As I’m sure you’re all aware, a couple of months ago the world went nuts for 10 weeks with the release of the new HBO series: Westworld.
While I chose not to partake in watching this groundbreaking piece of television, I thought it might be worth taking a look back at the original inspiration.
So, fellow holiday makers, let us take a journey into the tourist attraction known as…
Written and directed by famed novelist Michael Crichton, Westworld introduces us to Delos, the company who’ve created the world’s most intricate and advanced amusement park. For $1,000 per day you are invited to take part in one of three recreations of human history: Medieval World, Roman World and the titular Westworld.
Returning to the park is John (James Broslin), who has brought along his friend and first time visitor Peter (Richard Benjamin). Together they enjoy the experience of the Old American West.
But not all is as it seems as a robot known only as The Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) seems to have taken an odd interest in the duo.
Kicking off with a commercial reminiscent of Starship Troopers, it is honestly amazing how forward thinking Westworld actually is. Hovercrafts, synthetic skin, artificial intelligence, computer viruses. Even the concept of a sex robot is something they’re working on today! It was even ahead of its time in its depiction of the dangers from automated computer systems.
While fundamentally a Western with Sci-Fi influences, the film takes the time to touch upon the more ethical and philosophical dilemmas that might arise from the existence of such an industry. True these are not delved into too deeply, à la Star Trek, but I assume this was done in order to retain some semblance of audience entertainment.
Indeed it’s clear why audiences flocked to make Westworld MGM’s biggest hit of 1973. The million dollar budget has been well used to bring three distinct worlds to life (four if you count the “real world”); while special effects-wise the film is obviously primitive, but still holds up reasonably well, especially when it comes to the famed unmasking scene.
The inclusion of the wonderful Yul Brynner is a stroke of genius. While he may have thought he was slumming it when he took the role, Brynner helps bring the deadly attributes of The Gunslinger to the fore through nothing but a frightening stare and an unstoppable nature. If anything his performance could be considered an early forerunner to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator.
But its undeniable that the lack of Brynner in terms of screen-time is a tad of a disappointment. While I was aware that the Oscar winning actor would be taking a secondary role, I was expecting a villainous role in the vein of Tom Cruise in Collateral. In other words: supporting yet significant.
Indeed this disappointment also extends into the third act as it becomes clear from its meandering nature that Michael Crichton had no idea how to end the piece in an engaging or effective manner.
While Westworld has lost a lot of its original flavour during the intervening four and a half decades; its undeniable that the premise of the piece is still as engaging as it was back then. With a solid rewrite of the third act maybe it could have been elevated into a defining piece of sci-fi cinema; but even with such flaws it is still a memorable and must see product of futurist film-making.