Updated: Feb 23
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Yul Brynner plays Chris Adams, Horst Buchholz plays Chico, and Steve McQueen as Vin Tanner. The trio is part of seven American gunfighters hired to protect a village from a gang of Mexican bandits and their leader Calvera played by Eli Wallach.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: COLLECTOR’S EDITION”
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 1960; Not Rated
Best extra: “Guns for Hire” making-of documentary (2006)
USING AN existing 4K master of the original “The Magnificent Seven” – MGM/UA, with an assist from Shout! – has magnificently restored one of Hollywood’s best Westerns with 4K clarity and HDR color grading (HDR10 & Dolby Vision) for its 60-plus anniversary collector’s edition.
Audiences and critics have praised “The Magnificent Seven” for decades. It made the Top 25 and, in many cases, the Top 10 western lists of all time. Still, director John Sturges’ (“Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “The Great Escape”) greatest accolade came from Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who sent his American colleague a ceremonial Japanese katana with a note that read, “I’ve seen the film and loved it.”
During his commentary, film historian Sir Christopher Frayling makes a detailed comparison between director Sturges’ film and Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” (1954), the inspiration for “The Magnificent Seven.” At the same time, Kurosawa credits his love of John Ford westerns (“Stagecoach,” “My Darling Clementine,” “The Searchers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) as the catalyst of his action adventure. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (“Silverado”) considers “Samurai” the greatest film ever. “It’s like all of Shakespeare wrapped into one film,” he says during the “Guns for Hire” documentary.
(1) Village farmers process the harvested corn. (2&3) Calvera and his bandits arrive to steal the villagers food, and chickens, and threaten Sotero (Rico Alaniz). (4) Sotero is stunned after Carlvera kills a farmer at point blank range. (5) The farmers get advice from the village elder played by Russian actor Vladimir Sokoloff. He suggests they cross the border and get guns in the U.S.
In Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven,” Mexican peasants hire Chris Adams, played by Yul Brynner (“The Ten Commandments,” “The King and I”), for a mere $20 to protect their impoverished village from a gang of Mexican bandits. With their leader Calvera, played by Broadway performer Eli Wallach (“Baby Doll,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”), they periodically steal crops, animals, and women. Chris assembles six more gunfighters – Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen), Britt (James Coburn), Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn), Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), and Chico (played by German Horst Buchholz) to save the village.
Antoine Fuqua’s (“Training Day,” “Equalizer”) 2016 reboot of “The Magnificent Seven” starred Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawkes as three of the seven hired fighters trying to liberate the small town of Rose Creek, California, from Baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his “deputized” Blackstones, a replica of the notorious Pinkertons. Bogue's mercenaries burn the church and shoot down defenseless citizens. It’s been available on 4K Ultra HD since late 2016 from Sony Pictures, featuring striking HDR grading through a 2K master of the 35mm film stock. The high number of background VFX shots creating the Sierra Nevada mountains and rendering time keep it from being mastered in TRUE 4K.
(1) The three villagers enter the U.S. border town hoping to buy guns. (2) The trio stumble upon a disagreement over the burial of a Native American. Two eastern salesmen, Robert (Bing Russell) and Henry (Val Avery) put up $20 for the funeral, but the Undertaker (Whit Bissell) gives their money back since his driver refuses to drive the hearse. (3-5) Chris Adams and Vin Tanner volunteer to drive the hearse to the graveyard. (6-8) The three villagers and town folks watch as five gunmen try to stop the hearse from entering the graveyard. Chris disarms two of them and the casket is delivered. (9) Robert gives Chris and Vin a bottle of whiskey for a job well done. (10) Chris suggests it’s cheaper to hire gunfighters than to buy guns.
The Shout! Select 4K disc includes two commentaries. Frayling’s provides a complex stream of backstories and insight. The second commentary, with stars James Coburn, Eli Wallach, producer Walter Mirisch and assistant director Robert Relyea, is more spotty.
The enclosed Blu-ray houses the rest of the bonus including the best of the bunch – the 45-minute “Guns for Hire.” It highlights how “The Magnificent Seven” spawned three movie sequels, and a TV series, and TV actor Steve McQueen’s career skyrocketed after his performance. On the movie set, McQueen constantly irritated Brynner during their scenes together, playing with his cowboy hat and making non-verbal expressions and movements, which Brynner felt was grandstanding and stealing the scene. You couldn't actually steal a scene from Brynner, but McQueen tried.
More than a dozen interviews are included with cast and crew members, and producer Lou Morheim, who recalls getting the rights to Kurosawa’s film for a meager $250, beating Brynner who also tried to get the movie rights only by days.
Originally, Anthony Quinn (“Zorba the Greek,” “The Guns of Navarone”) was lined up to play Chris, with Brynner directing since he was an accomplished photographer. Then Brynner backed out, choosing director Martin Ritt (“The Long, Hot Summer,” “Hud”) to helm the project. Ritt called for blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein (“Fail Safe,” “The Train”) for a first draft of the script, going in a different direction than Sturges’ vision. His seven gunfighters were much older Civil War veterans. Bernstein envisioned Spencer Tracy as the lead. “It was more of a pastiche of Kurosawa’s film,” Bernstein said. Ritt eventually left the film and independent producer Walter Mirisch took over. He hired Sturges, a longtime friend. Walter Newman rewrote the script, while Sturges signed up his young supporting cast just before a Hollywood actor’s strike that lasted 146 days.
