Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick Review: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven
Music composed by James Horner & Simon Franglen
Music conducted by J.A.C. Redford, Carl Johnson
Music recorded at Newman Scoring Stage, 20th Century Fox
Album running time: 76 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

The making of the score to 2016's The Magnificent Seven is a little more interesting than the score itself.  

The film itself is a Western retelling of the original 1960 film (which of course was a reinterpretation of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai).  There were 3 following films in the 1960s-1970s and all were scored by the great Elmer Bernstein.  The Magnificent Seven theme is iconic in its own right, used in commercials, parodies and almost every Western pastiche that followed.  This score does reference the Bernstein theme (but more of the identifying rhythm) throughout the score...but more on that later.

More importantly, this is James Horner's final music for a theatrical film.  He had just completed Southpaw (2015) with director Antoine Fuqua and The 33 (2015) before his untimely death in June, 2015.  After reading the script, Horner started sketching themes and musical ideas to work on with collaborator Simon Franglen.  After Horner's death, Franglen and Horner's usual team consisting of music editors and orchestrators recorded those ideas as a present to director Antoine Fuqua.  From that moment, it would take a small group of collaborators to compose a new score for the film, while being sensitive and honoring the material that Horner composed.  One could boil that down to a new score containing the musical spirit of James Horner - worked on by the people that worked with him.  

Naturally the score is filled with many Horner-isms. It's hard to tell how many he would put in himself, or how many got added by Franglen and team.  The main theme, you could call it the New Magnificent Seven theme doesn't appear in its entirety until about halfway in the album.  Rather than a traditional rousing Western, the theme is noble and somewhat stirring.  

Most of the score fits the doubtful and slightly melancholic vibe set by our villain Bogue and his abuses on the town of Rose Creek.  His snakelike theme appears through many cues, but never latches as an intimidating theme on the album.  The many other reoccurring motifs are the echoing trumpet triplets (an effect that can be traced back to some of Horner's earliest film work).  The tinging percussion, female vocals, danger motif and breathy shakuhachi appear in multiple cues while guitar strums, banjos and hand claps add a bit to the Western flavor.  Of course, a major source of inspiration is the Elmer Bernstein rhythm which appears through many cues, but makes a broad statement near the end as it mingles with the New Magnificent Seven theme.  Those looking for the rousing Bernstein Western style will probably be disappointing, as this score is more minimal and modern in its approach.  

Those modern "gritty" moments don't have much to compare to the grandiose Western scores so many of us are accustomed to.  That isn't director Fuqua's contemporary approach.  While it works with the film, most of the score seems like a chore to listen to.  There are great moments - the Western swagger and sweeping melody does happen, just infrequently not large enough.  For a good sampling of the score, listen to Rose Creek Opression, Volcano Springs, Town Exodus/Knife Training, Seven Riders. The signs of Horner's touches are all throughout the score - something that makes it enjoyable to listen for.  Franglen and team crafted an interesting score, although it's a little too sloggish for me until the fantastic final cue where the score's identity finally shines through.  Still, it's a fitting farewell to one of the greats of film music.