The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.

Seven Samurai … In Space!

I’m a big fan of both Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai and John Sturges’s American remake with gunfighters instead of swordsmen, The Magnificent Seven. Here at the Web Journal, I’ve discussed both the anime series Samurai 7 and the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven. However, I’ve never discussed the first version of Seven Samurai I remember seeing—Roger Corman’s 1980 film Battle Beyond the Stars. This cheezy, but fun film is arguably a classic of the “space cowboy” genre.

The movie stars Richard Thomas as Shad from the planet Akir. Thomas is most famous as John Boy from the the critically acclaimed TV series The Waltons. The planet’s name is a clear nod to Akira Kurosawa. The peaceful world has been threatened by the villainous Sador, played by John Saxon. Shad must go out and recruit fighters to help him. In this version, the seven are: Gelt, a mercenary played by Robert Vaughn who like his character in the original Magnificent Seven must always watch his back; Cowboy played by George Peppard, a literal space cowboy who is also a gun runner; Nanelia played by Darlanne Fluegel, a technician who provides the Akira with sensors; Cayman, a reptilian captain who has a vendetta against Sador played by Morgan Woodward, who I fondly remember as Captain Tracy of the Exeter in the original Star Trek; Nestor, five members of a race of clones—their leader is played by Earl Boen; St. Exmin, a Valkerie played by Sybil Danning; and Kelvin, a pair of beings who communicate through heat. The seven of Battle Beyond the Stars actually provide a nice preview of the diverse cast we would get in the 2016 Magnificent Seven. One thing that was especially gratifying in this version is that it’s the only one to date that includes women among the seven.

Of some note, Battle Beyond the Stars features one of the first film scores by James Horner. As it turns out, the 2016 Magnificent Seven would feature Horner’s final film score. That said, Horner’s score from Battle Beyond the Stars reminds me more of his score for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan than his score for The Magnificent Seven.

If you’ve seen any version of The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai, there will be few plot surprises in Battle Beyond the Stars. Like most remakes, the fun is in the details. Even though the effects are clearly low budget, there are several interesting space ships including Shad’s ship, Nell, who is a sentient AI. Nell proves to be a great character in her own right—something of a smart-ass, but genuinely helpful. Befitting the low budget, this film doesn’t take itself as seriously as its more earnest cousins. The actors clearly deliver their lines with tongues fully in cheek.

Have I missed a remake of Seven Samurai? If there’s one you know of that I haven’t mentioned in this post, let me know in the comments!

As I said at the outset, I believe this would have been the first version of Seven Samurai I actually saw. I believe I first saw this in 1985 at college, about five years after the original release. It’s clearly one of the films that gave rise to my love of space cowboys—a theme Steve Howell and I explored on planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. In the book, Steve even does his own space-based retelling of a western classic: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. If you’d like to check out our anthology of space cowboy stories, visit: http://www.davidleesummers/Keplers-Cowboys.html

The Magnificent Seven

About a month ago, after a meeting in Tucson, I saw the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. magnificent_seven_2016 Because I was in Tucson for work, I was on my own, but I was pleasantly surprised when David B. Riley, an editor I’ve had the pleasure of working with on several projects walked in behind me. So, we got to enjoy watching the new version together.

In this version of the movie, a mine has opened near the town of Rose Creek. The mine owner, played by Peter Sarsgaard, wants to drive away the townspeople so he can have the entire valley for his mine. A woman played by Haley Bennett seeks out gunmen who will drive out the mine owner. It’s an interesting variation on the premise of a village terrorized by bandits.

The movie is, of course, the latest remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The premise of the 2016 version is a bit different from the others I’ve seen. Overall, the revised premise works. I only had one quibble and that was the mine owner’s implicit statement about America being founded on capitalism. In the 1870s where the film is set, venture capitalism was still a relatively newfangled approach to business. Most businessmen of the day would have been entrepreneurs relying on their own money and not the investments of others.

As for the other remakes, I’ve spoken a bit about the steampunk-flavored, futuristic anime remake, Samurai 7 in an earlier blog post. I was recently reminded of Roger Corman’s low budget science fiction remake called Battle Beyond the Stars, which is interesting because it stars Robert Vaughn, who played in the 1960 Magnificent Seven and featured one of the first soundtracks by James Horner. Sadly the new Magnificent Seven was Horner’s last soundtrack composition before he died in a plane accident.

