Friday, 30 September 2016


Title: Westworld
Director: Michael Crichton
Released: 1973
Starring: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Norman Bartold, Alan Oppenheimer, Victoria Shaw, Dick Van Patten, Linda Scott, Michael Mikler
Plot: In the near future a high tech amusement park has been created in which guests can act out their fantasies in one of the three “worlds”. However when the park androids begin to malfunction they soon start to turn on the guests. 

Review: While Michael Crichton might be best known as a writer, having given us the likes of Congo, Jurassic Park and Disclosure he is should be equally recognised for his work as a director with this film not only marking his debut as a director but also the first film to use 2D computer imagery.

Opening with a reporter greeting returning Delos guests sharing their experiences of playing knights or cowboys, engaging in shoot outs and marrying princesses before we are shown the introductory video to the resort which outlines the three worlds they have created West World (Wild West), Medieval World and Roman World with each promising their own experiences within their lifelike settings. We also meet Peter (Benjamin) and his friend John (Brolin) who are both paying $1,000 per day to live out their cowboy fantasies despite Peter being sceptical about the whole experience. 

In many ways a test run for “Jurassic Park” as here we get another hi-tech park suffering a major malfunction, only this time instead of rampaging dinosaurs we get homicidal androids who’ve forgotten the fact that they aren't supposed to be killing the guests. The idea behind the parks though is fantastic with guests being free of any kind of moral quandary over the actions they make thanks to the park being staffed with android actors for the guests to engage with as well as seduce and kill. This of course is just what Peter and John want of course as they play out their gunslinger fantasies, while casually giving a thought to joining in a bank robbery while they hook up at the local brothel. 
The androids in the three worlds all play a variety of roles, while programmed to respond to the guests or provide cues to engage with them in shootouts or romantic dalliances, while going into a state where they just repeat themselves if a guest misses their cue, bringing back memories for myself of the restaurant scene in Cronenberg’s “Existenz”. Yul Brynner is unquestionably brilliant as the gunslinger as he essentially plays the android version of his character in “The Magnificent Seven” and perfectly projects a cold and emotionless exterior, only ever showing emotion when he’s running through one of his scripted lines and as a result gives us the perfect villain of sorts for the film and in many ways a forerunner for the unrelenting killing machine that James Cameron gives us in “The Terminator”.
Unlike “Jurassic Park” the issues with the park here aren't caused by sabotage but instead a technical breakdown that the technicians can’t resolve because they don’t fully understand how the technology actually works. The lead up till the collapse of the park though is subtly done as more of the androids start to malfunction as we build up to the final chase between Peter and the unnamed android gunslinger (Brynner) as he tries to escape through the other worlds. it’s during this build up we also get to see hints of the inner workings of the park as a team of engineers work through the night to reset scenes and clean up shoot out’s the guests seemingly none the wiser of the work they are carrying out to maintain their fantasies.
While Westworld might be the main focus, Crichton also gives us passing glances of the other worlds, mainly to show how the breakdowns are spreading across the park and possibly as an excuse to work a sword fight into what is essentially a sci-fi western with one of the guests engaging in a length battle with the medieval world villain who unsurprisingly is “The Black Knight” the same as Westworld’s black clad gunslinger. Sadly we never get to see who the villain of Roman world is.

While Peter and John might initially be setup as being the heroes of the film, here Crichton instead does something unexpected as he follows the pair on their cowboy fantasy only to in the finale suddenly have one of them suddenly and unexpectedly shot dead leaving the survivor to spend the final 15 mins running away from the Gunslinger. It’s an unexpected ending especially when it doesn’t see either of our supposed heroes stepping up and becoming the hero they are playing at being.

A strightforward story which throws out some intresting ideas and ones which Crichton obviously explored further with “Jurassic Park”, while a sequel “Futureworld” and a short lived series “Beyond Westworld” attempted to expand the world further with little success and while the forthcoming HBO series aims to take another crack at this world this remains a fun curiosity if ultimately too disposable to be considered high sci-fi.

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