Wild Wild West

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This article is about the 1999 film. For other uses, see Wild Wild West (disambiguation).
Wild Wild West
Wild wild west poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Jon Peters
Barry Sonnenfeld
Screenplay by S. S. Wilson
Brent Maddock
Jeffrey Price
Peter S. Seaman
Story by Jim Thomas
John Thomas
Based on Characters created by 
by Michael Garrison
Starring Will Smith
Kevin Kline
Kenneth Branagh
Salma Hayek
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Jim Miller
Production
  company
Peters Entertainment
Sonnenfeld Josephson Worldwide Entertainment
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s)
  • June 30, 1999 (1999-06-30)
Running time 106 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $170 million[2]
Box office $222,104,681[2]

Wild Wild West is a 1999 American steampunk western action-comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. A big-screen adaptation of the 1965–1969 TV series The Wild Wild West, it stars Will Smith, Kevin Kline (who appears in dual roles as the protagonist Artemus Gordon and as President Ulysses S. Grant), Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek.

Similar to the series, the film features a large amount of gadgetry. It serves as a parody, however, as the gadgetry is more highly advanced, implausible steampunk technology and bizarre mechanical inventions, including innumerable inventions of the mechanological geniuses Artemus Gordon and Dr. Loveless, such as nitroglycerine-powered penny-farthing bicycles, spring-loaded notebooks, bulletproof chain mail, flying machines, steam tanks, and Loveless's giant mechanical spider.

While popular, Wild Wild West did not live up to its creators' blockbuster expectations, as had Men in Black two years earlier: more than a few viewers and critics felt it repeated things done already in Men in Black. It was a commercial success despite the many negative reviews, who focused on the plot, acting performances and characterization.

Plot[edit]

Starting in a small section of the near South, both Captain James West and Marshall Artemus Gordon hunt for General "Bloodbath" McGrath, who is wanted for mass murder. It points back to when McGrath ordered a massacre in a settlement called New Liberty, where many of the freed slaves were murdered, including West's biological parents. The search leads to a brothel where the two try (unsuccessfully) to arrest him. It leads to a huge brawl and a cart of nytroglycerin crashing into the building that starts a fire. Both West and Gordon, the latter dressed as a woman, escape. Later, in Washington, D.C., West and Gordon meet at the White House with President Ulysses S. Grant, who tells them about the disappearance of America's key scientists and a treasonous plot by General "Bloodbath" McGrath. Grant charges the two with finding the scientists before he inaugurates the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.

On board their train, Gordon examines the head of a murdered scientist and uses a projection device to reveal the last thing the scientist saw. Finding McGrath and a clue in the image, they head to New Orleans, pursuing a lead about Dr. Arliss Loveless, an ex-Confederate scientist in a steam-powered wheelchair, who is hosting a party for the elite of Southern society. West mistakes a female guest for a disguised Gordon and makes an error that results in the guests wanting to lynch West. Meanwhile, Gordon roams the mansion and comes across a caged Rita Escobar, rescuing her. Gordon frees West from the lynching with an elastic rope, and the three escape to their train The Wanderer. On board, Rita asks for their help in rescuing her father, one of the kidnapped scientists, Professor Escobar.

Later, Loveless hosts a reception to demonstrate his newest weapon: a steam-powered tank. The tank uses General McGrath's soldiers as target practice, which angers McGrath. When McGrath demands an explanation, Loveless shoots him and leaves him for dead. As Loveless and his troops head over to Utah, Gordon, West, and Rita find the dying McGrath, who reveals that he was framed by Loveless for the massacre of New Liberty, explaining that Loveless used the tank to kill the people there. Gordon, West, and Rita then pursue Loveless on The Wanderer, but having expected their arrival and using steam powered hydraulics, Loveless maneuvers his train behind The Wanderer. West manages to disable Loveless' train, but not before Loveless uses a cannon-launched grappling hook to stop The Wanderer. Rita, afraid of being recaptured by Loveless, grabs one of Gordon's rigged pool balls and accidentally releases sleeping gas that knocks out West, Gordon, and herself.

