My affinity for the western did not come easy. The hokey drawls and racism were off-putting, to say the least. But six years of film theory, and a couple of professors whose unbridled enthusiasm for westerns proved to be infectious changed my mind. My guilty fondness for this genre cemented itself in a days-long marathon of playing Red Dead Redemption to numb the sting of my first layoff.
While the tropes of the western continue to make me a little uncomfortable, I love the landscape of the Wild West, a place where Hollywood keeps returning to work through whatever issues happen to be troubling America at the time. So I was eager to see Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven, even though “Justice has a number” is the shittiest tag line I’ve heard in a long time.
While traditional westerns teach us about the collective sins of a society’s past, the revisionist western tries to confront or in some way atone for them. I am a little less forgiving with the latter than the former; if you’re going to re-make a canonic western, there had better be a reason beyond, “We thought it would be fun.” Fuqua has basically made The Magnificent Politically Correct Seven, and that’s about it. Sure, it touches upon the current political climate in the United States, as well as Hollywood’s diversity problem (and will probably fuel a deluge of “Sam Chisholm = Barack Obama” term papers that will make it every film studies professor’s most dreaded release since Fight Club), but it doesn’t do any of these things well enough for me to consider it worthy of the original.
At work, I am surrounded by annoying corporate-speak all day. One of my least favourite terms is ‘colour’; as in, “Can you give me some more colour on that?” What it basically means is, “Why?”, “Explain, please?”, or, “This meeting just passed the 90-minute mark and I still don’t know why the fuck we’re here.” Basically, it’s a plea for detail or clarity. And so, I should now make it clear that I have no issues with your work as a colorist on the film (everything looked wonderful, you did great), I’m just picking on your title because The Magnificent Seven suffers from too many aspects needing “a bit more colour”.
Take the Seven; all terrific actors in their own right, and they have pretty decent chemistry with each other. Their performances ensured I liked them enough to be curious about their back stories, but the script is too weak to give us anything more than diluted facsimiles of scenes from the original film. The dialogue is peppered with some pretty decent one-liners, but I feel like the writers could have given us a bit more on old Jack Horne’s time as an eccentric mountain man, or the origins of the loyal friendship between sharpshooter Robicheaux and knife-wielding Billy.
As much as a remake faces certain challenges (to say nothing of a remake of a remake), there is an opportunity to take advantage of new technologies and techniques, updated tropes, and newer modes of storytelling to make a meaningful reiteration of the original. The Magnificent Seven is gorgeous, the action sequences are engaging enough, and Mauro Fiore’s cinematography pays due respect to Sturges’ original, as well as the genre’s other heavy hitters like Leone and Ford, while creating an aesthetic that is more vibrant and polished than the original. The storytelling is where the film falls short; the narrative is too paint-by-numbers, and in a way, too closely adhered to the original, to distinguish itself as a meaningful revisionist take.
Don’t get me wrong, in terms of pure entertainment, The Magnificent Seven delivers. I saw the film in a packed theatre with a highly enthusiastic audience who laughed and gasped right on cue. I enjoyed all the gun slinging and humour, and as I said before, it looks great. But for anyone wanting more than a slick, spur-jangling shoot-em-up, it disappoints - especially when you consider all of the missed opportunities to provide that bit of extra colour.