Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Westworld (Crichton, 1973)

I confess the sole reason I decided to watch Michael Crichton's Westworld is because I was trying to track down a sample used in a VNV Nation song ("notify ground crews"). That particular phrase is uttered within the first five minutes of the film, but luckily I stuck around for the rest of the film.

Can someone please tell me (perhaps Little Earl) which movie did the whole "robots/theme park gone crazy" motif first, because watching this movie felt like so many others I'd seen before, but then of course this film came long before any modern day blockbusters.

Westworld was written and directed by Michael Crichton, which by the first 15 minutes came as no surprise. As far as I can tell, Westworld is simply a rough draft for Jurassic Park. Good looking well-to-do white folk go on vacation to a theme park with a slightly futuristic concept - theme park goes haywire - theme park becomes hostile - escape is made.

Westworld stars James Brolin doing his best John Wayne impression and Richard Benjamin. Their characters are on their way to Delos, a futuristic theme park where one can live out their fantasies in one of the Disney inspired theme parks, Roman World, Medieval World, and Westworld. Our heroes choose Westworld and upon their arrival find it to be a fully realized recreation of the wild west, with all the parts played by extremely convincing life-like robots. In fact it's nearly impossible to tell who's human and who's robot, which makes for half the fun.

On their first trip to a saloon Benjamin's character is accosted by the Gunslinger, played with menacingly cold conviction by Yul Brynner. After a quick gunfight Benjamin takes out the Gunslinger and all seems well. Soon we are given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the inner workings of Westworld, where we see the Gunslinger being repaired so he can be used again. We also learn that some of the robots are starting to act strange. Needless to say, the robots all eventually go haywire, with the final third of the film consisting of the Gunslinger as he hunts down Benjamin's character with nary a syllable of dialogue spoken by either for a good 30 minutes.

This is also where I realized that not only was Westworld a rough draft of Jurassic Park, but must have also strongly influenced James Cameron and The Terminator series. Yul Brynner does the relentless robot out-to-kill perfectly. I swear there's even a few shots that Cameron ripped straight off of Brynner's performance. The way Brynner walks, his cold, robotic gaze, even the Terminator's infamous half ripped-off face with the glowing red eye - here the Gunslinger is given strange white glowing eyes, but the effect is nearly identical. I felt like I had seen this all before as I watched, but then again, Westworld came first. Really, I'm half surprised Crichton never sued Cameron for stealing his idea and imagery.

All in all, it's not the greatest film. The characters are fairly boring, not much really happens overall, and there's virtually no falling action after the climax, the film just ends. But Westworld was interesting just for the realization of how many things it's influenced, from The Terminator, to the Simpsons (Itchy and Scratchy land anyone?). And damn, does James Brolin think he's John Wayne.


Little Earl said...

Well you know what a big expert I am on the "robots/theme park gone crazy" genre. I think you may have just discovered the source. Congratulations.

I did not realize that Crichton actually directed movies. That gets me thinking: perhaps I, also a writer, could one day direct!

Sarah said...

I thought I was the only person to have ever seen this movie. Actually, I really thought I dreamed this movie, as a result of watching Jurrasic Park, Deliverance, and Unforgiven all in the same week.

Thanks for reinforcing reality for me.

Herr Zrbo said...

Oh, it's a real film all right. Yes, Crichton directed it. I didn't realize he was that old, considering I never heard of him before the 90s with Jurassic Park, so I was surprised that the film is from '73 (and also, according to imdb, he's dead!)

ninquelote said...

Chrichton was 24 or something when he did Westworld. I believe he was already a published writer by this time. I remember reading a story when I was in high school he wrote about how he was living in some shitty apartment in LA after having just moved there and getting a bit of a reality check about the real glorified life of a screen writer. He actually had a bunch of his books made into really bad movies way before Jurassic Park. Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man, etc. Westworld's a fairly well known movie, but I think his first real commercial success came with Jurassic Park. I believe him and Spielberg were friends and that's how he got a hold of the book rights before Crichton even published it.

Little Earl said...

Yes, Zrbo, he died a couple of years ago. A real tragedy - ripped to shreds by a velociraptor in his Malibu home.