Wild Wild West
Westerns are traditionally packed with horse action, gunfights, and lots of stunts. This summer's blockbuster, The Wild Wild West, is no different, providing a comic twist to the adventure film filled with 19th century gadgetry reminiscent of a James Bond movie set in the old west. The film is based on the popular 1960's television series of the same name that starred Robert Conrad as James West, who was "fictitiously" billed as America's first Secret Service Agent. This newest version stars Will Smith as West and Kevin Kline as Artemus Gordon, his inventive partner. Together they battle the evil Dr. Loveless played by Kenneth Branagh who, with a few diabolical gadgets up his sleeve, is intent on assassinating President Grant.
- Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branaugh, Salma Hayek
- Director(s): Barry Sonnenfeld
- Producer(s): Jon Peters, Barry Sonnenfeld
- Screenwriter(s): Jill Thomas
- Distributor: Warner Bros.
- Animal Coordinator: Rudy Ugland
- Release Date: Wednesday, June 30, 1999
Featured Animal Action
The Film and TV Unit was on set throughout filming and documented the many stunts, explosions and gunfights that involved horses. We also covered the live action tarantulas and scenes using a dog. AHA monitored the training and preparation in pre-production as well as the action during filming. In the opening sequence, a water tower is accidentally pulled over by a wagon drawn by a team of horses. West comes toppling out of the water tower landing on the canvas cover on the wagon. The horses spook and take off with West who must stop the runaway team before they plummet over a cliff. To accomplish this scene, several movie tricks were employed. Along with professional stuntmen doubling for the actor, ther was special rigging on the wagon and the water tower was cabled to prevent any accidental collapse of the structure that might endanger the animals or actors. The wagon was fitted with landing boards to distribute the stuntman's weight and reduce the concussive effects of the jumps as West appears to leap between the team and save the day. The runaway team was actually controlled by a professional wrangler who was hidden in a "driving" box using reins that were unseen by the camera. Pick-up riders were also in place for each take. During filming, a second roadway was constructed parallel to that of the wagon's so that the camera truck could follow alongside to film the action. The truck was outfitted with four cameras including a "steadycam" that captures the full range of action. The AHA field representative rode in the camera truck to monitor the action thoroughly and insure the safety of the horses. The path of the wagon was checked by AHA before the run and the condition of the horses was checked before and after every take. For a dramatic point of view, a special camera called an EYEMO was mounted into the roadway to capture the view from below of the horses' thundering hooves. This camera was designed in the late 1920's and is very compact and lightweight, but can be fitted with a variety of modern lenses. It was placed in the path of the horses but was able to be recessed in the roadway to prevent creating any obstruction that might spook the horses traveling at full gallop. Its small size, (eight to ten inches tall by six inches wide), is easily camouflaged and often used as a stunt camera. Since it can only hold one minute of film, it was activated by remote control as the horses approached the optimum position. This daring ride culminates in an actual cliffhanger. Filmed in many cuts, the horses appear to stop just at the cliff's edge but were never in any real danger. A special platform with railings was constructed and the horses were placed on their marks. Wranglers were positioned next to and behind the horses holding the bits and assuring the animals. Camera angles prevent the audience from seeing these safety precautions. When West and Gordon meet in Washington DC to receive their assignment from President Grant, tarantulas are seen crawling over a massive cake that is displayed in the White House. Real tarantulas were used for this scene. Special tubes were constructed in the prop cake and the tarantulas were placed inside the tubes that were loosely capped with aluminum foil. On the call for "action" the cap was removed and the spiders were prompted from below with soft tissue "pushers". The tarantulas naturally gravitated to the light and proceeded to crawl over the top of the cake. In another scene it appears that a wasp is attacking a tarantula and then flies off with its prey. For this scene the wasp was actually created using CGI - Computer Graphic Imaging. The tarantula was real and lightly harnessed with a fine monofilament thread. In post-production, computer graphics make the wasp appear to attach itself to the back of the tarantula. Filming the real animal with no wasp present, the harness was used to lift the tarantula making it appear as if the insect was trying to shake free of its attacker. The scene was shot in cuts so that the live tarantula could be positioned on it's back. It naturally kicked its legs to make itself turn right side up. When filmed using the CGI wasp, it will appear as if the tarantula is fighting its attacker. At no time was the insect in danger. However, the tarantula of note in the film is a mechanical invention of Dr. Loveless. This diabolical bug appears to be eighty feet tall, wields guns and fire throwers and is on a mission to destroy an entire town. Created with computer graphic imaging (CGI), the giant bug is not actually present during filming of the scene with the horses or actors who run from the fire and explosions. For some of the effects, one leg of the huge monster was actually built by production and weighed 16,000 pounds. To create the illusion of chaos that the mechanical monster generates, trained bucking, rearing and falling horses were used. The scene was shot in cuts and experienced stuntmen and wranglers controlled the horses and wagons. The scene was planned in pre-production and choreographed carefully. Rehearsals began at a walking pace and were gradually speeded up over time until the entire sequence could safely be done at full speed. This took approximately a month. The explosions and fire were controlled using fire bars, air mortars, squibs and intricately designed "breakaway" walls so that debris would fall away from the actors and animals. None of the horses were closer than 50 feet from any explosion. The camera angles, editing and much of the sound that was added in post-production made the action seem dangerous. Horses were wetted down with water and their ears were plugged with cotton. All of the horse falls were accomplished by trained falling horses and the ground was prepared ahead of time with hay and sand to soften the area. Later in the film when the President's train is blown up, many of the same precautions were in place. Glass windows in the train were either removed or replaced with prop "candy" glass. Fire bars controlled the flames and for added protection firemen with a 2,000 gallon water truck were on set. All the horses were checked by AHA representatives before and after each take. Explosions were timed so that all animals and personnel reached "safety zones" before the blasts occurred. When gunfire was used around the horses, only quarter loads were allowed, per AHA Guidelines. Explosions were also no louder that quarter loads. There is one scene with a dog that is a comedic interpretation of how the RCA logo was created. The famous logo shows a dog with its head angled toward the large Victrola horn or "gramophone" that acted as the speaker for the early record turntable. For this scene, the dog was trained with voice and hand commands. Upon hearing the voice of the trainer coming from the direction of the small gramophone that replaced a villain's severed ear, the dog sat and cocked its head toward the familiar sound. When the dog jumps off the lap of a character, the surrounding area was padded. The only other animal in the film was a wasp and it was created using CGI.