For many film fans, memories of a John Sturges classic are the reason they’ll take note of — if not buy a ticket for — Denzel Washington’s upcoming film “The Magnificent Seven.”
You wouldn’t know it from those who made the new picture, though.
“It’s probably a lot more 'Wild Bunch’ than 'Magnificent Seven,’” star Chris Pratt told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, a few hours before his movie will kick off the prestige-cinema gathering.
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“There are a lot of differences,” director Antoine Fuqua said.
“I never saw the original,” Washington said.
Though they said they watched and thought of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" on which Sturges based his 1960 film, principals on the new "Magnificent" were eager to emphasize that the Yul Brynner-Steve McQueen western was far from their minds.
In fact, Pratt, who plays the swaggering Josh Faraday, doubled down on the idea a few minutes later.
Noting that the number of film titles out there was as circumscribed as the number of baby names, he said, “If I have a son named Chad, is he a remake? I mean, I'm not going to name him Schnarp."
Whether that cuts any ice with filmgoers, who will note the use here not just of the same title but genre and story arc — a band of outcasts team up to protect a town from an invader — is another matter. A different band-of-outlaws movie, Quentin Tarantino’s "Inglourious Basterds," was able to separate itself from its antecedent, but that's because the original was a lot less known, and because in that case Tarantino pretty much did only borrow the title. Fuqua takes a lot more from Sturges, even as he switches up the villain and makes some other updates.
One of the most notable of those updates is the cast, which by incorporating not just Washington but actors of color such as Byung-hun Lee and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, as well as a woman (Haley Bennett), ushers it into the 21st century.
Oddly, though, filmmakers seemed eager to play down this aspect too.
Fuqua said he wanted to give credit to producer MGM and distributor Sony for greenlighting the film with actors of color. But he stopped short of attaching any significance to that fact.
“I just wanted to see Denzel on a horse,” Fuqua said, offering a line that has become something of a mantra on this publicity tour. “It wasn't to make a statement."
Washington was definitive about the social significance — or lack thereof. “No. I mean, no,” he said when asked if he wanted to provide thoughts on the 21st-century racial meaning. “It's simple as that. It's a movie.”
Washington also circled back to his ignorance on the Sturges picture. "I had never seen it as a kid. People say 'You're the so-and-so character' and I'm like, 'I don't know who that is.’”
The cast's insistence on this not being a remake highlights the odd cycle many modern remakes get themselves into. Films are often remade because studios think that the brand name can give them a marketing head start. But the creatives who undertake the new versions, either because they bristle at such crass imperatives or because by the time they've gotten this deep they truly do believe they’ve made something very different, then go out and talk about how dissimilar the original is to their movie.
It leaves film fans with a paradox: The reason distributors want us to see the movie is the very same factor the filmmakers don’t want us to think about.
Despite this gulf, Fuqua stuck to his claim. “Let that movie be that movie,” he said of Sturges’ “Seven.” “We'll be a different movie. Time will tell if audiences make that same allowance.”
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