November 12, 2012

Westworld (1973)

MENTION THE NAME “MICHAEL CRICHTON,” and most people think of the best-selling author of thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Disclosure, and Rising Sun.

But in the early 1970s – after witnessing the animatronic people at Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride – Crichton wrote and directed his feature-film debut, Westworld.

In the near-future of Westworld, people can spend $1,000 a day to visit Delos, an adult-themed amusement park where guests live out their wildest fantasies. Comprised of three worlds (Medieval World, Roman World, and Westworld), Delos is inhabited by robots who look, act, sound, and even bleed just like the human guests. Like Disney World, Delos is supported by an elaborate underground control center, where a staff of technicians controls the robots and the scenarios, and provides repair to robots damaged in the action taking place.

It’s Westworld where our leading men are headed: manly man John (James Brolin) and nebbish Peter (Richard Benjamin). Once they arrive, the two have lots of fun with saloon whiskey, loose women, bar fights, and jailbreaks. They even engage in shootouts, often with a steely-eyed troublemaker dressed in black (Yul Brynner). Everything’s good-time, rootin’-tootin’ fun – until the robots start malfunctioning and killing the guests.

Throughout Westworld, Crichton teases at the potential breakdown of the Delos parks: the supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) voices his concern, a malfunctioning robo-rattlesnake bites John, and a Medieval World wench (Anne Randall) refuses a guest’s seduction. These minor glitches soon develop into to deadly attacks on the guests, with a fatal swordfight in Medieval World, a violent riot in Roman World, and Brynner’s gunslinger coldly gunning down a Westworld guest.

While Brynner is in Westworld for less than half its running time, his robotic gunslinger steals the film. In an homage to his character from The Magnificent Seven (he even wears the same outfit), Brynner portrays the perfect blend of ice-cold killer and calculating humanoid, with a piercing stare made extra chilling by Brynner sporting light-reflecting contact lenses.

After shooting one of our leading men dead, Westworld’s gunslinger methodically pursues the survivor through all three Delos parks – thumbs hooked in his gun belt, eyes fixed on his target, and using thermal vision (shown in POV) more than a decade before Predator.

Yes, Westworld has its plot holes, it dips into camp on occasion, and a lot of the dialogue (especially between Brolin and Benjamin) is disposable. But it’s still a very entertaining film that’s essentially the blueprint for Crichton’s more ambitious themepark-run-amok story: his 1990 novel Jurassic Park.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Westworld is rated PG, though if it was released today it may have been PG-13.
Violence/Scariness: Several people and robots are shot or stabbed, with blood pouring from the wounds; a robot is set on fire and fully engulfed in flames; John and Peter shoot a robotic rattlesnake; the Delos technicians suffocate after the park’s breakdown cuts off their air supply.
Sex/Nudity: John and Peter sleep with robot hookers at the saloon; one of the hookers is shown topless from the back.
Profanity/Language: Two occurrences of “God damn it.”

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Westworld feels like a film you’d enjoy by yourself, with friends, or possibly with your tween or teen son. Unless your FilmMother is a sci-fi fan, or a Crichton fan who wants to see his filmmaking debut, I’m guessing she’ll pass.

Boy, have we got a vacation for YOU!

* Director: Michael Crichton
* Screenwriter: Michael Crichton
* Stars: Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner, Dick Van Patten, Alan Oppenheimer
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Westworld from Netflix >>


Kal said...

I loved this one as a kid and spent half the film why my favorite Cowboy, Chris (what kind of name for a cowboy was that anyways?) went rogue and the other half pooping my pants. I had no idea that Crichon was the director of this one.

Retro Hound said...

I'd never been interested in watching this before, but I guess I really didn't know much about it. From your description, it sounds exactly like something I'd love.


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