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.