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Wild Wild West

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Wild Wild West
Two 19th century-looking gentlemen (an African American and a Caucasian) each wielding guns and behind a giant metallic "W" are facing the viewer. Beneath them is a giant flame-spewing mechanical spider, the film's title and credits.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Sonnenfeld
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Based onThe Wild Wild West
by Michael Garrison
Starring
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byJim Miller
Production
companies
  • Peters Entertainment
  • Sonnenfeld-Josephson Worldwide Entertainment
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 30, 1999 (1999-06-30)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$170 million
Box office$222.1 million[2]

Wild Wild West is a 1999 American steampunk western action comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and written by S. S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. Loosely based on The Wild Wild West 1960s TV series created by Michael Garrison, the film stars Will Smith and Kevin Kline as two Secret Service agents who protect President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States during the American Old West. The supporting cast features Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek, Ted Levine, M. Emmet Walsh and Bai Ling.

Produced by Peters Entertainment and Sonnenfeld-Josephson Worldwide Entertainment, the film was released worldwide on June 30, 1999 by Warner Bros. and was a critical and commercial disappointment, grossing $222.1 million worldwide against a $170 million budget.[2]

Plot[edit]

Four years after the end of the American Civil War in 1869, U.S. Army Captain James "Jim" T. West and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon hunt for Confederate General "Bloodbath" McGrath throughout the Southern United States due to ordering a massacre in a settlement called New Liberty where many of the freed slaves were murdered, including West's biological parents. President Ulysses S. Grant informs the two about the disappearance of America's key scientists and a treasonous plot by McGrath to which he assigns them to find the scientists before he inaugurates the First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory, Utah.

On board their train The Wanderer, Gordon examines the severed head of a scientist using a projection device to reveal the last thing the scientist saw. Finding McGrath and a clue in the image, they head to New Orleans while 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. After evading an assassination attempt by one of Loveless' henchwomen, West mistakes a female guest for a disguised Gordon resulting in the guests wanting to execute West. Meanwhile, Gordon roams the mansion where he comes across and rescues a caged woman named Rita Escobar. Once West, Gordon and Rita escape to The Wanderer Rita asks for their help in rescuing her father Professor Escobar, who is one of the kidnapped scientists.

Loveless hosts a reception to demonstrate his newest weapon which is a steam-powered tank that uses McGrath's soldiers as target practice. When an angered McGrath demands an explanation Loveless accuses him of "betrayal" for surrendering at Appomattox, shoots McGrath 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 and that Loveless used the tank to kill his people there. The three 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's train but not before Loveless uses a cannon-launched grappling hook to stop The Wanderer. Afraid of being recaptured by Loveless, Rita grabs one of Gordon's explosive rigged pool balls to protect herself but 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 and also that West and Gordon will be killed should they step outside of the trap they are in. Escaping the trap, the two stumble across Loveless's private rail line which leads them to his industrial complex hidden in Spider Canyon. They there witness Loveless's ultimate weapon, an 80 ft. mechanical spider armed with two nitroglycerin cannons which Loveless uses to capture President Grant and Gordon at the ceremony at Promontory Point while West is shot by one of Loveless's bodyguards after sneaking inside.

At his industrial complex, Loveless reveals that he intends to destroy the United States with his mechanized forces unless President Grant agrees to divide the states among Great Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, the Native American people and himself. When Grant refuses to surrender, Loveless orders Gordon to be executed but West (who had survived thanks to a chain mail vest Gordon gave him earlier) disguises himself as a woman and manages to distract Loveless allowing Gordon to free the captives. Unfortunately, Loveless escapes on his spider in the ensuing battle taking the President with him.

To save the President, Gordon and West crash onto the spider via a flying machine as Loveless destroys a small town in an attempt to force Grant to sign the surrender. After West defeats Loveless' henchmen below, a fight ensues between him and Loveless who is now on mechanical legs. Using a small gun, Gordon shoots a hole in Loveless's mechanical legs allowing West to gain the upper hand and for Gordon and Grant to defeat Loveless' other guards. 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 instead hits the spider's steam pipes, stopping it just before it plunges into the canyon. The abrupt stop leaves West and Loveless hanging precariously from the spider to which Loveless attempts 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. West decides to pull the lever himself and survives by grabbing the ankles of one of the henchmen he threw out earlier while Loveless falls to his death.

Later, Grant promotes Gordon and West as Agent #1 and Agent #2 of his new U.S. Secret Service. Gordon asks which of them is one and two, but the President brushes off the question as unimportant and tells them they will have plenty of time to talk about it on the way back as he takes The Wanderer. Once the President leaves, Gordon and West meet Rita again whom they attempt to court but she foils them by announcing that Professor Escobar is actually her husband, not her father. The film ends as Gordon and West ride into the sunset on the mechanical spider.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In January 1992, Variety reported that Warner Bros. was planning a theatrical feature-length adaptation of The Wild Wild West which was to be directed by Richard Donner, written by Shane Black and star Mel Gibson as Jim West (Donner coincidentally directed three episodes of the original series). However, Donner and Gibson instead made a theatrical adaptation of Maverick in 1994. The Wild Wild West film nonetheless continued in the development stage with Tom Cruise rumored for the lead in 1995. Cruise instead revived Mission: Impossible the following year.[3]