(1&2) Wallace (Robert J. Wilke) wins a quick draw, taking a man's two months’ salary. Then claims he can outdraw Britt (James Coburn) with his gun to his knife. Wallace brags that he won and tells Britt, “You tell ‘em I won, didn’t I?” Britt says, “You lost.” (3) Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) watches the duel. (4) Wallace demands a rematch, this time for real.
Most of the production was filmed near Mexico City in Cuernavaca, surrounded by the Tepozteco Mountains. Most of the extras and secondary actors, plus technicians, were locals to smooth relations after the filming of “Vera Cruz,” a western starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. The Mexican government felt they had been depicted in a bad light, so a censor came to “The Magnificent Seven” set every day to make sure the storyline provided a positive spin, which included an indigenous ceremonial dance during the second act.
Writer/director John Carpenter (“The Thing,” “Halloween”) also chimes in, calling “The Magnificent Seven” the “beginning of the end of the great American western…it’s kinda the last hurrah.” The year before the top western was Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” (1959) with John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Walt Brennan, followed by the "Magnificent Seven.” Five years later, Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood westerns came along: “The final death knell of the American western,” Carpenter says. “That transformed it into something else.”
Three additional featurettes are included: “Elmer Bernstein and ‘The Magnificent Seven’” highlighting the Oscar-nominated score voted by the American Film Institute as the 8th greatest film score ever. “Star Wars,” “Gone with the Wind” and “Lawrence of Arabia” top the AFI list. Film music historian Jon Burlingame considers the “Magnificent Seven” score so important, he calls Bernstein the eighth character of the film. The driving force is the unforgettable “Main Title” theme and its “expansive driving rhythm and strings,” Burlingame says in the featurette.
“Christopher Frayling on ‘The Magnificent Seven’” says critics at the time dismissed the film since it was a commercial success and an adaptation of Kurosawa’s Japanese original. Yet Frayling clearly puts the film in his Top 20 Westerns ever made, and more importantly, cites how “Magnificent Seven” influenced westerns and later action films. “It tried to find a new direction,” he says regarding casting a group of actors playing characters with special, individual skills. In the 1950s, “High Noon,” “Shane” and “The Searchers” were about the lone hero “trying to work out his personal destiny.”
“The Linen Book: Lost Images from ‘The Magnificent Seven’” details the discovery of its book full of black and white proof prints of the 4x5” and 2¼” negatives made during the film’s production. The complete MGM library of films and production photographs was shipped in the early 1980s to an underground salt mine 600 feet below a Kansas farm for preservation in the cooler and dry environment. In the early 2000s, MGM archivists found the “Magnificent Seven” book and it was transported to Hollywood. Wallach had a chance to view it and found a series of pictures of himself playing Calvera and his gang. He says, “There were 34 of us, and Sturges asked me to get up early in the morning and go riding with the gang for an hour” before filming. Wallach bonded with the riders, who treated him like the bandit leader he portrayed, a way of lending authenticity to the role. “They were great horsemen.”
The results of the 4K restoration are first-rate for the majority of the film – especially the daylight scenes filmed in the Cuernavaca Valley. Interior bar scenes were captured in a Mexico City studio, and are challenging at times, lacking the depth and clarity of the exteriors. Most likely, over 95 percent of the original camera negative (2.35:1 aspect ratio) was available, while second-generation elements were used for damaged sections, where the sharpness drops and film grain increases. It’s also evident during the number of cross dissolves, which automatically become a second-generation element. All 4K restoration work of classic films faces this issue with effects and dissolves created by old-school 35mm optical printer.
The film grain is well-defined, especially on the 4K compared to the 1080p disc, which was also sourced from the new 4K master. Both have excellent clarity during those daylight scenes – with the obvious edge to the 4K. Plus, the 4K was encoded onto a 100-gigabit disc averaging around 70 megabits per second, which runs in most cases about 40 megabits more per second than the Blu-ray.
HDR grading is quite different from the look of the SDR Blu-ray. A slightly desaturated look dominates the 4K, which leads to the brown side, and the Blu-ray sways to the red with the actor’s faces. Plus, the black level is much deeper on the 4K, which gives a darker look and more defined highlights – especially extracting more information on the white shirts and white costumes of the villagers. The HDR10 peak brightness hits 4232 nits, which is brighter than the format standard, and the top-of-line 4K TV can produce, but averages at a much lower 156 nits.
The original 2.0 mono DTS-HD has been completely restored, providing a cleaner and more powerful listen – especially if you have a good size center speaker. My center has three speakers inside its cabinet, plus its own eight-inch subwoofer, which gives those male voices, the gun blasts, and Bernstein’s legendary score a bigger punch. A reprocessed six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is provided but lacks a good bass response.
As a child of the 1960s, “The Magnificent Seven” on 4K is an essential buy – and for everyone else, especially western fans, it’s a perfect addition to your growing collection.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer