In fact, the idea of Denzel in the lead role was one of the first things the director pitched when MGM asked him for what his version of the film would look like. He also pledged to shoot it on anamorphic film, which was on vivid display in a quick scene where our seven heroes ride on horseback across the plain, all silhouetted against the sun. Kinda badass.
Even more badass was an early encounter that the team has with some of Bogue's enforcers in the town of Rose Creek. It's here we find out that each of the Seven stand out due to the weapons they use, as Washington slowly approaches the lead goon and is forced to draw down. Pratt's Josh Farraday is the silent-but-cocky type, and a very quick draw. D'Onofrio is a drunken (but effective) ax wielder, delivering some nasty deathblows -- but keeping it very PG-13.
Lee is the throwing knife expert and Hawke plays Goodnight, an ex-Civil War hero (and sharpshooter) suffering from PTSD. He can't bring himself to fire his rifle in a key moment, as one of the bad guys gets away. His sweaty face twitches as his rifle quakes with fear in his hands. He and Farraday do not get along as a result of his inaction, their animosity boiling over in a later scene where the two are trying to train the locals how to fight and shoot.
The scene-stealer was Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a character not in the original film. He is the Native American equivalent of the Avengers' Hawkeye -- an insanely-good bow and arrow expert. If the test screening reactions Fuqua witnessed were any indication, expect Red Harvest to emerge as a fan-favorite.
The only thing more impressive than the action screened was the confidence in which Fuqua talked about it. His professionalism and passion for the material was inspiring, to the point where one got the sense he would have talked about the film into the wee hours if not for having to get back to work.
While shown largely out of context, the scenes we saw set up the tone and world of "Seven" very well. It's a PG-13 Western, as Fuqua always intended it to be. But it's "right on the edge," the director said. "We're not going for gore." Washington is great, as always, and it's also worth noting that audiences have never seen Chris Pratt in this type of role before. We're interested in seeing a lot more of Pratt's dynamic with the team, especially with Denzel and Hawke's characters.
In addition to exclusive clips, Fuqua shared several key insights into the making of the film. Here are some highlights:
1. Soon after his meeting with MGM execs, Fuqua reached out to Washington and sent him the script. Soon after Washington read it, he agreed to sign on.
2. According to Fuqua, Hawke was very insistent on getting a role in the film. Fuqua told us a story about how the actor literally cornered the director in New York and said he has to be in this movie.
3. At one point, the director was juggling pre-production demands while facing the possibility that deals could not be made in time to lock down his main actors. But, over the course of a weekend, the deals worked out and the Magnificent Seven would ride again.
4. But the process took a toll on Fuqua. At one point, the movie was this close to falling apart -- and with it the director's desire to make it. But a meeting with the film's composer, the late James Horner, changed his mind. Fuqua joined Horner at his house in Calabasas, "which is filled with all these toys -- these classic, antique toys," the director said. And as the two discussed the problems the film faced on its way to a greenlight, Horner just listened and... looked out his window.
"He told me that here, in Calabasas," Fuqua recalled, "they used to raise horses" and ride them across the land. Horner's story eventually turned into a call to action for the director, with the Oscar-winning composer urging the filmmaker to make this movie -- and put an African-american as the lead in a western. Horner told the director not to worry about his fee or any thing like that, just to make it happen. And, thankfully, happen it did.
5. "No friends or family screenings," Fuqua said. But they did have two test screenings.
6. What did these test screenings tell the director about his movie? Well, that it was funnier than expected. "More people laughed in this than any other movie" he had screened, Fuqua revealed. They especially loved the diverse cast and their engaging on-screen chemistry.
7. The new film is not a Xerox of the original -- which itself was an American remake of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai."
"We kept the DNA of the characters from 'Seven Samurai' for [the new] 'Magnificent Seven,'" Fuqua clarified, adding that Kurosawa's film was, tonally, his benchmark throughout production. Especially when it came to the "epic scale" of the film's final battle.
We will see just how big that climatic showdown is when "Magnificent Seven" hits theaters Sept. 23.
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