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It is kind of interesting to note that John Sturges' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN ($20), which is one of the great American westerns, is actually based upon the Japanese movie THE SEVEN SAMURAI. Even more interesting is the fact that Akira Kurosawa, who directed THE SEVEN SAMURAI, was himself influenced by watching many of the great American westerns. It may be cliché to say the following, but I guess what goes around comes around, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

While THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN tells a fairly simple story of right and wrong, it gains complexity from the moral ambiguity of its characters. The heroes of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN are killers, as is the film's villain. However, it is the "hows" and the "whys" of their actions is where the distinction is drawn. The plot of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN concerns a small Mexican farming community that is continually being plundered by a bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his men. Tired of living off the crumbs that the bandits leave for them, a group of the farmers cross the boarder to hire several professional gunfighters, who they hope will drive away the bandit gang once and for all. Although they have barely enough money to hire one gunfighter, Chris (Yul Brynner) recognizes the importance of helping the farmers, who are offering everything they have as payment. After a bit of a hard sell, Chris is able to convince several of his fellow gunfighters to take up the good fight. Of course, the gunfighters realize that getting rid of Calvera isn't going to be easy, so they also teach the farmers how to fight for themselves, as well as helping them to fortify their village against the next bandit raid.

The strength of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN lays in director John Sturges incredible talent to tell a story with simple, yet powerful visuals, not to mention a cast that brings their characters to unquestionable life. While Yul Brynner's incredible screen presence allows him to dominate much of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, all of his co-stars leave their mark on the film as well. Steve McQueen was an up and coming actor at the time THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was made, but his performance has his undeniable star quality all over it. Eli Wallach’s performance has an over-the-top quality to it, which suits the film’s larger-than-life villain Calvera perfectly. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN also features outstanding work from Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn and Horst Buchholz in an impressive American screen debut.

MGM Home Entertainment has made THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that recreates the film's 2.35:1 theatrical proportions, in addition to being enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Up front, let me say that THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN has never looked great on video due to the age of the film elements, which have displayed both wear and fading. I would imagine the popularity of this 1960 release must have contributed to the aged look of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. The new high definition transfer created for the DVD release isn't perfect, but it is a significant improvement over everything that has preceded it. The down-converted image on the DVD is sharper and better defined than in earlier releases, although nowhere near the levels of a new movie. However, for an un-restored film that has already reached the four-decade mark, the picture looks pretty darn good. Digital processing appears to have been deployed to clean up many of the age related blemishes, which were quite noticeable on previous video incarnations of the film, although the opening credits look as though they could have use more work. Film grain remains noticeable throughout the presentation and I doubt that anything short of a full restoration of the film elements will alleviate that problem. The new transfer improves colors, which appear stronger and better defined than they were in the past. Most of the dusty western hues look very solid, and are reproduced without distortion. The blacks are fairly inky and deep; however, the level of shadow detail is limited by the age of the production and the film stocks used in the original photography. Clean dual layer authoring masks all traces of digital compression artifacts.

For this release THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is presented with a newly mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The music receives most of the benefit of the re-mix, since it is spread across the listening environment to create a more theatrical sound. Still, the fidelity of these forty-year-old recordings is limited, making Elmer Bernstein's classic score sound thin and brittle. There are some directional sound effects that creep into the rear channels, but the mix never tries to push the source material too far. Dialogue is clean sounding and fully intelligible, although the voices do have a certain flatness that can only be attributed to the age of the recordings. As you might expect, there is no real bass coming from the low frequency channel. Despite age and sonic limitations, the sound is free from noticeable hiss and distortion, making the remixed track a very viable listening option. Also present on the DVD is the original monaural soundtrack, which has similar audio quality, but lacks any form of multi-channel enhancement. Spanish and French monaural soundtracks have also been encoded onto the DVD, as have French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few solid supplements. Producer Walter Mirisch, assistant director Robert Relyea, along with actors Eli Wallach and James Coburn are featured on a running commentary track. This is a great track, featuring a lot of behind-the-scenes information on the production, as well as the personalities involved in making this western classic. Also included on the DVD is the documentary Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven. Running forty-six minutes, the documentary includes interviews with the surviving members of both the cast and crew, as well as older interviews with those that have passed on. There is plenty of great material in the documentary, although it does rehash some bits that are covered in the audio commentary. Filling out the supplements are two theatrical trailers, plus a still file of production photographs and publicity materials.

There is no disputing that THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is one of the greatest and most popular westerns of all time. MGM Home Entertainment has done a very good job of transcribing this forty-year-old film to the digital medium, plus they are offering some fine supplements on the disc. Movie buffs and western fans will certainly want to add this DVD to their collections. Recommended.


The Magnificent Seven


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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