Director Antoine Fuqua was provided with a surprising gift when he began making his contemporary remake of “The Magnificent Seven”: Seven themes composed by the late Oscar-winning composer James Horner (“Titanic”), who died last year in a plane crash. Horner didn’t live long enough to screen any footage, but he read the script and provided the backbone of the score for Fuqua. Indeed, after collaborating on “Southpaw” together, Horner convinced the director to make “The Magnificent Seven” when he was ambivalent about the project and worried about financing.
Horner, in fact, was on such a steady ascent before his fatal crash (including Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Great Wall”), that he discussed greater collaboration with producer-composer-arranger Simon Franglen (the Grammy-winning “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic”). They also worked together on the gritty, electronic-tinged “Southpaw,” and Franglen later arranged “Skyfall” and “Spectre” for composer Thomas Newman.
“We’d been talking a while about how to approach this,” Franglen recently told IndieWire. “After his death, it was important that Antoine hear the themes as a suite. We hired an orchestra and went to Louisiana and presented Antoine with his score and told him this is how James would’ve liked it to have sounded. And Antoine and MGM took a risk.”
Horner’s themes reflected a diverse musical reworking of the 1960 classic Western (directed by John Sturges and starred Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, which re-imagined Akira Kurasawa’s “Seven Samurai” from 1954). However, while there are familiar hints of Elmer Bernstein’s iconic, rousing melody in Horner’s main theme, his rhythms reflect Fuqua’s vision of American cultural diversity, in which bounty hunter Denzel Washington rounds up a ruthless suicide squad (including Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier) to save an Old West town during the California Gold Rush.
“We needed to make sure that the language developed by Elmer was referenced in some way because anyone who loves film music is going to say that Elmer’s score is exquisite,” Franglen said. “But it was very obvious, also, that it was of its time when you put it against this film.”
Still, there are plenty of Easter Egg “Seven” references as well as percussive nods to “Seven Samurai,” wrapped around a unified orchestral score.
“We went for went a contemporary action score but with a classical undertone and organic instruments: guitar, other stringed instruments and interesting percussion,” Franglen said. “You’re not flooding it with synths… we used clapping as rhythm rather than electronica.”
In addition, the action cues had to have a swagger such as in “Take Down,” the initial gunfight with Washington. But, overall, it’s very much a Horner structure, starting with a ragged edge and moving into more heroic elements as the characters evolve and using long cues to build emotion.
Tony Hinnigan (“Titanic,” “Braveheart”) provided ethnic flute improvisations and George Doering (“Moana”) contributed guitar work. “I had George literally using a bow and soaring away on bass bouzoukis and other things just to get those textures that only come from real instruments and real players,” said Franglen, who’s very adept at musical synthesis and even found a way of working the Bernstein theme into the movie.
“Obviously, where we ended up was different if James had completed the score, but I think it does him justice and the film justice,” Franglen said. “Ultimately, we’re still writing music for a cowboy film.”
“The Magnificent Seven” opens on Friday, September 23.