Original Film Review From July, 1999
A few weeks ago, I read an article about "Wild Wild West" where director Barry Sonnenfeld said that he went back for reshoots on the film looking for "10 more laughs". As I sat through the final credits of the film, I was still waiting for one of those ten laughs to surface, but no luck. For those of you who thought that "The Matrix" signaled a fresh, new and creative Warner Brothers, think again.This is the kind of terrible film that we saw in projects like "Batman and Robin" and "The Avengers", only to the limit: the biggest possible sets, the biggest possible effects, the least possible script. The film plays like some unholy Looney Tunes cartoon, a tornado of nonsense spinning across the empty desert settings.
Will Smith plays James West, a secret service agent back in the west, who's teamed up with Artemis Gordon(Kevin Kline), a genius who's a pro at inventing things. What seems like a perfect comic pair completely fails: the two don't even look at each other much and frequently act as if they're trying to make their own movie on their own terms. The enemy is Arliss Loveless, played in a way-over-the-top performance by Kenneth Brannagh, sporting a very weak Southern accent. Supposedly, the film also "stars" Salma Hayek, but she's on hand for somewhere in the neighborhood of two or three minutes.
Smith does his own thing in the role, but you almost have to feel sorry for Kline. Asked to dress as a woman for the character in a few scenes, the look in his eyes says that he'd rather be absolutely anywhere else. The two happen upon a plan by Loveless to kidnap President Grant, and that's about all the plot that's given, stretched out like silly putty for the span of nearly two hours. The duo are given a train to ride around in to go after Loveless and that's where what seems like the majority of the movie is spent, having the two characters chat between each other with the most bland of small talk. Hayek's character has no real purpose in this film other than to be the sex object. There's nothing wrong with a female character being sexy, but her character here is given nothing else to do but show skin. She's a talented actress and I really think this was an impressively poor choice for a role.
The sets are gigantic and overdone, the special effects are dull and boring and after looking at all the millions of dollars that went up on screen, it just makes it all the more obvious how little was spent on this embarassing screenplay. I recently watched Adam Sandler's "Big Daddy", amazed by how little the film has in laughs. "Wild Wild West" even goes further; it's almost a completely empty landscape. It's where jokes go to die. Every joke out in this film simply hits the ground like a brick. What's truly disturbing is how long reaction shots are held; the reaction shot after each and every joke seems to go on endlessly, making me think that the filmmakers actually thought this material was funny. When it becomes truly desperate, the screenplay throws out jokes about race that are disgustingly unfunny and that absolutely made me cringe. The screenplay is amazingly predictable, as well: there were many moments, especially towards the end of the film, where I was able to complete sentences before the actors were able to. And most of all, we're simply not given a reason to care about any of it: the screenplay is so incoherent, it seems to find what's happening next only by sheer luck and even then, what's happening still barely makes any sense or feels like it has any purpose.
The effects are anything but special. Maybe it's the fact that I was so bored at this point, but I didn't find any of Gordon's gadgets entertaining and the biggest effect of all, the 80 foot tall spider that made an appearance in the trailer, is curiously dull- why did Loveless made a spider?(Why do I even care enough to ask?). For a film that was this expensive, the effects aren't terribly great. The spider looks too much like a cartoon and not like anything that would be remotely menacing. I find it rather amazing that Industrial Light and Magic, an effects studio with a solid history and reputation, was responsible for the effects here. The plot is so messy that by this time I hardly cared. I just watched the film, amazed at how much money can be wasted at once. In the midst of spending 150 million on this film, it amazes me that not once did someone stop and see just how terribly things were headed.
The fact that even the film doesn't seem to know where it's headed only hurts the film's pace. The editing is sometimes awkward, making the fact that there was some last minute work done on this film obvious and it just adds to the confusion. I've never really liked any of Sonnenfeld's films that much- he infuses every film with his sort of light, bright and poppy style that causes everything to lack any weight at all- films that are forgettable moments after stepping out of the theater into the Summer sun. "Men In Black" had its moments- this doesn't even come close to anything that film brought to the table.
"Wild Wild West" is really the biggest example of the sort of witless films Warner has pushed out in the past few years, only this time the budget could run a small country for a year. If you were amazed by how bad "The Avengers" was, this isn't much better, but it's almost twice as expensive. It's just another attempt for Warner to push themselves further into their title for the most uncreative studio, constantly putting together another project based on either A. A book B. A franchise C. A TV show or D. Total Formula. This film involves the last three: it's made up of tired elements of formula, they obviously want(ed) a franchise for this film and it's made from a TV show(that no one remembers). "Wild Wild West" is just as uncreative, unoriginal and unexciting. There's not a funny moment here to be found.
