4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a duly sworn warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas. He recruits an eclectic group of gunfighters, outlaws, and mercenaries to defend the town of Rose Creek, California. The gang includes a wild mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), an Asian assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a veteran Civil War marksman (Ethan Hawke), a cowboy gunslinger (Chris Pratt), a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier).
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“THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2016; PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, for historical smoking, some profanity and suggestive material; Streaming via Amazon Video (4K), Apple (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: "Vengeance Mode" commentary and making-of option
ANTOINE FUQUA gets it – the mix of villainy and defiance, hope and sacrifice that goes into a classic movie Western. His reboot of John Sturges' 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson, itself based on Akira Kurosawa's groundbreaking "Seven Samurai,” is a winner.
So is the director of “Training Day,” “The Replacement Killers” and “The Equalizer.” Fuqua “is one of my favorite directors I've ever worked with,” Ethan Hawke (Goodnight Robicheaux) says in “The Seven,” one of eight excellent bonus features in Sony's package.” “He's got a lot of passion and fire and heart.”
“He's a master filmmaker,” Denzel Washington (Sam Chisolm) agrees. “He knows what he's doing and he knows how to put a film together.”
The 2016 version of “The Magnificent Seven” starts like its predecessors when the residents of a small town, Rose Creek, are threatened by evil they're not equipped to handle. Very few are. The terrorist arrives via Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard. He's got a gold mine on the outskirts of town. Like other robber barons of his time, he plans to sweep out the homesteaders by any means possible. Accompanied by an army of “deputized” Blackstones, a replica of the notorious Pinkertons, he burns the church and shoots defenseless citizens.
Terror in Rose Creek
(1) The fictional town of Rose Creek is controlled by Baron Bartholomew Bogue. (2) The locals gather inside the Emmanuel Church including Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and her husband Matthew (Matt Bomer). (3&4) Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) walks into the church carrying a jar of rocks and dirt and tells the crowd, “This is what you love, what you'd die for. And, what your children and what your children, children will suffer for and be consumed by.” Bogue wants to buy their land. “You're standing in the way of God.” (5&6) Bogue's men burn the church and kill unarmed Matthew Cullen and others. (7) The Peacher (Mark Ashworth) is overcome with sorrow. (8) Bogue and his men leave the scene.
“You think Rockefeller had to do things himself? Vanderbilt?” Bogue demands. “Everything I have I worked for myself. I want land, you know what I do. I take it."
Isolated Rose Creek is perfect for takeover. The only law in town is on Bogue's payroll; he has money and an army. He gives the residents three weeks to, literally, get out of their own town. But the newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) goes in search of help instead. She finds Sam Chisolm, a "duly sworn warrant officer of the circuit court in Wichita, Kansas. I'm also a licensed peace officer in the Indian Territories, Arkansas, Nebraska, and seven other states.”
In other words, a sanctioned bounty hunter.
“When you read books about the West, about how many black cowboys there were, and some of them were marshals, no one ever talks about that,” Fuqua says in “Directing the Seven.”
Cullen persuades Chisolm to help the town, but he knows he can't do it alone. His first recruits are gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) and Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). They're quickly joined by Chisolm's post-Civil War friend, the renowned sniper Goodnight Robicheaux, and his knife-throwing partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Vincent D'Onofrio makes a spectacular entrance as former scalp-hunter Jack Horne. "I believe that bear was wearing people's clothes,” Faraday says watching him join up. Native American Martin Sensmeier comes in as Red Harvest, a young Comanche – and the seven are complete.
Chisolm assembles his Mercenaries
They ride into Rose Creek to their first confrontation with the Blackstones and the action truly gets underway. Afterward, the farmers and townsfolk hide, justifiably afraid of the new arrivals. Cullen persuades them to come out: “These men are here to help us!” Most decide to leave, but a small group stays behind to defend their home. "Good, they brought their pitchforks. We may stand a chance after all,” Faraday observes dryly.
All the seven can do is train the citizens the best they can and prepare for Bogue's assault. It's guerrilla warfare tactics, Fuqua says.
