Friday, May 12, 2017
7 x 7 x 7 (a movie(s) review post)
At any rate, when the new iteration of Magnificent came out, I figured I should go back and re-watch the original, too, but let's start with the new one.
But sometimes movies don't live up their casts, and this is certainly one of those, to no fault of the cast, though. Whoever was responsible for adapting the original failed in almost every possible way to grasp what both the original Magnificent and Seven Samurai (what Magnificent was based on) were about. I'm just going to touch on two things:
1. The villain. In Seven Samurai there is no "villain." There's a group of bandits -- yes, they clearly have a leader, but he's not an individual character -- who raid villages for their food. Why? Because they can. In the original Magnificent, there is a similar group of bandits. In that movie, the leader of the bandits is an individual character, but he's just the embodiment of "we do this because we can."
However, in the new Magnificent, I suppose they felt they needed to make the bad guy more nuanced, because they gave him "motivations." I mean, he might not really even be a "bad guy," just a guy trying to achieve noble purposes through the wrong methods. It's a big wagon full of bullshit, and it doesn't work. It doesn't make the character more "rounded" or three dimensional. Bad guys didn't and don't take what belongs to others so that they can use it to "build a better world;" they do it because they can. What we get in the new Magnificent is not a more complex villain or, even, a conflicted villain; what we get is a stupid villain.
2. The hero. Identifying "the hero" in Seven Samurai isn't as straightforward as it is to identify the hero in an American made film but, for ease of translation, we'll go with him being Kambei Shimada, the leader of the samurai defending the village. Kambei reluctantly agrees to help the villagers, but he is only reluctant because he's tired of fighting and war. He's interested in doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing (unlike the many other samurai the villagers have asked for help). Likewise, in the original Magnificent, Chris Adams (played by Yul Brynner) eventually agrees to help the townsfolk not because of the money (because it's only a token amount) but because he wants to help the villagers. He has empathy for them and wants to help. The good guys are good guys because they are good guys.
But that's just too simple, I suppose, because in the new Magnificent, they felt they needed to give the hero, Chisolm (played by Denzel Washington), "motivations" of his own, namely revenge. Really? They had to go to that? It's like people have come to believe that the only possible motivation for anyone to ever do the right thing is for the sake of revenge. So Chisolm is completely uninterested in helping the townsfolk until he discovers that the "villain" they are being threatened by is Bartholomew Bogue, with whom he just happens to have a score to settle. Well, once he finds that out, he's all in. Again, this doesn't make the character more nuanced or complex; it just makes him a selfish prick out for his own interests.
I did watch the new Magnificent first and, even before re-watching the original, I found it lackluster at best. It focuses on being flashy and having lots of guns and stunts but not much of anything else. It is especially lacking in heart. It was a waste of an excellent cast.
After watching the new one, I went back and watched the original and while, yes, it does look dated, it was a much better movie and deserves its status as a classic. Despite the use of stereotypes in both the Mexican peasants and the Mexican bandit leader, Calvera, the characters themselves are still much more believable than the ones in the remake. All in all, it's a more intimate movie, and the deaths of characters are much more meaningful.
Which brings us to the original inspiration for both movies: Seven Samurai
To say that Seven Samurai is a more complex film than the two Magnificents would be an understatement. For one thing, the external conflict of defending the village from the bandits is not really what the movie is about. That's just the vehicle for exploring concepts of class conflict, which I have to suspect were happening in post-WWII Japan, though I'm not really versed in the Japanese history of the time. It's a movie that I believe still deserves to be being watched today...
Which is not to say that I think most people will be interested in seeing it. It's black & white and subtitled and long, all three of which are barriers to the mainstream movie-going audience. But it's full of well-rounded characters and lots of nuance.
Really, although based on Samurai, the original Magnificent is a completely different movie and different kind of movie, not less good but certainly different. Both films are worth watching. But you can skip the new version of Magnificent and not have missed anything.