Director Barry Sonnenfeld takes aim at Warner Bros., the Internet, and ''The Matrix'' for ''West'''s negative press

By Liane Bonin
Updated June 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Will Smith, Wild Wild West

The latest Will Smith romp ”Wild Wild West” doesn’t hit theaters until June 30, but negative buzz on the film is already building. According to director Barry Sonnenfeld, bungling by Warner Bros. executives is to blame for the pre-release sniping. ”Basically, we had a test screening for the wrong audience,” the ”Men In Black” director tells EW Online.

According to Sonnenfeld, his problems began when he requested an early test screening despite studio fears that audience feedback would reach the Internet. ”The studio was so afraid that they told the audience they were coming to see a screening of ‘The Matrix,”’ says Sonnenfeld. With the ”West” screening scheduled just one week before the Keanu Reeves film was due to be released, the theater full of sci-fi fans was less than thrilled with the bait-and-switch maneuver. ”The entire audience booed,” groans Sonnenfeld. ”Have you ever heard of an audience booing over seeing a Will Smith comedy? When the cards came back, on the part where people wrote what they liked least about this movie, 20 percent said, It wasn’t ‘The Matrix.”’

Sonnenfeld says the audience feedback was mostly positive. Even so, it was the isolated griping that quickly reached the Internet and was soon picked up by the mainstream press. ”The Internet, and the bad reporting based on the Internet, is ultimately going to hurt the quality of movies,” says Sonnenfeld, who uses audience reactions to fine-tune comic timing. ”Studios are freaked out, and now they don’t want to have any more recruited audience screenings. But it’s a tool directors use, and it’s one I need really early. And now I can’t have it. Now I don’t know where the laughs are.”

Sonnenfeld is urging Net surfers to approach posted friend-of-a-friend reports the same way they might those dreaded e-mails offering free trips to Disneyland and Microsoft stock. ”You can ruin a movie through anonymous reviews on the Internet,” he says. ”And don’t for a minute think that studios themselves aren’t anonymously writing good reviews for their own movies and bad reviews for other movies.” Now, there’s a conspiracy theory we haven’t seen on ”The X-Files.”

Men in Black

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 98 minutes
  • Barry Sonnenfeld