West and Gordon wake up as Loveless and his posse pull away in The Wanderer taking Rita hostage, announcing that he intends to capture President Grant at the "golden spike" ceremony. The two stumble across Loveless' private rail line, which leads them to his industrial complex, hidden in Spider Canyon. Here, they witness Loveless's ultimate weapon: a gigantic mechanical spider armed with two nitroglycerin cannons. Loveless uses the spider to capture President Grant and Gordon at the ceremony at Promontory Point, while West is seemingly shot to by one of Loveless' bodyguards.

At his industrial complex, Loveless reveals his plan: to destroy the United States with his mechanized forces unless President Grant agrees to divide the states among Great Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, and himself. Loveless demands that President Grant surrender, but he refuses. Loveless then tries to have Gordon shot in the head if Grant still refuses to surrender, but West, who had survived thanks to chain mail vest, disguises himself and manages to distract Loveless, allowing Gordon to free the captives. Unfortunately, Loveless escapes in the ensuing battle, taking the President with him.

To save the President, Gordon and West build a flying machine to overtake the spider as Loveless attempts to force Grant to sign the surrender. Gordon and West crash onto the spider, and a fight ensues between them and Loveless, now on mechanical legs. Gordon shoots a hole in Loveless's hydraulic line, and all the oil drains from his legs, allowing West to gain the upper hand. This allows Gordon and Grant to defeat the rest of Loveless' guards, and pleading for his life, Loveless drags himself back to his wheelchair as the spider approaches a cliff. Loveless attempts to shoot West with a concealed gun, but hits the spider's control lines, stopping it just before it plunges into the canyon. The abrupt stop leaves West and Loveless hanging precariously from the spider. Loveless tries to decide whether he should pull the chair's lever that will release them or not, knowing it will send both him and West to their deaths if he does so. Loveless taunts West so much, that West pulls the lever himself and survives by grabbing the ankles of a man hanging from a chain (West had thrown him out earlier), while Loveless falls to his death.

Grant promotes Gordon and West as Agent #1 and Agent #2 of his new U.S. Secret Service. Gordon asks which of them is 1 and 2, but the President brushes off the question as unimportant and tells them they will have plenty of time to talk about on the way back. (Since the president lost his train, he takes "The Wanderer" for the ride back) Gordon and West meet Rita again, both planning to court her, but she crushes their hopes, announcing that Professor Escobar is her husband, not her father.

The last scene of the film shows Gordon and West riding through the desert when Gordon asks West "Mind if I ask you a question?" West correctly assuming he will ask who should be Agent 1 replies "Actually, I do, Artie." The camera pans out to show they are actually riding the Mechanical Spider as they ride off into the sunset.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In January 1992, Variety reported that Warner Bros. was planning a theatrical version of The Wild Wild West directed by Richard Donner, written by Shane Black, and starring Mel Gibson as James West (Donner directed three episodes of the original series). Donner and Gibson instead made a theatrical version of TV's Maverick in 1994. The Wild Wild West motion picture continued in the development stage, with Tom Cruise rumored for the lead in 1995. Cruise instead revived Mission: Impossible the following year.[citation needed]

Changes From the Television Series[edit]

Significant changes were made to Dr. Loveless as portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in the film. He went from a dwarf to a man without legs; his first name was also changed from Miguelito to Arliss and he was given the motive of a Southerner who sought the defeat of the North after the Civil War. Kevin Kline plays Gordon, whose character was similar to the version played by Ross Martin except that he was much more competitive with James West, besides being much more egotistical. The film script had Kline's Gordon invent more ridiculous, humor-related, and implausible contraptions than those created by Martin's Gordon in the television series. The film also depicted West and Gordon as aggressive rivals (almost to the point of a mutual dislike and distrust of one another, with one scene showing Gordon going so far as hitting a magnetic collar around West's neck with a rock out of frustration over an earlier mishap that West had gotten them into), whereas in the television series, West and Gordon had a very close friendship and trusted each other with their lives. Also, while Gordon did indeed impersonate Grant in the series ("The Night of the Steel Assassin", "The Night of the Colonel's Ghost" and "The Night of the Big Blackmail") they were not played by the same actor.[citation needed] Additionally, on the TV show, West was portrayed by Robert Conrad, a Caucasian, rather than an African American.

