Saturday, May 27, 2017

what a merry band we are

I wrote a bit about The Magnificent Seven a few days ago. Talking about character classes (a la Dungeons & Dragons) and archetypes, how each character needs to have a different personality trait or skill that makes them distinct from the other characters. What The Encylopedia of Fantasy refers to as the "seven samurai" and TV Tropes calls "the magnificent seven samurai". A reminder:

I'm watching the latest incarnation of The Magnificent Seven tonight, so the seven are:

  • Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, the leader, a warrant officer
  • Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday, a gambler
  • Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, the veteran sharpshooter
  • Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horne, the mountain man, who is also religious
  • Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, the knife thrower (and "a mysterious man of the Orient")
  • Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, an outlaw
  • Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, a Comanche warrior

Plus Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen, the woman who gets them involved in the first place.


Maybe I'll offer up more detail as I watch this movie again today. Or maybe I will just muse on these delineations and distinctions of character, or the tropes of plot...

For example, TV Tropes also breaks down the plot to very simple steps:

"1. The Hero will receive the Call to Adventure." This is Washington's Chisolm, a mysterious stranger who arrives after the opening sequence establishes for us the current status quo in the town of Rose Creek. This is like the opening parts of Wright's (1975) "classical plot" of the western: "1. The hero enters a social group." "2. The hero is unknown to the society." "3. The hero is revealed to have an exceptional ability." This is always a thing; I mean, who else do we want to watch a story about but the guy who is a better shooter and better talker than everybody else? It is here that Pratt's Faraday already gets involved, even though the next bit of TV Tropes' plot breakdown hasn't happened yet, nor really has the Call to Adventure. "4. The society recognizes a difference between themselves and the hero; the hero is given a special status." TV Tropes continues: "He will then assemble a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits."
  • "The Lancer (if not immediately present, The Hero always knows exactly where to find one)" Given Faraday's immediate introduction, and then his own scene, he's our "Lancer." TV Tropes defines the Lancer as a foil for the hero "of the closely allied variety." Think Han Solo to Luke Skywalker.
  • "The Big Guy" which TV Tropes specifically refers to as the "powerhouse of the Five-Man Band". That's D'Onofrio's Horne, of course.
  • "The Smart Guy" and this is where this particular incarnation of this kind of plot gets interesting because...
  • "The Old Guy (sometimes a Shell-Shocked Veteran)" is also the "Smart Guy". Then again, since Billy Rocks is so quiet, Robicheaux doing double duty is both logical for the presentation as is and a little bit of white privilege.
  • "The Young Guy" which here could be either of the locals who have hired this band: Luke Grimes' Teddy Q. or Bennett's Emma Cullen. Since, she's obviously the "woman" of the group (not one of TV Tropes' breakdown, but an obvious character type here, I'd say this is Teddy Q. In fact, as I type this part, Faraday just gave him a lesson so he is definitely the inexperienced one of the group (though he is not one of the titular seven).
  • "The Funny Guy" - because this is 2017 and screenwriters have to spread the humor around to get a wider audience, there is no "Funny Guy" here. Faraday has the most jokes, and could fit here, but then Robicheaux might have to do triple duty and also be the "Lancer".

The rest of the plot, as broken down by TV Tropes goes like this:

"2. The team finds that the people they are trying to protect at largely unwilling or unable to fight for themselves." Otherwise, why would they need the team? Duh.

"3. The team successfully stands off the first attack."

"4. The people realize that they can defend themselves, and the team undertakes Training the Peaceful Villagers"

"3. The team is forced to leave, whether due to the skepticism or wariness of the villagers or threats from the villains."

"4. The team decides to return."

"5. There is another attack; the people join in both enthusiastically and competently. Several of the team are injured or killed; the attackers are defeated soundly, but not always completely."

"6. The people indicate that they now can and will defend themselves when and if the attackers return. What remains of the team departs."

Now, Wright doesn't use The Magnificent Seven as one of his examples, which I find strange. The film apparently made double its budget at the box office. I'm not sure how great a performance that would have made it in 1960. That 1960 "original", like this remake, is closer to Wright's "vengeance" plot, except there the hero is singular as well. So, then I bother to flip forward in Wright's book--I don't think I've picked up the book since my month of Westerns two years ago next month, so forgive the slip of my memory--and find the "professional plot".

Here, Wright's function #6 specifies: "The heroes all have special abilities and a special status." That right there--that's what you've got here, what you've got in King Arthur, what you've got in Robin Hood, what you've got in The Avengers.

(For the record, Wright's examples for this plot are Rio Bravo, The Professionals, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)

In terms of westerns (and beyond those examples in the parenthetical), you could also look to the Young Guns films. But, one example where the character types might not be so obvious is Silverado, if I remember rightly (and I've seen that one a few times as we had that one on video when I was younger, recorded on the same tape as Return of the Jedi I believe); rather, it is more the personalities of the four gunmen than specific sorts of special abilities that make them stand out. Though, to be fair, Jake was definitely the hotheaded one.

 

 

 

 

 

This practice isn't new. It's not like cynical Hollywood has only just started shorthanding characters for the audience by giving them different weapons and attitudes. Compare, say, the Argonauts, heroes of their own stories come together for a bigger quest, to the MCU version of The Avengers. That's deliberate, of course, but it's also the way it's done. Look at old stories about Arthur and his Knights. Look at the Bible. (I remember using the occupations of the twelve disciples several years back to create my own version of them for a fantasy novel I was working on.)

And, right now, the night before the final battle--actually, not quite, but it works basically the same way and maybe should have been edited that way--there's a trope that also comes up a lot. Les Miserables and Hamilton get some damn fine songs out of this last night revelry. Our heroes know they might all be dead tomorrow so they come together one last time to talk and to drink. A long night (here divided over two nights). The calm before the storm is spent in boisterous carousing. And, it works every time.

WORKS CITED
Wright, W. (1975). Six Guns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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