Let's Make It Again
The Magnificent Seven: 2016 Edition – call it a remake, reinvention, updating, homage, whatever – rides into theatres today and critical, audience and box office reactions will determine whether it becomes a Western yarn for the ages in the same breath as director John Sturges’ 1960 original action adventure (which itself hung the shingle of remake if you harken back to Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai). The category of movie remakes (whether the original hails from the pantheon of all-time greats or just average studio entertainments given a spiffy new polish) offers good and bad examples through the decades and Twilight Time has stacked its deck with several worthwhile examples of vintage material given a revisionist spin. Earlier this week, an anniversary recap of Nick Love’s 2009 makeover of the classic Alan Clarke telefilm The Firm covered its variations on the landmark tale of British football (soccer) club hooliganism and its violent, outrage-driven, negative consequences. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) offered state-of-the-art maritime adventure to Best Picture Academy Award®-winning effect, but The Bounty (1984) equals in starpower the earlier Clark Gable-Charles Laughton matchup to showcase Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins giving potent portrayals of mutineer first mate Fletcher Christian and the martinet ship’s master Edward Bligh with alternating shades of complexity and vulnerability, reexamining the historic seagoing rebellion in a new light. The year 1956 provided thought-provoking and vivid big-screen adaptations of Richard III, with the titanic Laurence Olivier as William Shakespeare’s calculating, murderous usurper of the British throne, and 1984, casting Edmond O’Brien as George Orwell’s conflicted government employee Winston Smith, targeted by the insidious masters of a futuristic totalitarian state for the forbidden sin of falling in love. Later came Ian McKellen’s ferocious Richard III (1995), boldly reimagined in 1930s Third Reich-like trappings but still deliciously ringing with the Bard’s timeless insights into aristocratic excesses and devastating political expediency, and an even more nightmarish Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), presenting a riveting John Hurt as a weary, weather-beaten Winston Smith whose romantic act of defiance in a soulless society is invested with greater poignancy, just as the haunting Richard Burton, in his screen farewell as sinister party functionary O’Brien, matches and perhaps surpasses Michael Redgrave in the original. Hollywood launched Basil Rathbone in the first incarnation of his signature role as Sherlock Holmes in a marvelous rendition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), but 20 years later, Britain’s Hammer Studios offered a spryer, more blood-curdling – in vivid Technicolor – and faster-moving The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) as a launching pad for the cunningly committed Holmes of Peter Cushing, providing a juicy role he too would claim a firm hold upon for several big and small screen reprises that would follow. Musicalized remakes offer fertile ground as well: director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin converted James Hilton’s Lost Horizon into a magical, romantic and spellbinding fantasia in 1937, offering a vision of a peaceful, faraway Shangri-La that offered hope of an earthly paradise in a world erupting in the roiling regional conflicts that would give rise to World War II. Producer Ross Hunter enlisted screenwriter Larry Kramer and the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David an opportunity to do so again with Lost Horizon (1973, available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/22926/LOST-HORIZON-1973/), a sincere attempt to provide a tuneful bit of family-friendly uplift in its later rebellion-racked, Vietnam War-troubled era. It remains a colorful, perhaps kitschy curio that sings openheartedly of the world being a circle, just as the history of filmmaking is indeed circular itself. Whether or not The Magnificent Seven is a worthy addition to the stable of quality remakes, there are plenty of distinctive 2.0 options to explore among these six select offerings on TT hi-def Blu-ray.