Wild Wild West is a 1999 western-comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. based on the TV series The Wild Wild West.
It was released on June 30, 1999 by Warner Bros.
Plot[edit | edit source]
Starting in a small section of the near South, both U.S. Army Captain James West and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon hunt for Confederate 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 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 should West and Gordon step outside of the trap they are in they will be killed.
Escaping the trap 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 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 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 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 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 actually her husband.
The last scene of the film shows Gordon and West riding through the desert.
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.
Changes from the TV Series[edit | edit source]
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.
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."
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Will Smith as Captain James T. West
- Kevin Kline as U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon / President Ulysses S. Grant
- Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Arliss Loveless
- Salma Hayek as Rita Escobar
- M. Emmet Walsh as Coleman
- Bai Ling as Miss East
- Ted Levine as General "Bloodbath" McGrath
- Frederique van der Wal as Amazonia
- Musetta Vander as Munitia
- Sofia Eng as Miss Lippenrieder
- Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon as Belle
Production[edit | edit source]
Development[edit | edit source]
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).
Instead, Donner and Gibson 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 of 1997.
Warner Bros. pursued George Clooney to co-star as Artemus Gordo 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 of 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.
The filming was expected to begin in January of 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."
Principal photography[edit | edit source]
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.
Post-Production[edit | edit source]
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 depart).
Reception[edit | edit source]
Box Office[edit | edit source]
"Wild Wild West" opened at number one at the box office, grossing $27,687,484 during its opening weekend. By the fifth week, it dropped to #13.
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.
Critical Reception[edit | edit source]
"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."
Roger Ebert gave the movie one star, saying, "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. You know something has gone wrong when a story is about two heroes in the Old West, and the last shot is of a mechanical spider riding off into the sunset."
Bob Graham from the San Francisco Chronicle said, "The term "Will Smith action comedy" doesn't quite do "Wild Wild West" justice. Contraption comedy is more like it."
Accolades[edit | edit source]
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.
|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|
Controversy[edit | edit source]
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.