Western fans have been comparing The Magnificent Seven 1960 vs. 2016 ever since the reboot was released. Being a person with a reputable Western review website, it was only a matter of time before I was asked for my professional opinion.
Just in time to become the 100th review on IReviewWesterns.com AND to celebrate the launch of my shiny new website, I sat down with the totally not made-up reporter Oliver Livingston-Darwin West of the very real Experts on All Things Western magazine.
And because I recently got engaged and apparently that means I have to think “we” and not “me”, I couldn’t kick David out into the freezing snow while we discussed The Magnificent Seven. So you get two opinions for the price of one article you did not pay for.
O. L. D. West: To start, tell me about your qualifications to comment on The Magnificent Seven. Why should we care what you think?
Pam B: I mean, I have a website. You’re literally a guest on my website right now.
David K: Well, I was born and raised on Westerns. And now it looks like I’ll go to my grave watching Westerns, too.
OLDW: Let’s get this out of the way: which movie was better?
DK: The reboot, by far.
PB: Usually I disagree with David just to be disagreeable. But it’s true, the reboot is better.
OLDW: What was the best character in each movie?
DK: The most researched and well-done character for me in the 2016 version was Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). He created a fully fleshed out character from such a small part, with a great regional accent. I couldn’t get enough of it. The way he espoused biblical passages while killing bad guys was both terrifying and poetic.
PB: I think I’m supposed to say Chisholm (Denzel Washington). His performance was incredible. I can’t believe this was his first Western. But I also didn’t get to know his character until almost the end. I got that he was strong and cool-headed, but that was it. I was liking what I was seeing, but I wasn’t fully hitched to his trailer, if you know what I mean.
OLDW: So your pick isn’t Chisholm? Who is it then?
PB: The one that made me FEEL was Goodnight (Ethan Hawke). Now that was some f*cking depth. What he gave you was so raw and haunted. And I loved the portrayal of Billy (Lee Byung-Hun) and Goodnight’s relationship, it was something you didn’t get in the 1960 version. There was no connection between the original characters.
OLDW: And what about a top pick from the original? David, Pam’s been hogging the spotlight for awhile. Who did you like?
PB: It’s my website. But whatever.
DK: Ahem. The best character was Chris (Yul Brynner). Here’s a gunman facing a moral dilemma. The money is almost nothing, but he can’t turn down the opportunity to do something righteous. Hence the line, “I’ve been offered a lot for my work, but never everything.”
PB: Yul Brynner was great, that’s a given. But I’m going to say Britt (James Coburn) – that guy was SO F*CKING BADASS. I’m pretty sure his turn as Britt is the origin of ‘giving zero f*cks’. He’s napping in the sun, then gets up and casually uses a knife to beat a guy in a fast draw contest like it’s no big deal. He only had 11 lines in the whole movie, and he’s the one I remember most!
OLDW: Who was your weakest link?
PB: I couldn’t keep Lee (Robert Vaughn) and Harry (Brad Dexter) straight for the first half of the movie, because you didn’t get any kind of real introduction to anyone. They weren’t memorable. I’m still not 100% on which one of them had the demons – although that was a good scene so the other guy would be my weakest link.
DK: I was really saddened that Lee had a lot of history that was never explored. If we learned more about those demons, he could have been a great character. The kid (Chico) drove me up the wall. I know that’s supposed to be the point of that character type, but there were so many other characters I wanted to hear from, like Brett and Lee who never had any lines. The kid was worse than a waste of space.
PB: Oh man, the kid WAS the worst. I change my vote. He just kept ruining everything! I’m glad they didn’t really use that character in the reboot.
OLDW: And what about in The Magnificent Seven 2016?
PB: I think the weakest character was Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). He barely impacted the story, like you could have taken him out and had the same movie. The only defining thing about him was that he was a criminal, but once he joins them his personality blends in and you forget that he even had that past.
DK: For me it was Billy. He didn’t say anything that any other character couldn’t have said.
PB: Unpopular opinion here, I also couldn’t stand Faraday (Chris Pratt). The constant one-liners and ego, it was just annoying. It took away from the story, like, it took me out of the movie.
DK: Really? An arrogant white guy was the most authentic part of the movie.
OLDW: Who was the better bad guy?
DK: Personally I wasn’t a fan of Calvera in the original Magnificent Seven, he was too cartoonish. Slapping around one of the lead townsfolk to prove he could, then releasing the good guys after they shot a dozen or so of his men? It was inconsistent.
OLDW: So you’re not voting for Calvera?
PB: He does this all the time, takes forever to get to the point.
DK: Pot calling the kettle black, snookums.
PB: I can delete you right out of this interview.
