Westworld [retro review]

“You say something boy?”

The Scoop: 1973 PG, directed by Michael Crichton and starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin

Tagline: …Where nothing can possibly go wrong!

Summary Capsule: …And then something goes wrong!

Justin’s Rating: Shall we dance, Mr. Brynner?

Justin’s Review: Stop me if you’ve heard of this movie: based on the writings of scifi hack Michael Crichton, a group of tourists travel to a remote theme park which is on the cutting edge of technology. While there, the park suffers a massive breakdown, and many of the visitors are killed because of things rampaging amok.

Or how about this one: there’s an unstoppable robot, armed with a gun, who is relentlessly pursuing a man in order to kill him, and will not stop or be begged off or reasoned with. Many first person POV shots from the robot’s perspective are shown, and the robot itself doesn’t have much to say other than glinting with disturbing robotic eyes.

Jurassic Park? The Terminator? Strangely enough, no. We step into the Wayback Machine and travel to the distant era of 1973, when both of these film plots were smooshed into a minor cult classic called Westworld. Undoubtedly, this film influenced the other two, both of which took those elements and ran much further with them, but it’s interesting to look back and see them together.

While supposedly science fiction, the look and feel of Westworld is so decidedly 70’s that you can’t really fool yourself into thinking that this is any possible future of ours. Noted. Nowhere is this worse than the opening minutes, where an annoying interviewer, garbed in some of the worst threads the 70’s had to offer, comes on screen to chat with people who just visited the new and spectacular Delos resort. It’s honestly the worst few moments of the film, which picks up and gets a heckuva lot better once the opening credits roll.

We find ourselves en route to the resort itself, where buddies Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) are heading for a relaxing week away from the world. John is the confident, relaxed sort who’s done this before; Peter is a nervous twitch of a man with a cheesy moustache that pegs him for “Mob Informant #2” at most movie police stations. They’re headed to “Westworld”, one of three sections of the resort (the other two are “Roman World” and “Medieval World”), to live a week in the wild, wild west…

Uh-oh. Sorry, but I have to do this:

Wickie wickie wild wickie wild wickie wickie
Wild Wild West, Jim West, desperado, rough rider
No you don’t want nada
None of this, six gun in this, brotha runnin this,
Buffalo soldier, look it’s like I told ya
Any damsel that’s in distress
Be out of that dress when she meet Jim West
Rough neck so go check the law and abide
Watch your step with flex and get a hold in your side
Swallow your pride, don’t let your lip react,
You don’t wanna see my hand where my hip be at,
With all of this, from the start of this,
Runnin the game, James West tamin’ the west so remember the name
Now who ya gonna call?

Again, apologies. Back to our normally scheduled review.

Instead of using live human actors to fill in the resort towns, apparently mankind is so advanced in 1973 that they’re able to create highly advanced robots that look, feel and talk like us (with a couple minor exceptions). This is done so that the guests have free liberty to screw or kill whoever they want. Seriously. So when a gunslinger (the creepy Yul Brynner) picks a fight with Peter, Peter’s at free liberty to plug the dude and not feel guilty about all of that fake robot blood all over the floor. Each night, the resort’s crew gathers up the “dead”, patch them back together, and sends them back to play with the guests the next day. It’s an interesting idea, although I’m not sure that the charged $1,000 a day for guests quite covers the cost of repairing highly advanced androids who have multiple bullet holes through their casing and innards. Also, wouldn’t you feel a bit iffy about being in a park with robots who have been beat up and patched up so many times that they’re pretty much being held together by Elmer’s glue and Scotch tape?

This might be why, due to unknown circumstances, a minor computer glitch becomes a major one in all of the park’s robots, and they go completely berserk, killing any hu-mans they see. The film’s explanation for this is that the robots have been, for a while now, designing the computers that go into the new robots, and the humans have little or no idea what makes them tick anymore. Yes, that’s always a smashingly good idea that’s worked out for so many other scifi people in various stories. Captain Kirk would like to have a word with you.

It’s at this point that the film takes a sharp twist from a light-hearted Western comedy to a much darker survival thriller. One of the friends finds himself on the run from the gunslinger, who — after being killed twice already — seems to have a personal vendetta against the guy. The remainder of the film is essentially a drawn out cat-and-mouse chase between robot and human, amidst a resort of death. It’s just 1973, though, and any of the more extreme violence is mostly left up to your imagination. I thought it was a nice touch to see the resort’s computer crew find themselves locked into an airtight control room, powerless to leave or do anything about the rampaging robots.

While a tad slow at times and lacking a truly visceral punch at the end, Westworld is well made and an enjoyable romp that samples from a number of different genres. Plus, Brynner’s cold, creepy smile is far more disturbing than Schwarzenegger’s deadpan. EASTMAN! He came out of the east to do battle with the amazing Westworld!

“Dead people, long hallway, creepy atmosphere. Okay, now I’m SURE I’m not in ‘It’s A Small World After All’ any more!”

Intermission!

  • When the Gunslinger robot is splashed in the face with acid, Yul Brynner’s face was coated with an oil-based makeup mixed with ground Alka-Seltzer. A splash of water then produced the fizzing effect.
  • The robot that Yul Brynner portrays is an homage/spoof of his character Chris from The Magnificent Seven and wears the same costume.
  • Peter manages to avoid the gunslinger by pretending to be a powered-down android on a table in the workshop. However, the gunslinger’s infra red vision is able to discriminate between the two, as later shown in throne room.
  • The first use of computer digitized images as part of a feature film (not merely monitor graphics) was the Gunslinger’s point of view in Westworld. After the process was finally developed enough to produce satisfactory results, it took a mere eight hours to produce each ten seconds of Gunslinger’s pixellated POV.

Groovy Quotes

Robot Gunslinger: Sloppy with your drink? Get this boy a bib!

Peter Martin: You talk too much.
Robot Gunslinger: You say something boy?
Peter Martin: I said you talk too much.
Robot Gunslinger: Try to make me shut up.

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