In 1954, Akira Kurosawa redefined jidaigeki in Japan and set a new worldwide standard for film with Shichinin no samurai. Seven Samurai was a three-and-a-half hour epic that told the story of seven ronin who agree to defend a small farming village from pillaging bandits.
In 1960, Hollywood saw the value of Seven Samurai's wonderful script and decided to cash in. Purchasing the rights for a ludicrous $500, The Mirisch Company transposed the film to the American West and produced The Magnificent Seven, a John Sturges film that was a close remake. Seven gunslingers now protected a Mexican village from marauding banditos, and with the popularity of the film, the foundation was set for a lot of remakes of a remake.
In 1998, CBS decided to morph Sturges' film into a TV show. (What else would one do with a Western?) Enter "The Magnificent Seven," the series, a better product overall than the movie sequels but nowhere close to the original, and also produced by The Mirisch Company. Regardless of the fact that the original transposition from Japan to the American West didn't work anyway, (Joan Mellen has done an excellent job explaining why the significance of the samurais' sacrifice is lost when gunfighters perform the same actions), the film was a competent Western and has become one of the staples of the genre. This DVD contains five discs with all 22 episodes ever made in the TV series.
This show is based upon the idea that the seven all survive the ordeal in the town and then decide to stick together as a team. Michael Biehn takes over the lead as Chris, Yul Brynner's character from the film. Eric Close plays second in command as Vin, originally played by Steve McQueen. Andrew Kavovit stumbles around as J.D., the inexperienced kid played by Horst Buchholz in the original. Rick Worthy plays a redefined James Coburn, now a black former slave, but still a knife expert. Dale Midkiff plays Buck, (kind of) the smooth talking Brad Dexter character, Harry. The singular Ron Perlman stars as Josiah, the disillusioned holy man with a six shooter. He, along with Anthony Starke as Val Kilmer/Doc Holiday rip-off Ezra have no parallels in the original film. (And no, unfortunately, Starke does not don a metal suit and fight terrorists.) That leaves the Robert Vaughn and Charles Bronson characters unaccounted for. It doesn't really matter, though, because none of the characters in the series are as much fun or as believable as the characters in the film. However, they do have a whole series to develop, so their stories are more diverse than those of the movie characters.
"The Magnificent Seven" consists of a lot of clichéd Western stories. It starts off with a double length pilot (88 minutes) that is a retelling of the Sturges film. This time, a group of 40 renegade Rebel soldiers, disowned after the end of the Civil War (Louis L'Amour, anyone?), threaten a Seminole village. The village leaders decide to hire gunmen, and the seven are gathered. While four of the seven died in the original, this series hinges on keeping them together, so, miraculously, they all escape with their lives. Even less credibly, they all actually stick together as a team, unlikely considering the loner nature of these gunfighters. They end up staying in the white town where they were first gathered (not the Seminole village) as its protectors.
So they spend the series dealing with the different things that happen in the town. They protect whores from their evil pimp, they confront the bad element to keep the town safe, and they deal with the dilemma of whether or not to enforce justice when the outlaws will take revenge on the townsfolk. When they leave the town, it's to do things like protect a wagon train of homesteaders. Again, there is noithing here you haven't seen before, but the length of a TV series gives time for more character development and back story. There were no more than scraps of this in the film; the most interesting one here revolves around Chris and his murdered family.
One of the most fun aspects of this show is hearing Elmer Bernstein's original theme music from the film. The iconic song was remixed and used as the show's theme, but it actually gets overused by Don Harper, the show's composer. Variations of the song can be heard about every five minutes throughout both seasons. But, overall, the music in this series is sufficient.
The series legitimizes itself with its great guest stars, including the original Lee from The Magnificent Seven, Robert Vaughn, as the town's judge, who appears in multiple episodes in both seasons. Other stars from TV and film of the time appear also, like Close, Jeff Kober, Brion James, and Kurtwood Smith (the dad from "That '70s Show"!).
The first season is a mere nine episodes and begins with the pilot and then moves into the seven staying together and protecting the town. In a Dodge City sort of way, they help enforce justice, but with a rebellious attitude. We learn little things about the sevens' pasts, slowly but surely. And the romantic relationship between Chris and a local businesswoman, Mary (Laurie Holden), begins to develop. I'd recommend Nemesis, an episode that deals with Chris's troubled past. The season finale is unexceptional and not a cliffhanger.
Season 2 contains 13 episodes, all that were made before the show was cancelled. The premiere doesn't feel like a season premiere and has no real connection to the season finale from season 1. This season really stretches for story arcs because it brings in a lot of the sevens' relatives who need rescuing, but the gunfighters shouldn't even have family according to the original mythology. What can I say, this series is Magnificent Seven Lite. The series finale was not intended to be one, so it doesn't wrap up anything. The show as cancelled, so I can't blame the producers for its incomplete feeling.
The set consists of four thin slip cases with five discs total, all in one box.
"The Magnificent Seven," unfortunately, snuck in right before shooting TV shows in 16x9 became the standard (approximately 2001). All of these episodes are full frame (1.33:1), so the image will not fit a widescreen TV (though the season 1 discs' menus are enhanced). The video will remind you that you are watching a TV show, with nothing being quite as clear as it should be and motion being a little blurry. The colors are not particularly rich nor the black levels particularly deep (and this is all upconverted onto an HDTV). However, the transfer does not seem sloppy, and the visuals get the job done. If you want gorgeous, widescreen TV shows, you have to look a few years after this one.
The audio on all of these discs is standard English 2.0, with no commentaries or alternate tracks. The audio is mixed fine, with the dialogue clear. However, there is nothing special about the audio in this set.
There are no extras, except for some trailers for other Westerns by MGM DVD.
I remember watching this TV series when it first aired, and I kind of enjoyed it. I even liked the pilot better than Sturges' film; now, I definitely don't feel that way. For me, "The Magnificent Seven" doesn't really work because it's based on a ridiculous premise-- the seven gunslingers staying together. These unexceptional DVD's will help you kill some time if you're bored, but I wouldn't recommend buying them unless you're a big fan of this type of thing, in which case you will be on cloud nine. For the price, I have to say, "Rent It."