The final battle is stunning, loaded with non-stop action. They built a real town. They used real dynamite, lots of stunt people and horses. The finale has a surprise, too, nicely crafted by Fuqua and writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto. Clues are there throughout, but the reveal arrives among scenes of bravery and sacrifice.
“The Western hero changes with the times,” Fuqua says in “Directing the Seven.” “There was a time when Americans saw themselves as always wholesome … Good guys are good guys, and bad guys are bad guys. I would always go back and make sure the DNA of the movie stayed in place, which is 'do the right thing for people who need help.' You don't need a reason all the time. Just say 'yes' and go do it. Why do people run in front of a speeding car if you see a kid, and … push that kid out of the way and forget about your own life for a moment? What is [in us] that's that good? Because we all have it. People do it, the most unlikely people do it. There's something in us all that would do that for another person. I would like to believe the majority of us anyway, in a time of crisis, will step up.”
So what else do we get from Sony other than a terrific film? Well, state-of-the-art visuals and seven-channel and Dolby Atmos sound. “The Magnificent Seven” was captured on 35mm film like Sturges' original and exhibits a healthy dose of film grain for those vast panoramas and the town built in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It's most evident on the 4K disc, but for some odd reason, Fuqua mastered the Western in 2K. That's unusual since it's almost CGI-free, a common reason directors are forced to the lower resolution.
Somehow, Sony's wizards managed to replicate most of the 4K sharpness and clarity with this odd 4K source to 2K and back to 4K for disc presentation. It's the most successful turnaround we've seen in the new format. Part of the excellence has to come because the majority of the footage was filmed in daylight, seamlessly blending material from Louisiana and New Mexico. Plus Fuqua dialed the contrast up a couple of notches during post-production, providing that extra pop for 4K and Blu-ray. Visuals are bathed in a warm palette; it looks as if the entire film was caught in the magic hour just before sunset.
A comparison between 4K and Blu-ray show a significant bump in sharpness and facial detail from close-ups to distance shots. Scenic detail is delivered more dramatically. It's part of the added light from the HDR encoding. Perhaps the 1960 “Magnificent Seven” will get a 4K/HDR release. It would make a terrific double feature.
Preparing for Battle
The 4K disc also has a more energetic Dolby Atmos soundtrack with a fuller soundstage to deliver dialogue, effects, ambient sound and score from James Horner (“Titanic,” “Apollo 13,” “Braveheart”) who died in a 2015 plane crash. The “Magnificent Music” bonus feature describes how Horner's friend Simon Franglen delivered seven basic themes Horner completed before filming even started. He explained to Fuqua that Horner had worked from the script, then went on to complete the compositions blending original music with Elmer Bernstein's iconic theme, still recognized as one of the best ever written.
Those who love the '60s classic will recognize more than Bernstein's music in the new film. Familiar scenes and dialogue “ghost” Fuqua's movie. It's a brilliant maneuver; these bits will stand alone to newcomers, but create a little fan shout-out to others without distracting. A favorite scene with Charles Bronson was more thoroughly recaptured, but shows up only in the deleted scenes. It was a good cut since inclusion would have been too distracting and slowed the pace, but its fun to see again. Meanwhile, Steve McQueen's joke about the man who jumped from a tall building recycles nicely.
Find interviews with Fuqua, the cast, producer, stunt master and others in “The Seven” and “Directing the Seven.” “The Taking of Rose Creek” dissects one of the key action sequences, while “Rogue Bogue" looks at how Sarsgaard created his villain. “Gunslingers” is a quick look at “cowboy training” – learning to ride and shoot. The highlight is hearing from armorer/gun coach Thell Reed, who worked with The Duke, John Wayne. Reed helped the actors develop distinctive shooting styles. Washington's Chisolm is “smooth and fast,” Pratt's Faraday is deliberate and precise.
You can also re-watch the film in “Vengeance Mode,” a full-screen, feature-length extra that combines commentary from Fuqua and the actors, behind-scene footage, story detail and additional making-of material. It is highly entertaining, and full of information and yarns.
Need we say more? Whether Westerns are your favorite genre or not, this is a great, family adventure, a worthy successor that compliments its origins while standing on its own. Performances are great and the story as relevant and memorable as ever. You cannot go wrong here.
— Kay Reynolds and Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer