on The Magnificent Seven” Featurette
• “Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven” Featurette
• “The Linen Book: Lost Images from The Magnificent Seven” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Previews

• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


The Magnificent Seven: Collector's Edition (1960)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 22, 2006)

In recent years, American adaptations of Japanese films have become common. Usually we find US takes on Japanese horror flicks. Among others, that’s brought us The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water.

For the granddaddy of this trend, however, we head back to 1960’s The Magnificent Seven. An adaptation of the 1954 classic The Seven Samurai, this one takes us to a small Mexican village. Bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) regularly raid the town and take much of their food. This leaves the villagers without much to sustain them, and they seek a way to fight back against the crooks.

A few residents head across the border to buy rifles and approach hotshot gunslinger Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) to help. He suggests they hire men instead, and he assists in that regard. In addition to Chris himself, eventually this band grows to include Vin (Steve McQueen), Harry (Brad Dexter), Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn), Britt (James Coburn) and Chico (Horst Buchholz). The flick follows their preparations for battle and their confrontations with Calvera and his men.

Even if you’ve never seen Seven or Seven Samurai, you’ll think you have. My favorite Seven-inspired flick is definitely 1998’s A Bug’s Life. The story strongly echoes that of Seven, but it offers enough unique material to stand on its own.

Anyway, we’ve seen plenty of homages and imitators over the years. Despite that familiarity factor, Seven continues to hold up well. The movie doesn’t feature an elaborate story or detailed characters. There’s a restrained basic quality to the picture that somehow manages not to become a problem. Usually a movie with such spare storytelling would become tedious, but that doesn’t happen here. Instead, the tale keeps us involved as we anticipate what’ll occur to the heroes.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t take the easy way out when it reaches its climax. I won’t spill any specific beans, but suffice it to say that not all of the seven makes it out of the village alive. I like that touch, for it adds drama and impact to the tale. It would have been unrealistic for everyone to survive, but that’s what we expect. In today’s Hollywood, the heroes almost always endure, but Seven takes a darker path.

At times I felt the film didn’t offer enough character exposition, but in the end, I thought what we got seemed sufficient. To be sure, we learn little about the main characters beyond vague personality traits. Lee is the potential coward who lost his nerve, while Harry is the true mercenary who thinks he’ll find a big payday. Chico is the young hotshot who inevitably falls in love with a local babe, and Bernardo is the tough guy who gets attached to some kids. My notes aren’t simplifications of those roles; they literally express all we’ll get to know about them.

And that’s just fine. Actually, it’s probably for the best since I don’t think the actors would be able to express more than these basics. The cast of Seven offers a study in manly stoicism. With only a few exceptions, the actors have two expressions: grim and grimmer. Sure, Dexter gets more to work with via Harry’s jovial mercenary, and Vaughn delivers a few scenes of panic. Buchholz also presents some expressiveness since Chico’s the most emotional and impulsive of the bunch.

But that’s about it, as the actors play their roles as straight and straighter. Again, this should be a negative, and in most films, it’d be a big problem. Here, however, it works just fine. The actors come across as strong and gritty, which is pretty much all we need from them. They add just enough personality to be seen as human.

All of this allows The Magnificent Seven to become a memorable western. It presents a taut, tense story with a sufficient amount of embellishment to contribute some flavor. Its simplicity allows it to work.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus A-

The Magnificent Seven appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite occasional problems, this was a pretty good transfer.

Sharpness usually seemed fine. Due to some mild prominent edge enhancement on occasion, wider shots could come across as somewhat ill-defined. Otherwise, the movie looked reasonably crisp and detailed. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering. Print flaws were minor. Occasional signs of specks occurred, but not many. I did think the image looked a little grainier than expected, though.

Given the film’s setting, colors tended toward an arid, dry palette. The DVD reproduced them fairly well. The tones seemed acceptably concise and accurate. Black levels came across as pretty deep and firm, but low-light shots could be a little heavy. Shadows tended to look a bit dark. Some of this stemmed from day-for-night photography, but other dim scenes were tough to discern for no apparent reason. Ultimately, however, Seven seemed generally satisfying.

I experienced similar feelings toward the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Magnificent Seven. The audio came from a monaural source. The soundfield of the 5.1 mix opened things up reasonably well, but don’t expect anything stellar.

Music showed acceptable stereo imaging, though the score rarely became involving. Those elements came across as “broad mono” much of the time; the score spread across the front but I didn’t often notice clean delineation of the instruments. Effects usually stayed close to the center. Some elements popped up from the sides, especially in regard to gunfire, but this wasn’t a terribly expansive track.

The surrounds contributed a little support. The rear speakers failed to play a strong role in the proceedings, though they occasionally added some unique elements. Those mainly occurred during the sequences with battle elements, as the sounds of war might appear in localized parts of the rear. Otherwise, the track maintained a heavy emphasis on the front speakers.

Audio quality seemed adequate but lackluster. Though consistently intelligible, speech tended to sound brittle. Effects were similar, as they came across as listenable but without much definition. A little distortion came through, though the effects were otherwise fairly clear. Music seemed decent. The score was fairly bright and bold, and it boasted acceptable low-end as well. This soundtrack never really overcame its origins, but it proved perfectly adequate.

While the 2001 “Special Edition” of Magnificent Seven included a decent set of extras, this 2006 “Collector’s Edition” expands on those. On DVD One, we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from actors James Coburn and Eli Wallach, executive producer Walter Mirisch and assistant director Robert Relyea. I believe that all except for sit together for a running, screen-specific track. Though deft editing makes it sound like all four are together, I’m pretty sure Coburn’s remarks are taken from a separate session and combined with the others. I could be wrong, as the track sure gives the impression they’re all together, but I’m fairly certain this isn’t the case.

They touch on quite a few topics. From the start and often throughout the commentary, they chat about director John Sturges’ personality and his working methods; many anecdotes about Sturges appear. We also learn of the sticky path the remake took to the screen and hear an appreciation for The Seven Samurai. In addition, we learn a bit about casting; Wallach and Coburn tell how they got their parts, and Coburn goes into his weapons training. We also get notes on how the participants interacted as well as the spirit of competition Sturges fostered among them.

Other elements touch on location shooting and cultural sensitivity to the depiction of Mexicans, shooting south of the border, and many good anecdotes. When the participants talk, this is a fun, informative track. Unfortunately, they pipe down too often, as we encounter some large stretches of dead air. The material is strong enough to overcome those gaps, at least; I like the commentary despite those problems.

For the second commentary, we hear from film historian Sir Christopher Frayling. He provides a running, screen-specific track new to this DVD. Frayling eagerly addresses a mix of topics. He goes into cast, characters and performances, story and direct comparisons to The Seven Samurai, the depiction of Mexico, Westerns and how this film fits into the genre, various influences, Elmer Bernstein’s score, and various production notes.

Some of Frayling’s material repeats information from the first track, but this isn’t a significant problem. Instead, Frayling presents a wonderfully energetic and useful chat. He runs through the movie with enthusiasm and gives us plenty of fine notes about the flick. Frayling conveys his affection for Seven but doesn’t beat us over the head with praise. He offers lots of insight and makes this a terrific commentary that complements the other track.

Moving to DVD Two, we begin with Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven. This documentary runs 46 minutes, 50 seconds and presents the standard mix of movie clips, archival materials and interviews both modern and old. We hear from Coburn, Mirisch, Relyea, Wallach, actors Yul Brynner, Horst Buchholz, John Alonzo, Brad Dexter, Rosenda Monteros, and Robert Vaughn, actor/writer Chazz Palminteri, writer/director John Carpenter, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, associate producer Lou Morheim, Brynner’s former wife Doris, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, Steve McQueen’s former wife Niele McQueen Toffel, and composer Elmer Bernstein.

They reflect on the film’s place in Western history, the influence of The Seven Samurai and the decision to remake it, the path it took to the screen, choosing a director and adapting the story, casting and actors, shooting in Mexico and sensitivity about the depiction of the locals. From there we hear about competition among the actors and relationships on the set, concerns about the movie’s success, the score and the script, flicks that “borrowed” from Seven as well as its legacy.

After four hours of commentary, it should come as no surprise that a fair amount of material reappears here. That said, the expanded roster of participants makes this a good program. We get information from a different viewpoint, so even when we hear the same subjects discussed, we often find a slightly alternate take on things. “Hire” offers a solid perspective on the film’s creation and entertains as it informs.

Next we find a series of featurettes. Christopher Frayling on The Magnificent Seven goes for 20 minutes, 20 seconds, and presents more with the film historian. He chats about the status of westerns in 1960 and where Seven fits, the movie’s themes and tone, the director’s style, cast and characters, literary and historical allusions, interpretation, and production elements. Much of Frayling’s material here repeats from his commentary, so that makes this discussion less than crucial. He does make this a good quick look at the flick, though, and I like the notes about issues like Yul Brynner’s cut love interest.

During the 14-minute and 47-second Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven, we hear from film music historian Jon Burlingame. He chats a little about composer Bernstein’s long career but mostly offers information about the movie’s specific cues and themes. Burlingame dissects the material nicely and makes this a useful piece.

For the last featurette, we get The Linen Book: Lost Images from The Magnificent Seven. This fills 14 minutes and 47 seconds as it presents notes from Relyea, Wallach, and MGM Home Entertainment Photo Archive head Maggie Adams. She tells us about the discovery of the “Linen Book”, a wealth of production photos. While we look at these, we get notes about the shoot from Relyea and Wallach. They repeat a lot of the same stories heard elsewhere, so this presentation isn’t very novel. I prefer the photos as offered in the upcoming stillframe collection.

That Photo Gallery breaks down into five subdomains. We get “Behind the Scenes” (40 stills), “Off the Set” (12), “Portrait Art” (57 spread across eight actors), “Classic Production Art” (31) and “Poster Art” (4). All of these add up to a nice collection of images.

Previews provides a mix of ads. We get promos for “Classic Westerns”, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Great Escape, Silverado and “The Best of WWII Movies”.

Finally, the set includes a 12-page booklet. It presents photos, posters, and text about the flick. We get some adaptation notes, details about the cast, and trivia. Oddly, the latter mentions that Monsters Inc. pays homage to Seven, but I think they got confused with A Bug’s Life; I don’t recall any aspects of Monsters that clearly reflected Seven. Perhaps this occurred because James Coburn did a voice for Monsters.

It may not top its inspiration, but The Magnificent Seven stands well on its own. The movie offers a solid western with interesting characters, tense situations and just enough action to keep us entertained. The DVD features fairly good picture and audio along with some very nice supplements highlighted by a pair of very nice audio commentaries. A fine DVD for a quality movie, this disc merits my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4571 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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