It’s a good thing for Antoine Fuqua that films cannot sue for defamation.
It’s a good thing for Antoine Fuqua that films cannot sue for defamation. If that were possible, John Sturges’ 1960 film The Magnificent Seven would haul Fuqua’s eminently non-magnificent film of the same name into court on charges of besmirching a perfectly fine title and creating possible confusion between the 1960 masterpiece and the sorry 2016 remake. As a matter of fact, I can imagine a comedy sketch in which the old Magnificent Seven (Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, and company) come after the new pretenders (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and company), wreaking appropriate revenge for abusing the memory of so classic an American western. The result would almost certainly be more entertaining than Fuqua’s film.
I have no insider information about the development process for The Magnificent Seven, but judging by the film itself, it may have gone something like this:
- Make a list of every Western cliché ever to grace the silver screen; then incorporate as many as possible in the screenplay.
- Create seven multi-culti heroes, giving each one or two defining characteristics—cool black dude, shaggy old white dude, Asian knife-throwing dude, and so on—but don’t include anything in the screenplay related to, for instance, what it might have been like to be an Asian on the American frontier. Add an improbable female warrior so no one can accuse you of sexism, and set the lot of them up against a villain straight out of The Perils of Pauline.
- Write a paper-thin story about an evil mining company intent on driving a small band of settlers off “their” land. Assume your audience will never stop to think about the Native Americans who might have the best claim of all on the land in question.
- Suspend the laws of biology and physics, and throw common sense out the window—anything this screenplay needs to happen, can happen. Draw regularly on the law of improbable marksmanship, so the good guys can hit their targets without aiming but can’t be felled by the bad guys’ bullets until the closing minutes.
- Tack on some positive references to Christianity in the hopes of increasing ticket sales to the religious crowd.
- Shoot the film in Louisiana and New Mexico, so there’s absolutely no sense of place and the audience is always slightly confused about where the action is supposed to be taking place.
Bad as it is, I suspect The Magnificent Seven will make a lot of money for the same reasons that the franchise comic book films make a lot of money. In fact, it’s pretty much a comic book film set in the west, with stock characters equally given to violence and wisecracks, and there seems to be a large audience willing and able to buy tickets to see that type of film.
The powers behind this film did make one key mistake, however. The credits sequence kicks off with Elmer Bernstein’s theme from Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, and for a moment or two, the 2016 film actually feels big—magnificent, in fact. But most audience members will have given up long before that point (Fuqua’s film feels even longer than its 132-minute running time), and the whole experience just makes the 2016 film feel even smaller by comparison. | Sarah Boslaugh