Hollywood revisits the Western with a quality remake
Often, art exists as much for comfort as it does for challenging new experiences. We see new films, listen to new music, visit new exhibits hoping to see something that will fill us with a sense of awe or encourage us to discuss new possibilities. But there’s always value in revisiting the familiar.
There is a trend right now towards looking backwards, towards remembering those experiences that shaped us into the people we are. Hollywood is spending vast amounts of money tapping into that feeling—this season of South Park, for example, is likening these experiences to a drug in the form of ‘member berries’, drawing parallels between the love of Ewoks and the standing in the way of progressive ideas.
To be sure, the glut of remakes and reboots in Hollywood is tied to memories of a safer, simpler time. My generation seems to have a hard time accepting that the ‘80s and ‘90s weren’t the zenith of popular culture. On the other hand, though, new versions of familiar material aren’t always a bad thing. Like a great cover of your favorite song, some remakes play all the right notes.
The Magnificent Seven does this well enough. It lacks the complexity of Seven Samurai, the Kurosawa film on which it is based, and it doesn’t quite hit the high notes of the soaring John Sturges Old West classic. But the film does paint the numbers with all the right colors, upping the action and body count to near Lord of the Rings levels. It’s a fun film for anyone who loves the genre.
2016’s The Magnificent Seven, unlike its predecessor, doesn’t begin with a town in Mexico. The banditos have been replaced by an All American Evil: the rich, land grabbing carpetbagger. Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has captured the mining town of Rose Creek. He runs his mine with a ruthless efficiency, encouraging his violent overseers to intimidate anyone in his path.
He has bought the local law enforcement, who maintain Bogue’s lethal justice and force the townsfolk into an impossible bargain—walk away from their land for $20 per acre or stay and lose their lives. Bogue has his henchmen massacre the disagreeable and burn the church, just in case any audience members were on the fence about his evil nature.
Cut to another Western town, where bounty hunter Sam Chisom (Denzel Washington) arrives to collect a barkeeper. After the required Western shootout, a young woman from Rose Creek approaches Chisom to enlist his services in freeing their town from the iron fisted grip of Bogue. Chisom agrees and assembles a cast of colorful gunslingers (including one Native American) to defend the innocent and right some wrongs.
Seven Samurai, and The Magnificent Seven by association, have always been a master class in adventure filmmaking. Every theme, every scene, every shot has been repeated and dissected and applied to a multitude of films, across genres and spectrums. Of course, you’ve seen it in westerns like The Dirty Dozen or High Noon.
But even the The Avengers is a version of the Seven. Most recently, you’ve seen it in Suicide Squad. It’s a time honored, audience approved formula that works well for a variety of film genres.
2016’s The Magnificent Seven is simply a repetition. It’s a fun one to be sure—I might even prefer Denzel Washington to Yul Brenner, who I never really bought as a cowboy (but then, I doubt I’ll see Denzel in Brenner’s role in HBO’s newest show West World. Brenner was perfect in the 1973 film.)
The various actors rounding out the cast, from Chris Pratt to Ethan Hawke to Vincent D’Onofrio are excellent in their roles, although the team doesn’t quite come together the way it should.
Still, 2016’s The Magnificent Seven is a quality remake. It’s one worth seeing for a touch of nostalgia and excitement. The western has fallen by the wayside for a long time now. Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles might have delegitimized the genre for a generation or two. I’m certainly in favor of a comeback.
The Wild West is uniquely American, an irreplaceable part of film history. Hopefully, Hollywood will write a few new ones.
The West is a large place and there’s a lot to explore.