Everybody knows about the Magnificent Seven. Well, the movie at any rate. It remains without a doubt one of the most important western films ever made. Even though it had a nod of inspiration from Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, it shook things up and is regarded by many to be a classic among classics.
Nearly forty years after the movie came out a very short-lived TV series appropriately titled The Magnificent Seven was broadcast on CBS. Despite being nominated for (and winning) an Emmy (for costume design) the show was actually cancelled after its first season. Fortunately the glory of the internet allowed fans to rally and petition to have the show brought back to the airwaves. However, this second time around proved to be just as fatal and the show was cut before the second season of episodes could be shown in their entirety. Don't be fooled though, the series wasn't cancelled because it was terrible. It just didn't rake in the ratings that CBS was looking for.
Now that the first season has been released on DVD, getting a chance to see the nine episodes in order paints a grander picture regarding the show's quality. I have to admit that I only caught a couple of episodes here and there when it was being produced, but was never able to see the whole shebang. I guess you could say that I was part of the ratings slump problem, but revisiting the show makes me regret not taking the time to do my part for the Nielsen Ratings.
The Magnificent Seven was a show that really had it all. The writing was phenomenal with plenty of wit, interesting and sometimes controversial plots as well as fully realized characters. The cast of actors was great as well and there were plenty of well known talents on the roster. Ron Perlman, Michael Biehn, Eric Close, Dale Midkiff, Andrew Kavovit, Anthony Starke and Rick Worthy took on the roles of the seven "heroes" and each got a decent amount of screen time and dialogue befitting their personalities. There was also plenty of action and humor tossed into the mix to keep things interesting and while many of the jokes were dry and sarcastic, they really worked with the atmosphere.
Biehn plays Chris Larrabee who is fairly close to the Chris that Yul Brynner played in the 1960 film. He proves that the good guys wear black and walks around with a chip on his shoulder. He did some things that he wasn't proud of when he was younger, but the responsibility of a wife and child had grounded him. Unfortunately they were killed in a fire while he was away with his buddy Buck. Larrabee is the leader of the group and where he goes everybody and the action follows.
Buck Wilmington (Midkiff) is more than just Larrabee's longtime friend; he's also a tough as nails gunslinger and ladies man with irresistible animal magnetism. He's often the hot head that follows where his loins lead, but is also the most fun loving of the troop. Buck is often the main source for comic relief, whether he's all liquored up or not, and is really the life of the party. He proves on more than one occasion that he's a caring and responsible type of guy, especially when he takes J.D. (Kavovit) under his wing.
J.D. is a rookie when it comes to being a cowboy, there's no other way to put it. He got it into his head from reading stories about the Wild West that he could make it. So he learned out to ride a horse and spin guns, but never really figured out how to shoot properly or take cover when the bullets start flying. He's kind of the lackey of the group and the butt of everyone's jokes, but as the show progresses he grows as a character and gains more acceptance.
Vin Tanner (Close) is a character that offers quite a few nods to Steve McQueen's Vin from the original film. He's a professional tracker with a bounty on his head for a murder that he didn't commit, and proves he's a great number two man for Larrabee. Vin is often content to be the silent type and let his guns do the talking most of the time. In other words he's the complete opposite of Ezra Standish (Starke) who speaks eloquently and is a real card shark. Ezra is the likable slimeball out of the seven, though he's often at odds with the rest of the gang.
Josiah Sanchez (Perlman) was easily my favorite character in the show. He is a former man of the clothe that speaks of God yet preaches with his pistol. Perlman often steals the scene whenever he enters it and he's really given the best dialogue to work with. He's often paired up with Nathan Jackson (Worthy) who is an ex-slave that learned a fair amount of medicine in his days. He's not exactly a doctor, but when one of the gang gets a bullet in them, he's the one to pull it out.
The pilot episode of the series pulls all of these characters together for a common good. It's done in pretty much the same fashion as most retellings of Kurosawa's original story. There's a small band of ex-slaves and Indians living in a remote area near a collapsed mine. One day a garrison of ex-confederate soldiers happens by and has their way with them. That leaves the tribal leaders in something of a pickle so they go to the nearest town and witness Larrabee and Tanner disposing of some thugs and saving Jackson's life. They offer the men a trinket worth $35 and ask that they help protect the village.
Naturally Chris and company accept, though three wouldn't exactly cut it against a group of former militants. From this point all of the cards fall into place and the rest of the cast are introduced in relatively quick fashion. J.D. and Ezra come into the picture by chance while Buck and Josiah are old friends that happen to be nearby.
The rest of the episodes on the first season follow roughly the same pattern and are pretty formulaic. The guys witness an atrocity, get involved and save the day. It's tried and true story telling that touches upon issues like equality, racial tolerance and a fair amount of fleshing out for the characters. These nine episodes are ripe with entertainment and after watching them I can certainly see why fans were all about bringing the show back. This is fine television and frankly deserved better treatment than it got. Fans of the original film, westerns or of well written and acted shows will definitely want to take notice of this release.
Let's get one thing straight: I love the show, but I hate the transfer. The Magnificent Seven looks pretty terrible for a show that was produced eight years ago. This is mostly due to the fact that all nine episodes (the Pilot running twice as long as a normal episode) are crammed onto two discs. This raises all sorts of compression issues from ridiculous amounts of grain to some mean pixilation. To be fair it is apparent in some scenes more than others and may have been attributed to the original material, but most of it seems to be a product of the transfer here.
There are also issues with tint most of the time and at many points colors will look very unnatural or over-saturated. The show is watchable and about as good as it's ever going to get, but it's pretty annoying to have this many problems present on the DVD. The series is presented with the 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio that it was originally broadcast with.
While the video offered some presentation issues, the audio quality is relatively free of problems. Sure it's presented with Dolby 2.0 Surround and doesn't really score points when it comes to directionality, but it sounds crisp and clean for the most part. I didn't encounter any distortion at any point though I did notice a hiss in some scenes that was very faint, but noticeable. The set comes with optional English and French subtitles as well.
There is nothing included on either disc that resembles bonus content, unless you count a handful of previews (which I don't).
The Magnificent Seven was a show that deserved much better treatment than it received. The first season was wildly entertaining and proved to be one of the best western TV shows that I've ever watched. Sure it may be a little silly at times, but that's all part of the charm. The DVD set is fairly disappointing with some poor image quality and absolutely no extra material. If you're a fan you'll just be pleased to get your hands on the series and if you have never seen it, you really owe it to yourself to check it out if you enjoy westerns or the original film. Recommended