Jon Peters served as producer along with director Sonnenfeld. In a 2002 Q&A event that appears in An Evening with Kevin Smith, writer-director Kevin Smith talked about working with Peters on a fifth potential Superman film in 1997, revealing that Peters had three demands for the script. The first demand was that Superman not wear the suit, the second was that Superman not fly, and the third was to have Superman fight a giant spider in the third act.[3] After Tim Burton came on board, Smith's script was tossed away and the film was never produced due to further complications. A year later, he noted that Wild Wild West, with Peters on board as producer, was released with the inclusion of a giant mechanical spider in the final act.[4] Neil Gaiman has also said that Jon Peters also insisted a giant mechanical spider be included in a film adaptation of The Sandman.[5]

Principal photography[edit]

Principal photography began in 1998. The sequences on both Artemus Gordon's and Dr. Loveless' trains interiors were shot on sets at Warner Bros. The train exteriors were shot in Idaho on the Camas Prairie Railroad. The Wanderer is portrayed by the Baltimore & Ohio 4-4-0 No. 25, one of the oldest operating steam locomotives in the U.S. Built in 1856 at the Mason Machine Works in Taunton, Massachusetts, it was later renamed The "William Mason" in honor of its manufacturer. During pre-production the engine was sent to the steam shops at the Strasburg Railroad for restoration and repainting. The locomotive is brought out for the B&O Train Museum in Baltimore's "Steam Days". The "William Mason" and the "Inyo", which was the locomotive used in the original television series, both appeared in the Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase (1956).

Much of the 'Wild West' footage was shot around Santa Fe, New Mexico, particularly at the western town set at the Cooke Movie Ranch. During the shooting of a sequence involving stunts and pyrotechnics, a planned building fire grew out of control and quickly overwhelmed the local fire crews that were standing by. Much of the town was destroyed before the fire was contained.[6]

Post-production[edit]

The theatrical film was released for summer 1999. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the film (without the definite article used in the series title) made substantial changes to the characters of the series, re-imagining James West as an African-American (played by Will Smith), which included, to a small degree, some of the racial issues that certainly would have made it difficult for a black man to be a United States secret service agent in the late 19th century. (However, at the end of "The Night of the Returning Dead", West and Gordon did invite an African-American character played by guest star Sammy Davis, Jr. to join the department.)[citation needed]

The film bears significant resemblance to the Batman: The Animated Series 1995 episode "Showdown" featuring Jonah Hex.

Controversy[edit]

In 1997, writer Gilbert Ralston sued Warner Bros. over the upcoming motion picture based on the series. Ralston helped create the original The Wild Wild West television series, and scripted the pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno". In a deposition, Ralston explained that in 1964 he was approached by producer Michael Garrison who '"said he had an idea for a series, good commercial idea, and wanted to know if I could glue the idea of a western hero and a James Bond type together in the same show."[7] Ralston said he then created the Civil War characters, the format, the story outline and nine drafts of the script that was the basis for the television series. It was his idea, for example, to have a secret agent named Jim West who would perform secret missions for a bumbling Ulysses S. Grant.

Ralston's experience brought to light a common Hollywood practice of the 1950s and 1960s when television writers who helped create popular series allowed producers or studios to take credit for a show, thus cheating the writers out of millions of dollars in royalties. Ralston died in 1999, before his suit was settled. Warner Brothers ended up paying his family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.[8]

Reception[edit]

Wild Wild West received generally negative reviews from film critics, with a 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 130 reviews. The consensus states: "Bombastic, manic, and largely laugh-free, Wild Wild West is a bizarre misfire in which greater care was lavished upon the special effects than on the script."[9]

On a $170 million budget, the film grossed $113,804,681 domestically and $108,300,000 overseas for a worldwide total of $222,104,681.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Each award was "accepted" in person by Robert Conrad, who had portrayed Jim West in the original series and subsequent TV films. He accepted the awards to show his objections to the movie.

