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|Wild Wild West|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Sonnenfeld|
|Based on||The Wild Wild West
by Michael Garrison
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||Jim Miller|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$222.1 million|
Wild Wild West is a 1999 American steampunk western action comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. It was written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock (whose previous collaborations include the Short Circuit and Tremors franchises), along with Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. A big-screen adaptation of the 1960s TV series The Wild Wild West, it stars Will Smith, Kevin Kline, 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.
Wild Wild West was a commercial disappointment, earning only $222.1 million worldwide against a $170 million budget, and received predominantly negative reviews.
In 1869, 4 years after the end of the American Civil War, U.S. Army Captain James West (Will Smith) and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) hunt for Confederate General "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine), who is wanted for mass murder, throughout the Southern United States. This is due to McGrath ordering 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 nitroglycerin crashing into the building, starting a fire. Both West and Gordon—Gordon dressed as a woman—escape. Later, in Washington, D.C., West and Gordon meet at the White House with President Ulysses S. Grant (Kevin Kline), 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, 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, pursuing a lead about Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), 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 (Salma Hayek), 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 accuses him of "betrayal" for surrendering at Appomattox, then 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, explaining that Loveless used the tank to kill the 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. Rita, afraid of being recaptured by Loveless, grabs one of Gordon's explosive 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 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. 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 by one of Loveless's 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, the Native American people, and himself. When Grant refuses to surrender, Loveless orders Gordon to be shot. However, West, who had survived thanks to a chain mail vest Gordon gave him, disguises himself 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 build a flying machine to overtake the spider as Loveless attacks a small town in an attempt to force Grant to sign the surrender. Gordon and West crash onto the spider, but manage to grab on the beam before they can fall and Munitia, one of Loveless's henchwomen, falls to her death after the collision. After West defeats the henchmen below, throwing one off the spider after tying him to a chain, a fight ensues between him and Loveless, now on mechanical legs. Gordon shoots a hole in Loveless's hydraulic line, allowing West to gain the upper hand. This allows Gordon and Grant to defeat Loveless's 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 steam pipes, 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 the henchman he threw 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, as he takes "The Wanderer". Gordon and West meet Rita again, both planning to court her, but she crushes their hopes, announcing that Professor Escobar is actually her husband.
Gordon and West ride through the desert together. Gordon asks West "Mind if I ask you a question?" West replies "Actually, I do, Artie." The camera pans out to show they are actually riding the mechanical spider.
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.
Discussions with Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld began in February 1997. 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 Steve Wilson and Brent Maddock were rewriting the script between April and May 1997. 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, but was pushed to April 22, 1998. 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."
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, 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. Additionally, on the TV show, 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' massacre at New Liberty).
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. 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. Neil Gaiman has also said that Jon Peters also insisted a giant mechanical spider be included in a film adaptation of The Sandman.
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 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 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.
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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.)
In the scene where Jim West appears as a dancing girl, he surreptitiously whispers to Artemius Gordon that "this brassiere is killing me". However, the modern brassiere was not patented until 1899; thirty years after the events purported in the film.
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." 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 Bros. ended up paying his family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.
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." On Metacritic the film has a score of 38 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
On a $170 million budget, the film grossed $111.8 million domestically and $108.3 million overseas for a worldwide total of $222.1 million. In its opening weekend the film grossed $27.7 million, finishing first at the box office.
|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|
Peter S. Seaman
|Worst Director||Barry Sonnenfeld||Won|
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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.
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. 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.)
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", recorded by Dr. Dre & Eminem. ("Wild Wild West" and "Bailamos" are the only songs on the album to be heard in the film).
A video game was published in 1999 to tie in with the film's release, Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin.
The movie is referenced in episode #25 of the podcast Grand Moff Talkin', alluding to the fact that one of the co-host actually gave the inspiration for Salma Hayek's character in the movie.
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