Open main menu

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. The supporting cast features Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek, Ted Levine, M. Emmet Walsh and Bai Ling as well as featuring extensive visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic.

Wild Wild West
Two 19th century gentlemen (an African American and a Caucasian) each wielding guns 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
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 30, 1999 (1999-06-30)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$170 million[2]
Box office$222.1 million[2]

The film was released worldwide on June 30, 1999 by Warner Bros. and was a critical and commercial disappointment, earning only $222.1 million worldwide against a $170 million budget.

Contents

PlotEdit

In 1869, four years after the end of the American Civil War, U.S. Army Captain James T. “Jim” West and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon hunt for Confederate General "Bloodbath" McGrath, responsible for the massacre of New Liberty, a settlement where many freed slaves were murdered including West's parents. President Ulysses S. Grant informs the two about the disappearance of America's key scientists and a treasonous plot by McGrath, and assigns them to find the scientists before he inaugurates the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.

Aboard their train The Wanderer, Gordon examines the head of a murdered scientist, using a projection device to reveal the last thing the scientist saw. The image reveals McGrath and a clue leading them to New Orleans while pursuing a lead about Dr. Arliss Loveless, an ex-Confederate scientist in a steam-powered wheelchair. Infiltrating Loveless’ party, West evades an assassination attempt by one of Loveless' henchwomen while Gordon, disguised as a woman, rescues Rita Escobar, escaping with her and West to The Wanderer. Rita asks for their help in rescuing her father Professor Escobar, one of the kidnapped scientists.

Loveless holds a demonstration of his newest weapon, a steam-powered tank, and angers McGrath by using his soldiers as target practice. Accusing McGrath of "betrayal" for surrendering at Appomattox, Loveless shoots him, leaving him for dead. Gordon, West, and Rita find the dying McGrath, who reveals he was framed by Loveless for the massacre of New Liberty. The three pursue Loveless on The Wanderer but Loveless uses steam-powered hydraulics to maneuver behind them. West disables Loveless' train, but Loveless stops The Wanderer with a cannon-launched grappling hook. Rita grabs one of Gordon's explosive-rigged billiard balls to defend herself but accidentally releases sleeping gas, knocking out West, Gordon, and herself.

West and Gordon wake up as Loveless pulls away in The Wanderer with Rita as a hostage, announcing his intention to capture President Grant at the golden spike ceremony, and leaving West and Gordon in a deadly trap. The pair manage to escape, and stumble across Loveless' private railroad leading to his industrial complex hidden in Spider Canyon, where they witness Loveless' ultimate weapon: a gigantic mechanical spider armed with nitroglycerin cannons. Loveless uses his spider to capture Grant and Gordon at the ceremony while West, attempting to board the mechanized spider weapon, is shot point blank in the chest by one of Loveless' bodyguards.

At his complex, Loveless reveals that he intends to destroy the United States with his mechanized forces unless Grant agrees to divide the states among Great Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, the Native American people, and Loveless himself. Grant refuses and Loveless orders Gordon to be shot, but West, having survived thanks to a chain mail vest from Gordon, disguises himself as a woman and distracts Loveless, allowing Gordon to free the captives.

Loveless escapes on his spider, taking Grant with him, and attacks a small town in an attempt to force Grant to sign the surrender. Gordon and West crash onto the spider via a flying machine, and West battles Loveless' henchmen before confronting Loveless, who is now on mechanical legs. Gordon shoots a hole in Loveless' hydraulic line, allowing West to gain the upper hand as Gordon and Grant defeat Loveless' remaining men. Pleading for his life, Loveless drags himself back to his wheelchair as the spider approaches a cliff. He attempts to shoot West with a concealed gun but instead hits the spider's steam pipes, stopping it abruptly at the edge of a canyon. As West and Loveless hang precariously from the spider, Loveless tries to decide whether to pull the chair's lever and send them both to their deaths. West pulls the lever himself, but survives by grabbing the ankles of a henchmen he threw overboard earlier, while Loveless falls to his death.

Grant promotes Gordon and West as Agents #1 and #2 of his new United States Secret Service, without clarifying who is who, to both Gordon’s and West's chagrin. After Grant departs on The Wanderer to Washington, D.C., West and Gordon reunite with Rita, whom they both attempt to court, but she announces that Professor Escobar is actually her husband. Gordon and West ride into the sunset on the mechanical spider.

CastEdit

ProductionEdit

DevelopmentEdit

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 Jim West (Donner coincidentally directed three episodes of the original series). However, Donner and Gibson instead made a theatrical version of Maverick in 1994. The Wild Wild West motion picture nevertheless 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] 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]

WritingEdit

The film featured several significant changes from the 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 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 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 were not 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, 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.[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]

Principal photographyEdit

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]

MusicEdit

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 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.

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]

ReceptionEdit

Box officeEdit

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 weekend, 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 responseEdit

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 nominationsEdit

Award Category Recipient 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

SoundtrackEdit

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.

Tie-in mediaEdit

A video game titled Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin was published in 1999 to tie-in with the film's release.

LawsuitEdit

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 alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  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 linksEdit