Film Review: Westworld (1973)

SYNOPSIS:

An unforeseen robot malfunction creates havoc and terror for unsuspecting vacationers at a futuristic, adult-themed amusement park called Westworld.

REVIEW:

“Delos is the vacation of the future, today” says a stiff and plain looking interviewer at the start of Micheal Crichton’s Science Fiction film “Westworld” released in 1973 Starring James Brolin (Ha, I almost put “Josh” instead), Richard Benjamin and the late Yul Brenner. Westworld is Crichton’s movie directing debut and the first film to use digital effects of the day to simulate how Yul Brenner’s “Gunslinger” android sees the world around him. Suffice it to say since it’s 1973 and the mages are just huge pixels. It’s easy to observe that many of the situations, themes and storylines here are later put to good use again in Crichton’s novels “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World”. A place where the over-priveliged rich get spoiled, pampered and are able to live out their wildest fantasies at a futuristice vacation resort which consists of Westworld, Medieval World and Roman World. Sounds very¬†daring and cool, no? Well, it isn’t exactly what the vacationers had in mind.

The movie starts slowly and a bit stiffly when the interviewer asks several vacationers about their experience at the resort. Each person is enthusiastic, happy and willing to return to the Park in the future. Its right after this brief set up that we are introduced to John (Brolin) and Peter (Benjamin) while being transported to the park in a funky looking sort of Hover-craft.¬†John has been to Westworld before and he has nothing but good things to say about the place. During the ride in, John repeatedly tries to re-assure Peter that the park is safe and that other than the patrons everyone else is an android. John tries to get Peter to relax and have a good time. Eventually they land and get settled in at their Hotel/Brothel all done up like the old west. Old western style saloons, streets, horses, barkeeps¬†and even prostitutes. Regarding the¬†femal “robots” Peter still has some reservations but is consoled by John who takes a different approach when dealing with the females.

Eventually John gets Peter to relax and enjoy himself at the Saloon and have some drinks. It’s here that the bad ass “Gunslinger” played by the smooth and ever so bald, Yul Brenner, comes in. He bumps into Peter and without apologizing, begins to taunt him. All the while John is urging Peter to have a duel with him. It happens and as a result, The Gunslinger loses while having been shot 3 or 4 times in a bloody outcome. Afterwards, Peter starts to join in on the fun and begins to understand what Westworld is all about. It’s about letting yourself have fun and getting into the spirit of it. Then yet again, the next day, The Gunslinger is taken down by Peter right after he barges in on him while bathing. He just never gives up.

While John and Peter settle in we are introduced to and follow a group of anti-septic and very serious Control Room workers and scientists that oversee the 3 Parks from a Central Hub or Lab. They monitor things like, the vision, habits, dialog, interactions and patterns of the pre-programmed Robots in each of the 3 Parks. These scenes are pretty cool though a bit dated. There are spinning reels inside huge computer banks, lights fashing, buttons lighting up¬†and¬†huge monitors. The¬†Chief Supervisor of the¬†control room gradually realizes that there are some glitches among the programs that run the robots. Some robots do not react like they should or even deny sexual advances or special requests from the patrons. While out in the desert, camping (after a night of hooking up with the female ‘Bots of Westworld), John is inexplicably bitten by a rattlesnake. Here things start to go awry. The Supervisor starts to notice that there is a gradual breakdown and some sort of system failure that is being spread thorugh the 3 Parks. There is an eerie night-time scene, done pretty well, where workers come into town and “clean up” the robots and androids from the street. It’s quietly done and quickly executed. The workers pick up damaged or “shot” robots and even dead robot horses that are carried away into large trucks for transport. It’s a very weird scene. Afterwards, the robots are placed on a conveyor belt and moved into the repair facility where the anti-septic repair team fix them up for the next day.

Then in a blink of an eye all hell breaks loose. There is a fantastic bar brawl where every punch sounds the same. We get slow motion fights and bodies flying onto tables, falling off verrandas and even a dozen of whiskey bottles to the head. One of the best parts of the movie. Plain old wacky fun. John and Peter wake up the next day, still at the saloon and very hungover. They make it to the street and slowly work their way back towards the hotel. Not before The Gunslinger, new and improved, shows up yet again. John tells Peter to let him handle it this time but The Gunslinger proves too fast for John and shoots him dead. At this point the 3 parks are already in upheavel with the robots randomly execuiting all of the patrons. It is pure bedlam and The Chief Supervisor has lost control of the park. Peter retreats on a horse with Yul Brenner on his tail.

Westworld” was a lot of fun to re-visit. One reason being that we get to see how Micheal Crichton handles his first foray into directing. His science is real, accurate and interesting. Even when we don’t know what it all means. His sets are clean and stark. The lighting bright and even eerie when need be. Like the night time “pick up” scene. His characters are very likeable and even comedic. Dick Van Patten is a hoot here as an non-confident patron who is a nervous and¬†quirky fellow. Still, he¬†eventually takes over as Westworld’s Sheriff and joins in on the fun. He even gets locked out of his own Jail. Crichton gives us all the western style trappings (there is even a jail breakout!) with the science fiction element never becoming an overall distraction. Westworld is obviously the precursor to “Jurassic Park” It is fun and harmless after all these years. Some things do feel dated (The music by Fred Karlin and the POV effects of The Gunslinger) but it does not distract terribly at all. It’s part of the charm. Crichton has a great eye for detail and the last 45 minutes are grueling and exciting. It is an ingenious blend of sci fi and adventure that is seldom seen these days. Brolin and Brenner are amazing here. They both give restrained and comfortable perrformances. Obviously Brenner stealing the scenes he’s in. Benjamin can come across a bit lost at times. He doesn’t quite sell me that he’s in any danger. At the film’s climax he comes around and finally settles in but not before coming across as a bit clunky. All in all a great re-watch for me. Perfect Friday night or Saturday afternoon viewing. Followed by the sequel Futureworld (directed by Ricard T Heffron) Starring Peter Fonda and a short lived TV series. Enjoy!

Westworld (1973)

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