Wild, Wild West and Steampunk Movies

I just made 13 first-year university students watch the 1999 film version of Wild, Wild West, starring Will Smith and Salma Hayek, and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.  I feel sort of guilty.

It’s a bad film.  Even Roland Barthes would be challenged to find something meaningful to say about it.

It does, however, have some of the most overt, willful steampunk imagery of any film in the last two decades.  Having watched it again, most of the groaningly bad parts seem like they’re trying to be playful, but failing.  Steampunk’s a playful genre.  That approach ought to work, but doesn’t.

I’ll post my student responses here later in the week.

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2 Responses to Wild, Wild West and Steampunk Movies

  1. Richard Cephal says:

    Casting Will Smith for the roll of James West was a mistake. First, he doesn’t resonate with the time period – his actions, his mannerisms, his features. Second, he doesn’t resonate with the original Character from the series – hello, he’s black. It’s as simple as brand labeling. You recognize a brand by what it looks like, logo and feel and character. It is developed that way for a reason. It becomes appealing. You stick with it. You have a market. You change that, and you lose the market. The agenda of making a point of pointing out Will Smith and his race during the entire movie and pointing out the race issue and attitude by Will’s character in the movie was a huge distraction. Perhaps the point will be made clear in say, thirty years, when Django Unchained is remade and the Character of Django is filled by a white actor. I’m certain we’ll come to an understanding at that point. Some things you just don’t mess with, regardless of your agenda.

  2. nathanielwms says:

    I felt like a lot of the movie’s laziness came from reliance on Smith’s star power. Sort of a “don’t bother to make sense, just let Will act charming and people won’t care.” Well, people cared. They learned the hard way: you can’t replace plot with charisma.

    But generally I’m OK with completely re-imagining an established narrative, so casting a black actor in a role originally played by a white guy was fine with me. Just don’t expect that an actor to do the screenplay’s work, regardless of his or her ethnicity, talent, or appeal.

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