The Magnificent Seven
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.
MGM and Fox presents John Sturges’ popular western The Magnificent Seven in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Having not seen the previous DVDs I can’t say how the new Blu-ray compares but I have the feeling it’s a modest upgrade. Overall this is probably the best I’ve seen the film but the Blu-ray presentation is open to improvement. What bothered me was overall definition, which can vary drastically throughout. I was shocked some longer shots could present landscapes with such distinguishable textures and depth yet close-ups came off soft with a lack of details in clothing and faces. It looks like some scrubbing has gone on but it’s admittedly not an eye sore; despite a few quick shots it doesn’t have an overly waxy look and some film grain remains (and gets heavy in a few darker sequences.) Halos and ringing can be a bit of a problem as well, very noticeable in some shots with set characters against the blue sky. Colours look to be rendered nicely, though, with Calvera’s red shirt the best example of this.
The materials used are in top shape and there’s very little damage present. In general the picture looks nice, maybe just a little bit heavier on the digital manipulation than I would have liked.
The Blu-ray presents a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track, which is of course a remix of the film’s original mono track, also included here in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. I usually hate these remixes but must admit for what it is it isn’t bad. It doesn’t go overboard with what it’s doing, sticking primarily to the front speakers but Elmer Bernstein’s famous score and some gun battles make use of the surrounds. Bernstein’s score fills out the environment perfectly, and during gun battles there are bullets whizzing by and ricocheting around the viewer; they’re not excessively aggressive but they’re noticeable. While the splits are nice there’s still an issue in that the gunshots are a bit muffled. But the audio has been cleaned up, sounds sharp, and is actually quite pleasing.
We thankfully still get the mono track, though again it isn’t lossless. It also hasn’t received an extensive restoration. It’s louder, surprisingly, but its edgier and has more noticeable noise in the background.
In the end it will come down the preference. I usually prefer the mono tracks yet I didn’t find the 5.1 track excessive and as a remix it is surprisingly decent, but it may edge out the mono track for me only because it’s the cleaner of the two.
Special features wise this is a bit of an odd release. There’s been multiple releases of the film on DVD, including a “Special Edition” DVD and a 2-disc “Collector’s Edition” DVD. I haven’t seen either in all honesty but looking at the features it looks like the features were taken from both, but the features presenting film scholar Christopher Frayling found on the 2-disc collector’s edition, an audio commentary and featurette, are inexplicably missing.
At any rate, we still get the audio commentary featuring Walter Mirisch, assistant director Robert Relyea, and actors Eli Wallach and James Coburn. It begins with everyone commenting on director John Sturges and his work, and then move on to the pre-production of the film and some legal problems because of all of the interested parties in wanting to make the film, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. This is of course followed by general comments about the cast and crew, specifically McQueen, Brynner, and Bronson. There’s a good portion where the participants talk about Seven Samurai, having Mexican film censors watching over them, and the two actors talk about their preparation for their roles (Coburn receiving knife lessons from Richard Farnsworth) and share general anecdotes representing the tone of the shoot. It’s a fine enough, loose track, but by about the 30-minute mark we get long dead stretches scattered about, and I almost suspect the track was edited down. It’s made to sound like everyone is recorded together but I have a suspicion that this isn’t entirely true. At any rate, despite the dead spaces (and the fact a lot of the material here is repeated in other features found on the disc) it’s a fine enough track.
Next is the 47-minute documentary Guns For Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven, which I think originally appeared on the single-disc special edition DVD. MGM had a knack for making intriguing making-ofs and this one is no different (though as I understand it it’s a sorta re-edit or redo of another documentary on the making of the film.) In its timeframe it covers just about every little nugget on the making of the film featuring interviews with Mirisch, James Cobrun, Yul Brynner (from archival material of course), Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, directors John Carpenter and Lawrence Kasdan, and many others involved with the film or influenced by it. Overall a lot of material is repeated from the commentary, though it can be a little more in-depth here, specifically the legal problems that resulted after Anthony Quinn found himself kicked out of the making of the film. There’s more details about the original script, the casting process (with Coburn getting his role more or less by luck), and the dealings with the Mexican censors while shooting in Mexico. Also covered in more detail are the rivalries of sorts that occurred between the actors trying to one-up each other on set, and Bernstein talks about his score. It then concludes with details about the film’s release, which didn’t find real popularity in America until it was re-released after a successful run in Europe. Overall it’s a very informative and even entertaining documentary, though I was amused at how much credit some give this film in how differently it presents its heroes compared to other films of the time, along with admiration for some plot elements, since all of these things were lifted exactly from Seven Samurai.
Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven is a 15-minute featurette featuring scholar Jon Burlingame talking about Bernstein’s score, going over the various pieces presented in the film and how they work for the scene. That feature is somewhat interesting but a little better is the next 15-minute featurette called The Linen Book: Lost Images From The Magnificent Seven, which presents archivist Maggie Adams talking about a recently discovered (when this feature was made) linen book filled with unseen photos shot for the film. It also feature Relyea and Wallach recalling their memories from the shoot while looking at the photos. Again some repetition from the commentary is found here but it’s a nice little piece.
The disc then closes with two theatrical trailers and a stills gallery, presented in a different way than what I’m used to, where you can let the feature play on its own as a slide show or skip through the photos using the “next” and “previous” buttons on your remote. If you let it play on its own it runs just over 4-minutes and contains about 50 photos which includes advertising materials.
Nice, fairly comprehensive edition, but I’m at a loss as to why Fox decided not to include the commentary and the other featurette featuring Frayling. I doubt it was for a lack of room.
It’s a fun, fairly decent remake that’s held up well enough over the years. MGM’s Blu-ray ports most of the extras (not all) from the collector’s edition and what we get is informative and entertaining, if a little repetitive. And though the presentation is nice enough, better than I’ve seen the film previously, it’s open to some improvements.