One of the things that makes Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven compelling is the idea of seven very different people coming together to battle insurmountable odds for little or no reward. I especially liked the very diverse group in the latest movie which included an African-American, a Latino, a Native American, and an Asian. As pointed out by director Antoine Fuqua, this not only represents a cross section of America today, but America as it was in the 1800s.

Clockwork-Legion

In thinking about The Magnificent Seven, I’ve come to realize how much it and versions of Seven Samurai have influenced my Clockwork Legion series. In retrospect, it’s especially cool that I watched the movie with David Riley, who published the first of my stories featuring Ramon and Fatemeh in his anthology Trails: Intriguing Stories of the Weird West. In the Clockwork Legion series, I bring together seven heroes, more or less: Sheriff Ramon Morales, Healer Fatemeh Karimi, Captain Onofre Cisneros, Professor M.K. Maravilla, Bounty Hunter Larissa Crimson, Rancher Billy McCarty, and Samurai-turned-farmer Masuda Hoshi. They fight against the insurmountable odds of the Russian Empire aided by an intelligence from the stars. In The Brazen Shark, I even include a few direct homages to the original Seven Samurai. It opens when a village is attacked by samurai bandits and several minor characters in the novel are named after the original seven samurai.

Despite a few similarities, I see Seven Samurai and its successors as just one of many inspirations for my series. I hope you’ll saddle up and come along for the ride. You might just discover a few inspirations I didn’t even see!

7 Samurai 7

Last week, I had the pleasure of announcing the release of my novel Lightning Wolves. One of the characters in the novel is a former samurai named Masuda Hoshi. I didn’t just introduce this character because I thought the idea of a samurai in the wild west seemed cool. He provides a bridge to the next novel in the series, The Brazen Shark, which is set in disputed territory between Russia and Japan.

Samurai_7_DVD_Cover

A couple months ago, I learned about an anime series that retold Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai in a steampunk setting called Samurai 7. Yeah, the titles can mess with you, especially if you try discussing both at the same time, hence the title of the post! All in all, it was a nicely done series. For those who may not be familiar with the source material, Seven Samurai tells the story of a small village plagued by bandits who steal their crops. The villages go to the city and hire samurai to protect them. The only catch is that villagers can only pay the samurai in meals. As a result the group they recruit is a mix of tired war veterans and young men, anxious to prove their worth. It’s a wonderful tale inspired by Kurosawa’s love of American Western films. I find it fitting that Seven Samurai was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Eli Wallach.

Samurai 7 expanded the story of Kurosawa’s original movie considerably, providing more background about each of the characters and adding a new story arc about merchants using the bandits as puppets to rule the land. The steampunk elements were largely incidental, but added some nice visual styling to story. The animation was generally good, although there were three episodes where it looked like a less talented company did some fill-in work. I also had something of a suspension of disbelief issue in that the samurai were so easily able to defeat mecha and advanced guns with swords, but if you can let that slide, it’s fun to watch.

Seven_Samurai

As to which I liked better, the anime or the 1954 film, I’m going to go with a somewhat heretical choice and say that overall I enjoyed the anime more. The reason was simply that there was more time to develop the characters. There’s no question that Seven Samurai is a masterpiece of film making, but it is limited by its, admittedly lengthy, three-hour run time and the period that produced it. Although I liked the samurai Kambei and Kyuzo better in the movie, I liked the arc they went through in the series. What’s more, Seven Samurai has almost no meaningful women characters. The only ones are the farmer’s daughter Shino, who serves as a love interest for the young samurai Katsushiro, and a grandmother who wants vengeance on the bandits for killing her son. Samurai 7 introduced Kirara, a strong-willed water priestess who recruited the samurai. Also, a farmer’s wife captured by the bandits who has no lines in the Kurosawa classic is given a real part including exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome in Samurai 7.

One element I found interesting in comparing the two versions of Seven Samurai was that many of the things that made the anime compelling seemed based on ideas introduced in The Magnificent Seven. The water ceremony of Samurai 7 evokes the fiesta where the gunmen are welcomed in The Magnificent Seven. The western adaptation also introduced the idea that one of the heroes betrayed others in his past. In Seven Samurai the bandits are essentially anonymous, but in the other two adaptations, we get to see them as individuals with problems of their own.

It’s hard to say how all this will influence my new novel, if at all. At the very least, it inspires my creativity. If you want to meet my samurai character, Masuda Hoshi, pick up a copy of Lightning Wolves. It’s on sale for 50% off all this month as Smashwords. Just use the code SSW50 at checkout. If you prefer print copies, they’re available at Amazon.com.