Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On "The Magnificent Seven" and Movie Remakes

As the title of this post and the picture above will tell you, we saw "The Magnificent Seven" this afternoon, and I have to say that we both liked it, and The Grandstander gives it three stars on his always reliable scale.  This movie is, of course, and remake of the 1960 classic western that was directed by John Sturges and starred, among others, Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn.  This version was directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawk.

You may know the story.  A small western town is held as a virtual hostage to evil mine owner, played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard.  A beautiful young woman (Haley Bennett), widowed when her husband was killed by the vile Sarsgaard, appeals to bounty hunter Washington, who then puts together his "magnificent seven" to save the town.  It's a familiar theme that has been told countless times ever since Hollywood began churning out  westerns.  That doesn't mean that it can't be an appealing story.  This one is beautifully filmed, and there is lots of action in it.  And violence.  Lots of people die in this one.

And how can you not like Denzel Washington.  He's terrific.  This will not make anyone's Ten Best List for 2016, but it is pretty good entertainment, and worth seeing.

Oh, and I am not going to give a spoiler here, but make sure you are in the theater as the closing credits begin.  Fuqua and the current film makers give a special sort of tribute to the original movie, and I loved it.


Discussing a movie like this becomes tricky sometimes because it is a remake of what many consider to be a classic.  Why does Hollywood do this, people often ask.  Why take something that everyone loves and mess with it?  And can a remake possibly be better than the original?

Well, this summer a remake of 1959's epic "Ben-Hur" was released and if you blinked, you missed it.  It bombed big time with the critics and audiences, and it was gone after a week in the theaters.  "Magnificent Seven" seems to have been given a better fate, critics may not be in love with it, but most liked it, and it grossed $34.7 million in it's first week of release.

My own feeling is that a remake should be judged on its own merits.  I saw the original "Magnificent Seven", but it has been so long that I honestly can't make a comparison to this new version.  So, I went into this one today with pretty much of an open mind. 

Some remakes are bad.  Director Gus van Sant, in a massive ego trip, remade Hitchcock's "Psycho" a few years back, and it was awful.  Never should have seen the light of day.  On the other hand, a few years back, a remake of the John Wayne Oscar winner "True Grit" was made that starred Jeff Bridges.  Was it as good, or better than the original?  Who knows, but I liked them both.

Sometimes a different spin can be put on a movie and a great improvement can be realized.    In 1931, a movie version of the Charles MacArthur-Ben Hecht play. "The Front Page" was made that starred Pat O'Brien and Adolph Menjou.  It is a fairly well regarded movie, although I confess that I can't remember ever seeing it.  In 1940, however, Howard Hawks did a remake of the movie, but made one of the reporters a female, cast Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as the leads, and renamed it "His Girl Friday", and that movie is an undisputed classic.  In 1974, one of the great directors of all time, Billy Wilder, took another stab at "The Front Page", and it became one of Wilder's more forgettable movies.  It starred Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Carol Burnett.  My memory of that version was that Wilder felt the need to have Lemmon and Matthau used the f-word way, way too often.  Not a good movie.

One of the more charming romantic comedies of the last twenty years or so was "You've Got  Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  Great movie, and most people who saw it didn't realize that it had been done in 1940  as "The Shop Around the Corner" with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.  That one shows up often on TCM fairly often, and both versions of this story are delightful.

Denzel Washington seems to be making a career of doing remakes.  "Magnificent Seven" is the third one he has done.  The first was a remake of "The Manchurian Candidate", and it was completely forgettable.  The original with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury is one of the great political thrillers of all time.  All the new version proved was that this was one instance where it was losing proposition to mess with the original.  In 2009, Washington also did a remake of 1974's "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three", which starred Walter Matthau.  All I remember about the '09 version was a lot more cursing.  I'll never watch it again, but I'll watch the Matthau version every time it is shown on TCM.  It looks like he will do better with the "Magnificent Seven" than he will do with those other two.

(This has spawned a lot of gags, by the way about what Washington will do next.  Rick Blaine, Charles Foster Kane, Rhett Butler?  My friend Al Cotton has suggested he play Kevin McCallister in a "Home Alone" remake.)

I suppose that there are lots of reasons to do remakes.  Studios think that they can make money.  Sometimes they are pure vanity projects for actors or directors.  Sometimes a director thinks he can say something "different" with the material, and sometimes, the film maker may even be right about that.  In all instances, the movie going public will be the final judge of whether or not it was a good idea to remake a movie.

And, of course, one of the great by-products of all of these remakes is that it might send the audience back to look at the originals.  As for me, I am going to see where I can rent, buy, or stream the 1960 "Magnificent Seven" (which itself was a remake of a Japanese classic movie, "The Seven Samurai) sooner, rather than later.

1 comment:

  1. Remakes are made (as well as sequels) because the Hollywood moguls of today treat audiences like politicians we are all little children in kindergarten. They believe that we need to be told what to do and what to see, and using titles and stories that are already pre-sold and well-known instead of coming up with new stories and films and letting us make them into hits. This has been going on for almost 50 years now, since Paramount gave us the excellent "The Godfather, Part II".