Discussions with Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld began in February 1997.[4] Warner Bros. pursued George Clooney to co-star as Artemus Gordon, with Kevin Kline, Matthew McConaughey and Johnny Depp also in contention for the role while S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock were rewriting the script between April and May 1997.[5] Clooney signed on the following August, dropping out of Jack Frost and writers Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman were brought aboard for a rewrite. Filming was expected to begin in January 1998[6] but was pushed to April 22, 1998.[7] In December 1997, Clooney dropped out citing an agreement with Sonnenfeld: "Ultimately, we all decided that rather than damage this project trying to retrofit the role for me, it was better to step aside and let them get someone else."[8]

Writing[edit]

The film featured several significant changes from the original television series. For example, Dr. Loveless as portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in the film went from a dwarf to a man without legs; his first name was also changed from Miguelito to Arliss and 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 Jim West besides being much more egotistical. The film script had Kline's Gordon create more ridiculous, humorous and implausible inventions than those by Martin's Gordon in the television series. The film also depicted West and Gordon as aggressive rivals whereas in the television series, West and Gordon had a very close friendship and trusted each other with their lives. 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 weren't played by the same actor. Additionally on the TV series West was portrayed by Robert Conrad, a Caucasian rather than an African American — which serves a critical plot point as West's parents were among the victims of Loveless's massacre at New Liberty.

Jon Peters served as producer along with director Sonnenfeld. In a 2002 Q&A event that appears on An Evening with Kevin Smith, writer and 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.[9] 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 Smith 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.[10] Neil Gaiman has said that Peters also insisted that a giant mechanical spider be included in a proposed film adaptation of The Sandman.[11]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began in 1998. The sequences on both Artemus Gordon's and Dr. Loveless's 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 1956 Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase.

Much of the 'Wild West' footage was shot around Santa Fe, New Mexico, particularly at the western town film set at the Cook 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.[12]

Music[edit]

The film's orchestral score including its main theme was composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein, a veteran of many western film 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 even included in the soundtrack) – 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 while daughter Emilie served as one of the orchestrators and producers.

All tracks are written by Elmer Bernstein, except as noted.

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

Like most of Will Smith's films during the 1990s, a hip hop single by the rapper/actor titled "Wild Wild West" served as the promotional theme song for the film. Wild Wild West was a #1 hit on the U.S. pop charts, but also won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song. 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.[13]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Wild Wild West opened theatrically on June 30, 1999 alongside Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures' R-rated South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and grossed $27.7 million in its opening day (Wednesday), ranking first at the North American box office. The film closed on October 7, 1999, having grossed $111.8 million domestically and $108.3 million overseas for a worldwide total of $222.1 million against a budget of $170 million.[2]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 17% based on 131 reviews with an average rating of 4.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "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."[14] On Metacritic the film has a score of 38 out of 100 based on 25 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[15] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[16]

Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one star out of four, stating that "Wild Wild West is a comedy dead zone. You stare in disbelief as scenes flop and die. The movie is all concept and no content; the elaborate special effects are like watching money burn on the screen."[17] Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave the film a negative review, saying that the film "leaves reality so far behind that its storytelling would be arbitrary even by comic-book standards, and its characters share no common ground or emotional connection."[18]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Recipent Result
Golden Raspberry Awards 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
ASCAP Award Top Box Office Films Elmer Bernstein Won
Kids Choice Awards Best Original Song "Wild Wild West" Won
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Supporting Actress - Action Salma Hayek Won
ALMA Award Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film Salma Hayek Nominated

Soundtrack[edit]

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

Video game[edit]

A tie-in action-adventure video game titled Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin was published in 1999 by SouthPeak Interactive.

Lawsuit[edit]

In 1997, writer Gilbert Ralston sued Warner Bros. over the upcoming feature film 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."[19] 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. However, Ralston died in 1999 before his suit was settled resulting in Warner Bros. paying his family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Wild Wild West (12)". British Board of Film Classification. 1999-06-22. Retrieved 2013-06-30.
  2. ^ a b c "Wild Wild West (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. 2000-01-01. Retrieved 2013-06-30.
  3. ^ "What The Film?! – Wild Wild West - Under the Gun Review". Underthegunreview.net. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  4. ^ Michael Fleming (February 12, 1997). "Fox hopes to create pix Magic". Variety. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  5. ^ Michael Fleming (April 10, 1997). "Gooding ready for Redding". Variety. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  6. ^ Anita M. Busch (August 5, 1997). "Clooney ices 'Frosty,' but goes 'West'". Variety. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  7. ^ Andrew Hindes; Dan Cox (April 9, 1998). "Hayek tames 'Wild West'". Variety. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  8. ^ Michael Fleming (December 8, 1997). "DeVito checks into 'Room'". Variety. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  9. ^ Cronin, Brian (2009). Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed. Penguin Group. p. 25. ISBN 0-452-29532-7.
  10. ^ "Kevin Smith talks about Superman". YouTube. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  11. ^ "The "MirrorMask" Interviews: Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean". Comicbookresources.com. 15 September 2005. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  12. ^ "'Fire in the Wild, Wild West". Dallasnews.com. 2000-08-27. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  13. ^ Performance of WILD WILD WEST on 1999 MTV MOVIE AWARDS on YouTube
  14. ^ "Wild Wild West". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  15. ^ Wild Wild West Reviews - Metacritic
  16. ^ "CinemaScore". Cinemascore.com. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  17. ^ "Wild Wild West". Roger Ebert. 1999-06-30. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  18. ^ "'Wild, Wild West': Gadgets, Bond Girls and Men in Chaps". Janet Maslin. 1999-06-30. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  19. ^ Bernard Weinraub (July 8, 1999). "'Wild West' Showdown For Early TV Writers; Lawsuit Seeks Royalties for 60's Series". The New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  20. ^ The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2005

External links[edit]

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