DK: If I may continue? Or even if I can’t – Bogue (Peter Sarsgård), with his scorched-earth policy, COMMANDED. His sense of entitlement gave him the mindset that he owned whatever he set his eyes on. Like “here’s me burning down your church in the opening scene, try and stop me.” “I’m going to shoot my paid off Sheriff because I am minorly inconvenienced.” Grade-A jerkbag, and I am into it!
PB: Yeah, Bogue is a fully realized and uniquely f*cking creepy character. You get so used to the Western villains who rule weak towns being big burly men, like Gene Hackman. Bogue is this slim Southern dandy, but also a twitchy, sweaty maniac. His blasé attitude with the gatling gun is super twisted. I did a full-body cringe through that whole scene, it was great.
OLDW: You know, Jason Momoa was originally cast as Bogue, but had to drop out.
PB: Well, shit. I can’t even imagine that. I mean, I’m definitely imagining Jason Momoa right now, just not as Bogue. But see there you go: another BIG bad man running a town with an iron fist. A big, sexy man…
DK: So very sexy…
OLDW: What were the major differences between The Magnificent Seven 1960 and 2016?
DK: The opening scene in the original had you stuck on the same shot for more than five minutes – I counted – whereas the opening scene in the reboot had grand master shots and brought you into the film.
PB: David worked in film. Don’t get him going.
DK: They used to do credits at the beginning of the film. Great movies of the time would pan out their master shots, and this would set the tone for the piece. Unfortunately, in this case being stuck an extra minute or two in the same shot after the credits set us up for some atrocious pacing.
PB: The pacing in the original Magnificent Seven is f*cking awful. The reboot is two minutes longer yet it feels a million times faster. The slow pacing and less action are maybe more realistic, I will say that. The reboot is all super high action and one-liners. It’s like they overcompensated. The original just didn’t make use of all that extra slow time on character development.
DK: It’s true. In the original you had very little dialogue compared to action, leaving smaller characters unexplored, while the reboot gave you the story on everyone. I will say for the original, the action sequences were far more chaotic, realistic, and less like stunts that would never work in a real gunfight.
PB: The reboot has SO MUCH action between the midway shootout and the final showdown that it feels like shootouts take up half the movie – but I liked that. I guess I’m the target audience for the reboot. At least they had a good costume department. The gunfighters’ costumes in the original look like they were bought at Mark’s.
DK: The whole costume setup of the original reminded me of Dodge City. These characters are supposed to look worn-out and poor, not in brand new 1960s clothing. Dodge City sucked, by the way.
PB: The character of Red Harvest is also a difference. He was brand new to the 2016 version.
- Fun Fact: Akira Kurosawa wrote and directed Seven Samurai, on which The Magnificent Seven (1960) was based. He also wrote and directed a 1961 film called Yojimbo. It used many elements from a Dashiell Hammett story called Red Harvest, and the character Red Harvest in the 2016 reboot is a nod to Kurosawa. A Fistful of Dollars was also based on Red Harvest.
PB: And the deaths are much more significant and impactful in the reboot. Lee’s demons were transferred to Goodnight as Civil War PTSD, and you got to actually go down that hole a bit with him. Oh, and you get quite a bit of shirtless Charles Bronson in the original. There was nothing like that in the reboot. No gratuitous shirtless wood chopping. That was disappointing.
OLDW: I see. Did you notice any similarities between The Magnificent Seven 1960 and 2016?
DK: Only a few key lines.
PB: Oh my god, seriously?
DK: And I’m about to be corrected.
PB: The premise is THE SAME. A bunch of gunmen are united by a pair of leaders, to help a town in peril from a bad guy who is starving them out. And I did see many similarities in the characters – you just got to know them way better in the reboot.
- Denzel and Chris play the same leaders as Yul and Steve McQueen, the characters ARE similar, have some of the same lines, and do the similar things
- There’s an eager young man, although his part is thankfully smaller in the reboot than Chico’s in the original, and he’s not one of The Seven
- You’ve got a guy who’s great with knives (James Coburn/Lee Byung-Hun)
- You’ve got a brawny, out-of-work labourer who’s good with an axe (Charles Bronson/Vincent D’Onofrio)
- Ethan Hawke and Brad Dexter both talk about gold and the payout for the job a lot
- Robert Vaughn and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo are both running from the law
OLDW: All of the original Seven were white guys, called in to rescue a Mexican village. Do you think the 2016 film did a better job with representation?
PB: Yeah, it bugged me that two of the biggest roles for Mexican characters in the original, Calvera and the Old Man, were played by white dudes. The reboot has a super diverse cast… almost to the point where the appeal to modern audiences feels forced. Like, you’re telling me that other than a few jibes when they first get together, there’s absolutely NO tension between these guys – right after the Civil War?
