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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/7/99

Wild Wild West
1999 (1999) - Warner Bros.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Wild Wild West Film Rating: D-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A-/B+

Specs and Features

106 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:13:18, in chapter 22), Snapper case packaging, commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld, theatrical trailer, documentary HBO First-Look: It's a Whole New West, 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes (4 for the film and 1 for the music video), cast & crew biographies, gallery of production stills, music video for Will Smith's Wild Wild West (with Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee), music video for Enrique Iglesias' Bailamos, DVD-ROM features (including an interactive game, 10 more behind-the-scenes featurettes, genre essays, links to web events and chat rooms, the film's original web site, and "sampler" trailers for 8 other Warner Bros. films), animated film-themed menus with music and sound effects, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

"You can't just go rammin' a man's personal things into some hole like that!"

All right, I want hazard pay for this. Wild Wild West is one of the most painful, asinine films I've ever had to sit through. I missed this one in theaters, and heard all the complaints about it from those weren't so lucky. But I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt - how bad could it be, right? Well it's bad. Really bad. You wanna know how bad? The line above is an actual piece of dialogue Will Smith's character says in the film's first five minutes. And after watching those first five minutes, I wanted to throw myself under the wheels of a fast moving train. But no - I stuck with Wild Wild West through to the end. So this is my review.

As most of you know by now, the film is loosely based on upon the 1960's CBS TV series of the same name, which starred Robert Conrad ("who unlike Will, is white and shorter," as director Barry Sonnenfeld so eloquently notes in his commentary - more on that in a minute). In the 1990's version, Will Smith takes a turn in the lead role, as a fast-talkin', butt-kickin' U.S. Army Captain named James West. He's been tasked by President Ulysses S. Grant to find a number of the country's leading scientists, who have been kidnapped by a rogue Confederate General for some unknown purpose. Also assigned to the task is U.S. Marshall and cracker jack inventor Artemus Gordon (played by Kevin Kline). Naturally, the two get along about as well as oil and water. But it doesn't take them long to discover that a fiendish genius named Arliss Loveless (played I don't know why by Kenneth Branagh) is behind it all, and that he's got a dastardly plan to take over the fledgling country. Can our dubious duo stop him before his 80-foot mechanical spider (which is no surprise when it appears because it was in all the trailers) destroys the U-nited States of America? Do you really care? And did I mention that Salma Hayek bares her tits in the film's thrilling climax? Okay, I'm just kidding - you don't get to see her tits. Which is too bad, because if you did, that MIGHT have made this film worth sitting through. You do get to see a fair amount of her bare ass though - that's no joke.

Barry Sonnenfeld is a wonderful cinematographer, with such films as When Harry Met Sally, Big and Raising Arizona to his credit. He should stick to cinematography. I mean, who reads a script like this and says, "Wow! I gotta do this film!" And it's really a shame too, because I can sort of see what they were going for, and with darker, more serious-campy writing (as opposed to hip 1990's one-liner-quippy writing), this could have been cool. The production design gives you a hint of it - the 80 foot spider tank? The half-man, half-machine villain? That's some cool stuff there. And aside from Hayek, this is a capable cast. But all that gets sunk by terrible dialogue and some of the silliest plot twists I've seen in a long time. As a result, Wild Wild West is so ponderous and overblown that it collapses under its own weight.

Naturally, the DVD for a piece of crap like this ends up being quite good. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and it looks darned nice. The colors are accurate and vibrant. There's excellent contrast and shadow delineation. The sole strike against the picture is a hair too much edge-enhancement, which causes some ringing and noise on fine detail. And there's a lot of fine detail in the picture - the ceiling inside Loveless' secret base for example, or the fine mechanical widgets on the aforementioned walking spider. Still, if it falls somewhat short of reference quality, the video is still very good looking. The audio is more impressive, with clear and well placed dialogue, generally good ambiance, thunderous bass, and lots of great little 5.1 tricks. Just listen to the sound of the marching spider at the start of chapter 26 - you can hear the legs churning away, moving from front-left to front-right to left-rear to right-rear. This is fun Dolby Digital surround sound.

There's also a wagon-load of extras on this disc, but they're a pretty mixed bag overall. To start with, you get a really boring commentary track featuring Sonnenfeld. Remember that terrible line I started this review with? Well just as Will Smith is forced to utter it on-screen (while making out with a babe in a water tower tank), Sonnenfeld has this remarkable insight to share with us: "That girl's name is Garcelle and she was really fun to work with. She actually wasn't wearing a top at all, and I found myself going up to the tank a lot to give direction, just to look at Garcelle." A short time later, during the film's first major fight sequence, he has this to add: "You're about to hear the funny sheep sound effect… that wasn't my idea, but I really like it." Oh… my… God.

There's a lot more of course - extras on the disc I mean - but at this point, I could really have cared less. I'll still run them down here for you anyway. You get the HBO First-Look documentary on the making of the film, It's a Whole New West, which runs for about 15 minutes. There are a series of 5 to 10 minute featurettes on various aspects of the production. You get a theatrical trailer, a gallery of production stills, cast and crew information and a pair of soundtrack music videos (including Will Smith's Wild Wild West). And there are a number of DVD-ROM features as well, including an interactive game, "Artemus Gordon's Mind-Projection Theater" (which gives you access to 10 more behind-the-scenes featurettes), genre essays, links to web events and chat rooms, the film's complete web site and "sampler" trailers for 8 other Warner Bros. films which "also have TV series roots". Whatever.

Can you tell that I don't much care at this point? The thing that really bugs me, is that Warner's DVD staff obviously spent a lot of time and effort on this disc. And I would much rather have seen that effort directed at DVD for a better film. Don't get me wrong… Wild Wild West is not a bad disc by any stretch. In fact, it's kinda cool. Normally, I'd be recommending it to you by now, especially given the fact that you can get it for a great price most places. But I just can't do it. 'Cause I'm pretty sure that if I did, you wouldn't respect me in the morning.

Bill Hunt
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