A week ago, Sonnenfeld blasted the internet for spreading bad buzz about his film. Then, he seemed like a filmmaker looking to finish his art completely before presenting it. Now, his words seem like that of a desperate filmmaker agressively hiding a king-sized mistake. The year's most expensive film also happens to be the worst.
I want my two hours back.
VIDEO: This is a wonderful looking 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, preserving the excellent cinematography of James Ballhaus, who also did films like "Goodfellas". Excellent clarity throughout, and images are consistently crisp and sharp looking. Colors look excellent and rich throughout, especially during some of the indoor scenes, with all of the various costumes, as well as out in the desert, with the red tones of the sand and mountains as well as the blue skies in the background. Detail is very good, and fleshtones also fare well, looking natural in every scene.
The only flaw that I noticed is a slight bit of shimmering in a couple of scenes. Other than that, there is no grain apparent, or any flaws with the print used. Certainly an excellent presentation for a movie that certainly isn't too good.
SOUND: This is a very agressive soundtrack that makes heavy use of the surrounds and frequently provides a very enveloping experience. Constant gunfire, explosions, whatever. Something's always going on in the soundtrack. I especially liked the flying blades, which sound as if they're flying all around the room. Of course, the scenes with the 80 ft. tall spider sound great, with plenty of bass from each step as well as from the fireballs it shoots out. Elmer Bernstein's score sounds excellent here, filling the room, and dialogue remains clear throughout the film, as well.
MENUS: Nicely animated main menu, featuring scenes from the movie in the background.
Commentary: The commentary track on "Wild Wild West" is done by director Barry Sonnenfeld, whose commentary I also enjoyed on the "Get Shorty" laserdisc. There's something about Sonnenfeld's sort of amused tone of voice that's always quite funny. I also enjoy how his commentaries feel more as if he's talking to the viewer. I'm fairly suprised that Sonnenfeld did a commentary for this film, so I have to give him credit for being a brave guy. That said, I found this commentary enjoyable and informative: Sonnenfeld offers up a lot of interesting technical details as well as some tidbits about working with the various actors. Interestingly, he also goes into why he did the movie; because he always wanted to do a western and thought there weren't too many more chances to make a "western"(after this, there are probably no chances left.)
A lot of the production detail I found pretty informative: Sonnenfeld talks about some of the stunt work as well as where the various scenes were filmed, and on which soundstages some of the sets were built on. Sonnenfeld also knows a thing or two about special effects, having also worked on "Men In Black". He's also able to provide a fairly in-depth discussion about them, and points out various scenes where effects were used, and what kind of effects were needed to achieve certain shots. There are some short pauses, but none become long enough to be distracting. The talk about which stage scenes were filmed on occasionally becomes a little too much, but Sonnenfeld usually follows these comments up with a tidbit about technical details, etc. I could hardly believe though, that Sonnenfeld never talks about the kind of horrible reception this film got during its theatrical release. If you're looking for any sort of comment from the director about how it did, you'll be dissapointed.
I know I was a little harsh (ok, very harsh) on Sonnenfeld in the review of the movie that I did after seeing this in the theater. I've found some of his films sort of enjoyable, but I'm just amazed that anyone could see this as material that was filmable and above that, material that warranted spending 150 million dollars to make.
Trailer: The trailer, letterboxed at 1.85:1, is included.
It's A Whole New West: Documentary: It may be a whole new "West", but it certainly isn't a good one. This is a promotional behind the scenes featurette that originally appeared on HBO. A lot of the usual interviews and behind-the-scenes clips, but enjoyably, there are a few shots that look at how the FX were filmed. Overall, it doesn't add anything to an already poor movie.
Short Documentaries: "Wardrobes Of The West", an interesting look at the costume design of the movie(8 minutes); "Good Guys Gadgets", a look at some of the gadgets and effects of the movie that's fairly informative(a little under 7 minutes); "Loveless's Ladies", interviews with the actresses who are the character's assistants in the movie(8 minutes); "Evil Devices"; a documentary taking a look at the giant spider and other "bad guy" weapons in the film(7 minutes). All of these documentaries are located in the "Loveless's Lair" section. The "Evil Devices" featurette, which takes a look at the scenes where the spider attacks the town, is the one I found the most interesting.
DVD-ROM: Interactive game; behind-the-scenes clips, sampler trailers, web site and also, web events; more. DVD-ROM material will not work on Macintosh computers.
Also: Cast/Crew Bios, Will Smith and Enrique Iglesias music videos, still gallery, "Making Of" for Smith's video.
Final Thoughts The DVD is certainly nicely done, but the movie itself is so bad, I wouldn't even recommend a rental. There's a lot of extras here, but not enough to make it worth purchasing.