Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.
Every movie is a product of its time, of course, but a lot of science fiction is very much a product of the year (or at least decade) it was made. The irony of a film series like Star Wars is that the technology for the prequels was so much better than for the original trilogy, so there’s a sense of moving forward in time despite going back in time. It means that a lot of science fiction doesn’t translate well into the future. Westworld has some issues with that. When we see things from the robots’ point of view, for instance, it’s not even Atari 2600 graphics quality.
While this does affect the way Westworld looks today, it doesn’t really affect the enjoyment of the film in general. It’s hard to dislike this movie, particularly when its influence is taken into account. John Carpenter credits Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger as a sort of spiritual ancestor to Michael Myers. It’s almost certain that The Terminator wouldn’t exist without Westworld (and probably The Stepford Wives) existing first. Michael Crichton’s own Jurassic Park is just a riff on the ideas that Westworld put forward, substituting genetically reconstituted dinosaurs for gunslinging robots.
Most people are more familiar with Jurassic Park, so I’ll put Westworld in those terms. The movie posits a futuristic adult playground where people pay $1000/day (roughly six grand in today’s money) to live in either Medieval World, Roman World, or Western World. The three “worlds” are populated both by human beings and by androids designed to do whatever the guests want of them. In Western World, this means female androids that are in many cases brothel inhabitants and male androids that are gunslingers who exist to be fought and killed by the guests. Each night, the slain androids are taken back to the factory and refurbished and repaired.
As the name of the film implies, our main characters, John Blane (James Brolin) and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) are headed to Western World, a place where John has vacationed before. Once there, Peter has trouble fitting in until he is provoked into a gunfight by the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner). With the Gunslinger vanquished, the two head off to a brothel for the rest of the night.
But all is not rosy in the futuristic theme park. The machines are starting to act up and malfunction at a much higher rate than expected. They’re refusing to do what the guests want and, worse, are starting to attack the guests in little ways. You can see where this is going. You remember when the dinosaurs got out in Jurassic Park and started attacking the humans? Well, that’s exactly what the robots are going to do here, with the Gunslinger being the implacable, unstoppable force that pursues our heroes until the end of the movie. In other words, just as Michael Myers was based on the Gunslinger, so too were the raptors.
That’s pretty much it. We have about half an hour of set-up, half an hour of things getting crazy, and half an hour of Yul Brynner walking toward Richard Benjamin at a steady pace. It really doesn’t need anything more than that. It’s a high concept film that sells itself entirely on that concept and on the performances.
On the surface, the obvious performance to focus on is that of Yul Brynner. He is the face of the movie in a lot of ways, and the movie would not be nearly as effective without his steely-eyed and remorseless performance. It’s worth looking at a few other performances as well, though. Much of what works in the film is the quirkiness that is Richard Benjamin. That he never really feels at home in Western World and is always just a little nervous is a perfect counterpoint to the overconfident performance of James Brolin. It’s also worth noting the brief comic performance of Dick Van Patten as another Western World tourist who ends up as the sheriff.
In 1973, it would be difficult to say that Westworld wasn’t a really cool science fiction movie. Today, you really have to try to see it from the perspective of more than 40 years ago. Thankfully, this isn’t too difficult, since so many other movies and stories have used this for inspiration.
Why to watch WestworldThere’s a vast amount of science fiction and horror come from here.
Why not to watch: It really looks like it’s from 1973.
I saw the film a few years ago as I thought it was pretty good though I'm more into the TV series that came out recently.ReplyDelete
I've heard nothing but good about the show. Alas, we no longer have HBO or cable/satellite in general.Delete
The look of it is really dated but that can't be helped but it is a fun, if a trifle had to believe, adventure/sci-fi flick. I don't remember much about Benjamin or Brolin but Yul Brynner character stayed with me.ReplyDelete
That's by design. Brynner is absolutely the best thing in the film.Delete
I love this movie. It has that mid-60s-70s dystopian vibe shared by a lot of other science fiction movies of the time and although the tech is dated, some of the ideas aren't. It's a lot of fun and I'm a sucker for technicians trying their best to save others, only to belatedly realize they're also doomed for not putting any manual exits in their control rooms.ReplyDelete
There's a lot of bad design mixed with good design here, and it's great because it's completely believable that people would make that kind of mistake.Delete
I read a recent article about developments in eye prosthetics. The most advanced described would implant photosynthetic cells on the backside of the eyes, which in turn would be connected to nerve endings into the brain, and the number of cells would determine the resolution of the vision. Even with the highest number of cells currently possible, the vision of the wearer would be pixelated, exactly like that of the Gunslinger. So, with that in mind the the tech of Westworld does not look that dated. I think we are just used to that computer graphics should be super high resolution.ReplyDelete
However, why limit an android to mimicking a human? One of my friends has setup a business, Innowiz, that has developed a LIDAR vision for cars that allow a computer to understand everything going on around it. It is super compact and with this installed the Gunslinger would be quite powerful.
Well, you're always limited to the technology of the time. From what I understand, the television show that came from this was pretty good, and used much more impressive tech.Delete