Sunday, January 15, 2012

Westworld (1973) & Futureworld (1976)


           Best-selling author Michael Crichton made his feature-film directorial debut in 1973 with Westworld, based on his original script about a high-tech amusement park for adults. It’s a crudely made film, both in terms of narrative structure and production values, but the idea is so fascinating and the visuals are so rich that it’s one of the most memorable sci-fi pictures of the decade, especially since it contains a relentless villain who undoubtedly provided some inspiration for the Terminator character that Arnold Schwarzenegger first played a decade later. The story takes place at Delos, a super-expensive resort divided into three elaborate environments: Medieval World, Roman World, and Westworld. A grown-up spin on Walt Disney World, these realms are populated by lifelike robots that engage in realistic combat with guests, allowing visitors to feel as if they’re emerging victorious from gladiatorial contests, jousts, and shootouts.
            The movie follows two city-slicker businessmen, played by James Brolin and Richard Benjamin, who travel to Westworld for an exotic getaway. However, as tends to happen in cautionary tales, something goes wrong, so the robots start turning on the guests. The biggest menace is Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), a robot dressed as a black-garbed Old West outlaw, and as in the Terminator movies, part of the thrill of watching Gunslinger’s rampage is seeing his faux flesh ripped away to reveal glimpses of the technology underneath. Characterization and plotting are thin, and Benjamin struggles to infuse his role with a semblance of individuality, but the movie zooms along during 88 brisk minutes, providing just enough escapist jolts to make Westworld a fun ride.
          The movie did well enough to justify a sequel, made without Crichton’s participation. Futureworld lacks the no-nonsense gusto of its predecessor, tackling a somewhat more complex story as it sprawls over 108 leisurely minutes. Although the acting in Futureworld is much better than that in Westworld, the convoluted conspiracy-themed plot drags. Blythe Danner and Peter Fonda play reporters who travel to a new Delos attraction, Futureworld, in order to investigate why a journalist was killed when trying to expose something about the Delos organization. The movie drifts through several sorta-exciting scenes, including an unimpressive bit set in a room simulating the weightlessness of space, before becoming a straight-ahead thriller as Danner and Fonda strive to escape Futureworld with their lives. (In the movie’s weakest moment, Brynner reprises his Gunslinger role for a pointless dream sequence.) Futureworld ends on a strong note, with Fonda brandishing his signature antiestablishment attitude, and Danner is credible and lovely throughout, offering a strong counterpoint for Fonda’s easygoing persona.
          However, neither Westworld nor Futureworld truly lives up to the potential of Crichton’s underlying premise, so it’s no wonder plans for a remake of Westworld have been underway for years. (Futureworld is available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)

Westworld: FUNKY
Futureworld: FUNKY

1 comment:

Cindylover1969 said...

And then there was the TV series "Beyond Westworld," about which the less said the better.