DK: The group’s cohesion did seem a bit odd. Nobody hassling an African-American, Mexican, and Native American was unrealistic. There should have been at least some visible tension from the townsfolk. And the intra-racial final fight between Native American men at the end felt gratuitous
PB: I f*cking LOVE that most of the Seven became BIPOC characters. But, I don’t know how to explain it. Their pasts felt white-washed to fit the story? Like it could have used some tweaks to more believably unite that group of guys. Maybe they didn’t need to be totally buddy-buddy at all. Like David said, it would have been more realistic to show tensions over the horrific things happening between races in that place and time. Missed opportunity to explore how genocide and slavery would impact their ability to work together on this job.
DK: Exactly. I can understand a group of total badass fighters respecting each other’s prowess, but how did we get there? The story skipped a stage.
OLDW: On that note, the story of The Magnificent Seven is an adaptation of the 1954 film Seven Samurai. Several character traits were swapped around, or amalgamated, to create the original Seven – which is also what was done with The Seven in the reboot. What do you think about that?
DK: As someone who loved Seven Samurai, I felt like the original Magnificent Seven didn’t have as much characterization, and didn’t allow enough time to flesh out the characters. There were long periods where they didn’t talk much, so I didn’t get as much diversity. I did, however, feel that in the reboot the amalgamations in the traits and dialogue made more sense for those characters. I got to understand them a lot better.
PB: You don’t want to just copy the storyline completely. Then you’re going to draw even more comparisons, more negative ones from diehard fans of the original. I honestly didn’t care though, because like we already said, you barely got to know the characters in the original. So I wasn’t missing anything with the changes.
OLDW: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, and Tom Cruise were supposedly considered for parts in the 2016 Magnificent Seven. Would you swap any of them out for the actors who were cast?
DK: Only Tom Cruise, because I think he could have given as good a performance as Ethan Hawke for that character. Not necessarily better – Ethan Hawke nailed it. But I also believe Tom Cruise to be capable of that role.
PB: Costner and Freeman have both made excellent Westerns, but I don’t think they would have been right for the reboot. Unless you recast the whole thing, except maybe Denzel or Ethan Hawke. I would happily sub Matt Damon in for Chris Pratt though.
- Fun Fact #2: Sterling Hayden (who played the title character in Johnny Guitar) was originally intended to play Britt. Robert Vaughn was the one who recommended his pal James Coburn for the role. Gene Wilder also auditioned for the movie. He didn’t get a part, but he went on to play the lead in Mel Brooks’ famous Western farce, Blazing Saddles.
OLDW: Robert Vaughn, who played Lee, said that Steve McQueen was super vocal on set about his dislike for Yul Brynner having a fancier gun (a Colt Peacemaker with an ivory grip) and a taller horse. Any thoughts on that?
PB: Yul also supposedly hired a personal assistant to count how many times Steve did things like touch his hat or move around to draw the viewer’s attention away when Yul was speaking. Then other actors joined in and started one-upping each other. From what I’ve read, it sounds like it became a nonstop pissing contest.
DK: McQueen’s performance wasn’t good enough to warrant that much attitude. His role could have been filled by anybody.
PB: It’s too bad, because he REALLY wanted to be in this f*cking movie. Apparently he couldn’t get out of this TV series schedule he was working on, so he crashed a car and shot The Magnificent Seven while he was on ‘sick’ time. I wish he had made more of an impression. I can’t even picture his face right now.
OLDW: Speaking of faces, I know Pam is dying for someone to ask – who had the best facial hair?
PB: THANK YOU. There’s quite an array in the reboot, whereas the original is just a bunch of clean-shaven faces you could take to a fancy dinner. You have to kind of break it down by category:
- Ethan and Vincent have the volume and density, but Ethan wins because Vincent’s is more of a wild “I haven’t shaved in a year” situation.
Denzel and Lee give you great style. I’d have to say Denzel takes it for those sideburns.
The funny thing is that Peter Sarsgård actually has a sweet handlebar going on, but he’s so f*cking creepy that I can’t enjoy it.
DK: More facial hair was needed in both films. Especially the original.
OLDW: In closing, tell me this: what exactly is so magnificent about The Seven?
DK: The gunmen are given a chance to do something that few talented at killing are: the chance to do something right. People now would call these individuals reactionary, and violent, but I would put this forward; what was the alternative? Cognitive dissonance, or apathy. You can’t talk away every problem you face.
PB: The original Magnificent Seven did get me thinking that mentality of being willing to die so someone else can have a piece of land and carry on living. It’s not something I understand. But these guys were willing to fight for the little guy because they didn’t have anything of their own to fight for. At that time issues WERE solved with guns. It wasn’t right, but it was what was done. You can’t bring a knife to a gunfight, but you can damn well bring a knife-wielding James Coburn to a gunfight!
DK: Excellent point.
PB: Thank you.
DK: No, Pam. Excellent POINT.
PB: Okay, David.
DK: Really SHARP, eh?
PB: Are you done?
DK: You could say I have a GRIP on this interview.
PB: Nobody is saying that. And on that note, we are definitely done here.