Friday, September 30, 2011

The Magnificent Seven Blu-ray Review

Academy Award winner Yul Brynner stars in the landmark Western that launched the film careers of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.  Tired of being ravaged by an army of marauding bandits, the residents of a small Mexican village seek help from seven American gunfighters.  The only problem?  It’s seven against 50!  Also featuring Eli Wallach and Robert Vaughn, and set against Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-Nominated score, director John Sturges’ thrilling adventure belongs in any Blu-ray collection.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

The Magnificent Seven is one of the most cherished westerns ever made but it wasn’t always the case as it didn’t do too well domestically until it was a huge hit in Europe and was re-released in the States.  The movie marks a milestone of sorts for westerns as it was a perfect blend of the style of westerns that had come before it, but it heralded a new direction as well for later movies like Sergio Leone’s “The Man With No Name” trilogy and others. Like Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven is based on an Akira Kurasawa film – in this case The Seven Samurai, only this time without a lawsuit from Kurasawa.  Of course, it had plenty of it’s own lawsuits on it’s own between the producers of the movie.  I believe that The Magnificent Seven’s curious mix of old-fashioned values mixed with a modern way of shooting action has given it the longevity it’s had.

The story of the film is much like the original it’s based off of with a group of peasants who have been terrorized by a greedy bandit decide that they need help.  Instead of just hiring help outright like the original, this group of Mexicans simply want to purchase guns to fight with (at the insistence of the Mexican government who didn’t want it to look like the Americans were sought to do something that they couldn’t do themselves).  When the group witness a selfless act of bravery involving a gunfighter named Chris (Yul Brynner) they believe they have found an honest man that can help them and ask him to buy guns for them.  When Chris points out that guns are very expensive and that it’s cheaper to hire men who have their own guns, the Mexicans agree and the search for some good men begins.

The team that will eventually make up the seven is gathered with the cynical gunslinger with a heart of gold Vin (Steve McQueen), the knife expert Britt (James Coburn), the silent but loyal Bernardo (Charles Bronson), the dapper and haunted Lee (Robert Vaughn), the dreamer Harry (Brad Dexter), and the impetuous Chico (Horst Buchhholz).  Despite the job paying only $20 for the entire mission, all of these men are desperate enough in different ways to accept. When they arrive at the small village they discover that the villagers are too scared to even welcome their protectors. Knowing that the bandit leader Calvera (Eli Wallach) will return soon, Chris and the rest of his team start teaching the villagers how to fortify their village and how to fight.

Sure enough, Calvera and his fifty men arrive only to learn that the once meek villagers were now willing to fight back along with their formidable band of mercenaries.  Finding out that lesson cost Calvera a lot of men before he decides to retreat in to the forest with the men he has left.  Fearing the backlash that guaranteed to come from the prideful and vengeful Calvera, some of the villages start to think that maybe they made a mistake and want their protectors to leave before Calvera returns.  Disgusted by their cowardice, the seven remain to fight for some people that don’t deserve it.  Once Calvera returns with more men, the villagers have a choice to make as to whether to stand up for themselves or to sacrifice the men that they hired.  For the Magnificent Seven, there really isn’t any choice at all.

Director John Sturges got an enviable cast of actors that were just about to hit the big time and eventually did with this film.  The entire film is cast perfectly.  Steve McQueen’s laid back demeanor worked perfectly with Brynner’s authoritative Chris.  The laconic James Coburn didn’t say much and didn’t have to in the movie as his gestures and looks sufficed.  Charles Bronson’s Bernardo got some nice moments of action and tenderness as his character befriends some local boys who worship him.  Vaughn does a fine job as Lee (although his scene of waking up from a nightmare was a little too overwrought for my tastes) and Dexter is also decent as the gullible Harry who keeps on believing that there’s gold hidden somewhere to find.

The weakest link in the movie is Horst Buchholz and not because he was a German actor pretending to be Mexican (although that didn’t help) but because his acting was so over the top especially compared to the other six actors. Sturges was convinced that he was going to be a huge star and spent more time filming him that the others which infuriated the other actors – especially McQueen who complained to Brynner that Horst was going to steal the picture.  When Brynner disagreed, McQueen asked why he thought that and Brynner replied “Because I’ve read the script.”  Eli Wallach does a fantastic job as the greedy and insecure Calvera which shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows his work.  He’s always good in every role he does and this movie is no different.

The film’s themes of honor, sacrifice, and community are presented well and give the movie a timeless quality.  The heightened action scenes kick-started a new direction for westerns with it’s fast paced action that followed multiple leads.  This men on a mission movie which was a remake of another movie was so successful that it spawned it’s own copycat movies including three sequels of its own and a TV show much later.  With it’s all-star cast that was overflowing with charm and machismo and an incredible Oscar nominated score from Elmer Bernstein, this movie really couldn’t fail.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

For this 50th Anniversary edition I’m happy to report that this 1080p (2.35:1) transfer looks very good and a lot better than the previous DVD release.  Let’s start with the good news – there’s a lot of nice clarity and colors are nicely represented here.  There’s a lot of nice detail to appreciate such as the sheen of the horse’s coats, the forest, and the colors on display during the village celebration.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent and nicely capture the tanned faces of the seven.  The bad news is that there are some white specks that appear every now and again and there’s some really rough transitions that were distracting to me.  Overall this is a very nice transfer considering it’s age and it’s worth upgrading to Blu-ray for.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars)

The Magnificent Seven’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn’t quite measure up to the level of the disc’s new visual quality but it’s acceptable.  For purists there’s an English 2.0 Mono track and a  Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital offering as well.  Despite being a 5.1 mix, this is still a primarily front channel mix with only some random gunfire and music venturing to the rear channels.  I was really hoping for a more immersive mix but it didn’t work out for this movie. Dialogue is delivered clean and clear from the front channels but don’t expect a whole lot for the other channels. This is an average mix that could have been better but it may be the best the movie can be due to it’s age.

Special Features ( 4 out of 5 stars)

The extras on this disc represent quality over quantity.  With a fun and informative commentary track and an excellent documentary about the filming of the movie and more, I believe most fans will be very happy with the extras on this disc.
  • Commentary by Walter Mirisch, Robert Relyea, and James Coburn and Eli Wallach – This track by the film’s producer, the assistant director, and two of it’s actors is a lot of fun to listen to as they reminisce about the filming of the movie and offer some funny stories such as Coburn’s disapproval of Horst Buchholz who he felt “Wasn’t ballsy enough.”  We also hear stories about Brynner’s lavish trailer setup with a waterfall, palm trees, and more that was mercilessly mocked by the others.  The conversation veers around to many different areas including working for Sergio Leone and how John Sturges lost his house because of taking a loan against it for this movie which he “didn’t make a dime on,” according to Coburn.  I could spend all day listening to Coburn’s voice so I’m glad he was able to record this prior to his unfortunate passing.
  • Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven – A comprehensive documentary that last almost an hour and covers all aspects of the film from adapting it from The Seven Samurai and the lawsuits that resulted over the rights, and all the way from pre-production to post-production. I also enjoyed hearing about the one-upmanship between the cast as they deliberately tried upstaging each other for the most screen time.  McQueen was the worst offender as he did everything he could to keep the audience’s attention on him and it got so bad that Brynner told him to knock it offf and warned him all he had to do was take his hat off to get the focus.  With interviews with Wallach, McQueen’s widow, Mirisch, Relyea, and some vintage interviews with the cast, this has everything you need.
  • The Linen Book: Lost Images from The Magnificent Seven – Don’t let the title of this extra fool you into thinking that it’s just slide-show of still pictures. While this does include some long missing pictures that were found stored in a salt mine in Kansas, it also contains some additional interview footage that has some good info in it.  The pictures themselves are also cool to see and we hear how they came to be there by Maggie Adams who is the head of MGM’s photo archive.
  • Elmer Bernstein and the Magnificent Seven – A talk with film music historian Jon Burlingame who discusses the incredible score from composer Elmer Bernstein and breaks down each themes of the film and offers insights about all of them.
  • Trailer A
  • Trailer B
  • Stills Gallery

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

Any fan of western movies should enjoy this all-star extravaganza! Filled with memorable performances from a cast of actors just about to hit the big time, The Magnificent Seven delivers a lot of action, humor, and fun.  Not many films have this many big stars in them and it’s always fun to see them all in one movie which still occasionally happens today with similar movies like The Expendables.  This is a good Blu-ray with some great extras, good visual quality, and probably the best audio quality we’re going to get for this movie.

Order your copy today !


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