Thursday, 27 August 2015

Movie Review: Westworld (1973)


A low budget science-gone-wrong thriller, Westworld is engaging enough but runs out of steam in its final act.

The Delos amusement park features three "worlds" to serve as vacation resorts for the rich traveler. Western World provides a taste of the wild west, Medieval World recreates the dark ages, and Roman World offers the sinful opulence of a corrupt empire. The resort is populated by highly sophisticated robots in human form, programmed to offer the human vacationers excitement, adventure, thrills and sex. The robots are supposed to never harm the humans.

Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John (James Brolin) are friends who travel together for a vacation at Western World. It's Peter's first trip, and he has many questions, while John has been at the resort before and is back for another make-believe dose of the western frontier. Once the vacation starts all seems to go well, with Peter and John enjoying interactions with The Gunslinger robot (Yul Brynner), the company of prostitutes, a confrontation with the Sheriff robot, and a wild bar fight. But the technicians running the resort start to notice that the robots at all three worlds are going off script, and guests are starting to suffer injuries. Peter and John's adventure will turn from carefree fun to deadly serious.

Writer and director Michael Crichton would go on and evolve most of his concepts about scientific inventions turning on their human creators in the wildly successful Jurassic Park. Westworld is more an incubator of ideas rather than a stellar film. There is plenty to enjoy and ponder, but ultimately the film boils down to two thirds seen-it-before western set-pieces and one third routine chase action, all hampered by stiff acting, wooden dialogue, and a pervasive sense of a cheap production trying to look more expensive than it can get away with.

While Crichton takes his time to set up the premise and sell the lure of resorts offering make-believe adventures for adults, the film offers little to explain what is going wrong and why. Faceless technicians scurry around with worried expressions when the robots start to misbehave, but other than some quick one-sentence theories about a contagion, not much else is presented to explain why the robots may have transformed into murderers. And the absence of a kill switch in such technologically advanced robots is a critical oversight that receives no attention.

Ironically, once the robots turn to killers, the film loses most of its thrust. The final third is a slow moving and relatively uninvolving chase between The Gunslinger and Peter. Crichton does offer a few ideas that would be picked up and developed in future and better film, including the robot's stubborn indestructibility and his pixilated point-of-view. And once the violence starts, the blood and gore visuals are not spared. But the climax is hampered by the absence of a credible threat: Peter always seems to be faster, smarter and more resourceful than the cumbersome Gunslinger.

Yul Brynner, packing a few too many pounds and barely saying 10 words in the entire film, nails the beady eyed look of a robot gone bad. James Brolin and Richard Benjamin are perfectly suited to the grade B production values.

Westworld is worth a visit, but it could have delivered more: what makes science veer off in the wrong direction is more interesting than a slow chase with a six-shooter.






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