Award Category Subject Result
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Actor Kevin Kline Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Kenneth Branagh Nominated
Worst Supporting Actress Salma Hayek Nominated
Kevin Kline (as a prostitute) Nominated
Worst Screen Couple Will Smith and Kevin Kline Won
Worst Original Song ("Wild Wild West") Will Smith Won
Worst Screenplay S. S. Wilson Won
Brent Maddock Won
Jeffrey Price
Peter S. Seaman
Won
Worst Director Barry Sonnenfeld Won
Worst Picture Won
Jon Peters Won

Soundtrack[edit]

A soundtrack containing hip hop and R&B music was released on June 15, 1999, by Interscope Records. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 and #4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

Score[edit]

The film's orchestral score including its main theme was composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein, a veteran of many straight western movie scores, such as The Magnificent Seven. The score mainly follows the western genre's symphonic tradition, while at times also acknowledging the film's anachronistic playfulness by employing a more contemporary music style with notable rock percussion and electronic organ. The score also briefly incorporates Richard Markowitz's theme from the television series in one cue, uncredited in the film (and not included on the album) – ironically, this was one of the few elements to be faithful to the original series, which also didn't credit Markowitz for the theme. Additional parts of the score were composed by Elmer Bernstein's son, Peter, and daughter, Emilie, served as one of the orchestrators and producers. Thirty minutes of the film's orchestral music were released on CD from Varèse Sarabande in 1999. Elmer Bernstein won an ASCAP Award in the category Top Box Office Films.

  1. "Main Title" – 3:00
  2. "West Fights" – 1:14
  3. "Dismissal" – 2:13
  4. "East Meets West" – 1:15
  5. "Of Rita, Rescue and Revenge" – 5:43
  6. "Trains, Tanks and Frayed Ropes" (Composed by Peter Bernstein) – 4:03
  7. "The Cornfield" – 1:09
  8. "Loveless' Plan" – 4:45
  9. "Goodbye Loveless" (Composed by Peter Bernstein) – 4:33
  10. "Ride the Spider" – 2:14

Songs[edit]

Like most of Smith's films during this period, a hip hop single by the rapper/actor, called "Wild Wild West", served as the promotional theme song for the film, despite its incongruity with the Western tone of the film, where it is only heard during the end titles. Wild Wild West was a #1 hit on the U.S. pop charts, but also won a Razzie Award. It was produced by Rob Fusari, who lifted a sample from Stevie Wonder's 1976 hit "I Wish". The song features guest vocals from R&B group Dru Hill, and was a star-making vehicle for Dru Hill lead singer Sisqó. Old school rapper Kool Moe Dee had recorded a Wild Wild West single of his own in 1987, and re-performs the chorus from his old Wild Wild West as the chorus of this new Wild Wild West. (A performance of the song by Smith, Dee, Dru Hill and Sisqo at the 1999 MTV Movie Awards included Wonder performing a reprise of the chorus on piano.[10])

The song "Bailamos", sung by Enrique Iglesias, is also heard during the film's end titles. The music videos for both end title songs are featured on the DVD.

Several songs not heard in the film itself are featured on the promotional CD album Wild Wild West: Music Inspired By The Motion Picture (released by Interscope Records on June 15, 1999). This includes the song "Bad Guys Always Die", which marked the first collaboration between Dr. Dre and Eminem.[citation needed] ("Wild Wild West" and "Bailamos" are the only songs on the album to be heard in the film.)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn
Razzie Award for Worst Picture
20th Golden Raspberry Awards
Succeeded by
Battlefield Earth