The Vintage Revisits: Westworld (the movie!)

westworld

When you first hear the premise of Westworld, an adult theme park where patrons can relive a particular historical era until robots go awry and kill everyone, it sounds perfect for a television show that can spend seasons worth of time building the vast environment and inner workings of such a place. Surprisingly enough at the original conception which was a 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton, jammed all that into 90 minutes, and quite unsuccessfully. Not from a financial standpoint as the film was a box office hit earning $10 million and that’s in 1970’s dollars. It spawned a sequel (Futureworld) and a previous flop of a TV Show (only 3 episodes aired) which is proof that audiences and executives have been in love with the concept which is why it is continually resurrected. Where the original falls short is that it is fairly poorly structured as a screenplay and directed by an inexperienced Crichton. The fact that with these flaws my feelings still skew positively is a testament to the foundation that’s so intriguing and that it can carry a film that otherwise falters under its ineptness.

To an extent why I give it a pass is because it starts so strong. It kicks off with news footage or more likely a promotional video where a chipper interviewer speaks to guests leaving the park about their experiences. In a tongue and cheek manner, people knowingly smile as the articulate how much they enjoyed the hunky men in Romanworld and shooting outlaws in Westworld (the visitor hoping he only shot robots and not real people). It’s a great tactic to build up the excitement for these time travel Disneylands before we even arrive. We’re then introduced to our protagonists Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John (James Brolin as Christian Bale) a situation where I couldn’t figure out who was the main character until one of them dies at the midway point. These seeming strangers who are actually friends (another script problems) embark on their vacation of drinking and debauchery in Westworld. The film jumps around between their experience, some other unknown characters in Medievalworld and the row of nameless control room operators who direct the action while ordering their lunch. The film manages to be specific enough that you understand the intricacies of running this park as each night deactivated robots are cleaned up off the roads and taken underground for maintenance and how these humanoid A.I.s interact with the either with sexuality or violence but show signs of overriding their programming yet at the same time is vague enough that you don’t care about all these people who die at the hands of vengeful machines. It’s entertaining to watch our heroes get into bar fights and seduce whores (which leads to the most bizarre, dissolve heavy sex scene ever) but I don’t care or even understand why robots want to massacre them. The main villain is the Gunslinger played by Yul Brynner who Michael Myers-esque stalks Peter the whole movie for some unestablished vendetta.

Why this expansive plot can be carried out in 90 minutes is because there’s not a second act. The movie goes from the exposition of the parks and behind the scenes to Gunslinger killing John and everything going to shit. If you didn’t guess it by now, this movie is a prototype for Jurassic Park. Westworld is very top-heavy with exposition and escalates so quickly with nothing to transition that in between where JP cultivates an amazing group of characters and starts with the bang the initial T-Rex escape but still can build tension after that climactic turn. The third act or second act (whatever it is) in this case has its creepy moments and unexpected brutality for what had been a bright movie but lacks any pathos because you don’t have the reasoning for the machine’s malice other than the 70’s fear of uncharted technology. At least for JP, dinosaurs are just being dinosaurs which entails eating humans. These robots are fed up I guess but no emotional cognizance has been presented to show that they don’t like their designed enslavement. Peter is as baffled and relinquished as us as he runs from the Gunslinger maintaining the most neutral and uninterested expression.

It’s still a fun hodgepodge of ideas that obviously needed twenty years and Steven Spielberg to do correctly. I would breakdown Westworld as 75% set up, 10% robots going crazy and 5% laborious horse chase and I like that 75%. It’s so 1970’s future a la Logan’s Run with its blocky hovercrafts and light bright switch boards which are always a delight. Overall though it’s just a brilliant concept. The delineation from what would be repurposed into Jurassic Park is that Westworld is a strictly adult resort and I like the choice to keep the movie as such. It’s perfect for HBO because they can maintain that hard R rating as the appeal is the idea of an amusement park that caters to vices and immoral acts that you can’t commit in normal society that’s paired with the sweeping backdrop of a period piece. This movie is a great pitch that someone has finally realized how to form into prestigious television. Give me characters to root for, complexity to the A.I. and most importantly, spare no expense.

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