It is often said "Don't mess with a classic." Yet, Hollywood does it all the time. Now, what do you do when that classic is a remake of a legend? That should be something too hot to handle.


Yet that is exactly what Antoine Fuqua did when he took it upon himself to remake John Sturges' classic 1961 oater, "The Magnificent Seven". The 1961 version, which starred a who's who of Hollywood's coolest actors (Yul Bryner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Charles Bronson) - dubbed a western, was actually set in Mexico - so technically it wasn't a western. The American Film Institute defines western films as those "set in the United States West that embody the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier." Sturges film was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's legendary 1954 Japanese-language film "Seven Samurai."


I mention all of this because there have been some grumblings about Fuqua's messing with a classic western. In fact, his "Magnificent Seven" is the first of the three - though not filmed in the west - actually set in the old west. Not in Mexico. Not in Japan.

Casting Denzel Washington in Yul Bryner's role as the leader of the seven is more historically accurate than a bunch of white guys riding to the rescue of a small western town post Civil War. The outfit is made up of Washington as Chisolm, a bounty hunter in the Indian territory; Chris Pratt as Faraday, a trouble for hire gunslinger and sporting man, Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, a former New Orleans confederate; Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horne a tracker, Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, a Chinese gunslinger and knife fighter; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, a blood thirsty Mexican gunslinger and outlaw; and Martin Senseieer as Re Harvest, a Comanche tracker and outlaw.


This is actually a more accurate depiction of the old west as is Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen, the widow who hires them to come to her small town of Rose Creek to save it from the evil land baron and gold monger Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Is this shift a nod to Charles Portis' "True Grit" that had Mattie Ross (played by Kim Darby and Hailee Steinfeld) hiring Rooster Cogburn? It makes sense.


Kurosawa and Sturges versions had a common quest as food supplies from a small farming village. Fuqua, changed it to a basic land grab because of gold, which was, in fact the reason many people were annihilated in the new frontier. Bogue is a successful land baron who runs the farmers off their property with an army of goons, bleeds the land dry, and presumably moves on. In these days of oil companies destroying land with fracking, one can't help but think that Fuqua is taking a not so subtle dig at corporate America.

Much like Kurosawa and Sturges, Fuqua develops his gunslingers with deep dark issues. He shifted the characters issues, for example Robicheaux has become snakebit, much like Robert Vaughn's Lee character in the 1960 version. Byung-hun Lee takes on the knife throwing abilities as Coburns Britt.


Western aficionados will appreciate the tribute to the old Chisolm trail and [no doubt] John Wayne's old character. Goodnight is no doubt a salute to the Goodnight-Loving trail. Jack Horne is a character similar to the Tom Horn character played by Steve McQueen in 1980 (his last role). Though Denzel followed the character played by Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai), he is costumed in Yul Brynner's all black attire.


As you can imagine with Fuqua, his take is packed full of action from the very start. There are no lulls save to develop characters. The bloodshed would make Sam Peckinpah proud as he obliterates both people and horses. Axing a woman in the back is treated as matter of fact.


Denzel is his usual steady self, handling his first western with aplomb and the type of swagger that Brynner often displayed. Sennsmeier, Lee, Hawke and Sarsgaard are also engaging in character. Sarsgaard does a decent enough job as a bad guy recalling moments of Henry Fonda's Frank character from "Once Upon a Time in the West." But Pratt totally misses, bringing the same clown routine he used in "Guardians of the Galaxy" to the west. The other character that falls into the twilight zone is D'Onofrio's Horne character as a blood thirsty Christian who'd rather deliver the death blow by mutilation.


But whatever the film lacks - in my mind and the minds of any true western movie buff - is hearing the greatest theme song of Western film genre history, Elmer Bernstein's "Magnificent Seven Theme." You can then breathe a sigh of relief that all is right in the Western world!


"The Magnificent Seven" is an action packed remake that pays homage to so many facets of the western genre, it will thrill any fan of horse operas. Realistically cast, well paced and a hoot to watch and listen.   -- GEOFF BURTON