Respect, enthusiasts, backstory, opposition, obstacles, and timing. All six elements are key factors when deciding to tackle a reboot project in Hollywood, and conveniently enough, they spell out ‘reboot’. (I attempted to accomplish this for the word ‘remake’ as well, but I quickly realized I was much too lazy to do so.) Having J.J. Abrams on board apparently doesn’t hurt your cause either. His attachment as Executive Producer on HBO’s new Westworld series probably won’t be a shock to most.
Thankfully, I was able to wrangle up some energy to type enough words together in order to provide my thoughts on two newly refreshed westerns; The Magnificent Seven and Westworld. In spite of what appears to be an abhorrent aversion to anything resembling a remake, (which Hollywood churns out more often than a red carpet in order to pat themselves on the back), I’m not some anti-reboot zealot. On the contrary, I’m far from a believer that all great pieces of entertainment should be left alone and forgotten by future generations who are more concerned about how they are going to document every second of their life online versus say, getting a job or breathing. My argument has always been there’s a time and a place for everything. (It makes for pretty darn good words to live by as well.)
Hence my six-word abbreviation which correlates nicely with the word reboot. A remade piece of entertainment can co-exist with its original work of art IF done properly AND at an appropriate time interval. As an example of the wrong way to approach this, there is the very recent example of a film – which I will not name here – about four paranormal investigators that open a business called Ghostbusters. (If you’re wondering, it will be the subject of my review next week.)
Then there is the right method for reintroducing a property, as proven by the aforementioned westerns above. With that, I will now proceed to explain how both refreshes not only made for great films, but improved upon their ancestors.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Review)
Story wise, the remake matches the same beats of the original film, but provides enough of a twist in the subplots to make one wonder who among the seven will survive the final showdown. More importantly, the remake respects the western in general. You can tell director Antoine Fuqua is a fan of the classic western based on the timing, pacing, tension, and the small gestures and ticks displayed by the eccentric personalities those of that time period were supposedly notorious for (at least in legend).
Taking my own viewing tastes into account, fans of westerns should be more than satisfied with Fuqua’s recreation of the old west as noted above. The film also contains all of what made the original a classic; an underdog team of seven outlaws taking on a much bigger and meaner threat. There are plenty of standoffs, duels, sideways looks, gunfights and it’s all topped off with an epic final shootout not to be missed.
This can be challenging to define as it’s rather difficult to get too deep with seven protagonists in a two-hour film. One of my main gripes with the original had to do with the seven actors not having unique enough personalities to be able to distinguish them by voice or clothing alone. However, the remake succeeds in giving each of the seven heroes a distinct disposition and more importantly, a unique sense of fashion, which in turn allows them to be visible swimming in a sea of dusty cowboy hats.
From the time it was first announced up to the red carpet premiere, there was no major dissent to be heard for miles on yonder for the retooled Magnificent Seven. Granted there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of folks whom cared one way or another. In addition to timing – which I’ll get to in a minute, so hold your horses – I gander the other reason for lack of push-back had much to do with several other (arguably more popular) westerns getting the remake treatment over the last several years. With new editions of True Grit (2010) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007) faring well with critics and movie goers alike, audiences appear to be more accepting with rehashes of the western variety. Also in its favor, the western genre can – in my honest but often incorrect opinion – get away with remakes because most of them are set within the same era. They take advantage of advancements in film-making and acting prowess while keeping it grounded in the sensibilities of the old timeline.
All reboots in general face a medley of challenges in making a complete comeback to the large and small screen. More of the common issues revolve around ownership rights, budgets, studio exec egos, original creators, etc, etc. In the case of The Magnificent Seven, the only major obstacle I would imagine had more to do with it being a Western than anything else. With a lineup including the likes of Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, the star power may have helped to compensate for the weaker pull of the old west environment.
This is the biggie folks. In fact, it may be THE biggest consideration any studio should heed in rebooting or remaking something which was popular in the past, but not guaranteed to be popular in the present. With 56 years between the current incarnation and the last installment of The Magnificent Seven, I think it would be fair to conclude there has been sufficient time between the two films to offer a new look and fresh twist to an older classic without it stepping on the original’s boots… err, toes.
Also, I’d be putting it mildly if I said Chris Pratt was born to play a cowboy. The actor, whom has already portrayed a space outlaw and a dinosaur trainer, steals this wild west show as he has done with all of his most recent major projects. Denzel also won this Outlaw over with his cowboy wit and charm portraying the leader of the misfit bunch.
On the negative end of the spectrum, one of my few minor quibbles with the film probably has more to do with not using the iconic theme from the 1960 film until the movie’s end credits. (Fun Fact: The theme from the original film was composed by the late Elmer Bernstein, whom is most noted for his work on the Ghostbusters original score in 1984.) Another issue I took minor grievance with was the blatantly obvious PC note the film ended on. So deliberate was the conclusion, even Papa Outlaw picked up on it before I could mention it. I’d divulge more, but that would require an unnecessary spoiler alert.
Bottom-line, if you love your westerns fun, full of shoot-outs, stare-downs, a beautiful kick-ass woman played by Haley Bennett, (who could quite literally be a doppelganger for Jennifer Lawrence), one-liners and lots of well-filmed action, then The Magnificent Seven should not disappoint.
WESTWORLD – (Review)
On the TV side of the aisle, HBO’s Westworld is a reboot of the 1973 Westworld film written and directed by the late Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, ER). Since only one episode has aired as of this review, it goes without saying I’ll only be giving my one cent (that’s how poor I am) based on the lone hour aired thus far. Seeing as how it’s predecessor was only 25 minutes longer, I think a fair comparison can already be made.
Again, the basic storyline remains intact for the HBO series. In the future, an advanced theme park has been running for 30 years where lifelike synthetic androids provide a wild-west themed experience for patrons wanting to experience an era of time long gone. All is fine and well until a new software update starts causing glitches, which then puts the guests in immediate danger. The only differences here though are not all the robots are necessarily evil, and not all the humans are as innocent. The grey area is much greyer, and the added subplots will help for the longevity of the series if it is to last.
Just because I have an affinity for cowboys and robots, doesn’t mean everyone does. Thus why I feel the original Westworld is less of a household name than the first Magnificent Seven. Suffice it to say, that may have been due to the high concept film being almost too advanced for its time. Fans of sci-fi should enjoy the incorporation of super-intelligent AI into an era where their idea of the latest technology was making a lighter coffin The visuals alone are enough to hypnotize your eyeballs for 60 minutes at a time. (The naked women don’t hurt either.)
Due to its limitation of one film, the audience spent more time viewing the main conflict of robot versus human on the theme park playing field. Thanks to its development as a television series, a greater amount of time can be devoted to the players and creators behind the scenes which adds another dynamic variable to the overall drama. Should one not even consider the series aspect of the equation, more backstory was created in the first episode alone than the entire 1973 film.
Much like The Magnificent Seven, I didn’t really even hear a peep of dissension for rebooting this property. If anything, the few people I spoke to about this were looking forward to the re-imagining. Not only is the film-making technology better, with the advent of sophisticated artificial intelligence on the precipice of spreading around the globe these days, the concept is more relevant than it’s ever been.
I’ll again refer back to the corresponding section of Mag 7. Westerns are just a hard sell in general these days. Plain and simple, they just don’t have the strong appeal they once did. Nevertheless, never count out killer robots… especially if they look like humans. Killer robots almost always sell. Almost.
At close to 45 years old, the first Westworld is far from a spring chicken. Even though I watched and enjoyed it, it’s well before my time and the time of those whom seem to consume the most entertainment nowadays. Factor in the fact it’s a mostly unheard of high-concept sci-fi story taking place in a theme park inhabited by attractive androids, and there may be no better time than now to cash in on the eerily pertinent theme.
My overall thoughts on Westworld at this early stage are just as positive as they are for Mag 7, but for very different reasons. HBO’s reboot has an incredible amount of potential to go deep on the themes of humanity vs. technology; ultimately asking if we as a civilization are going to bring on our own demise using our own technological advancements. The fact the backdrop is a western world only seals the deal for me.
Based on early numbers for both The Magnificent Seven and Westworld, the good news is the western is still alive and kicking. More importantly, they illustrate that handled with care, proper timing, and in some cases J.J. Abrams, certain properties can saddle up for another ride… even if it happens to be on a newer horse.