Admittedly this review of Westworld (1973) is timed before the UK premiere of the new spin-off TV series completed with 21st century update, I must say its one series I will be watching for sure. Now that I have seen the original film I can come into the series with a stronger context and points of reference. Much the same to Fargo (1996) and the respective series, having that richer understanding of the directors and film itself you have potentially a richer experience. Anyway enough of the hype building for the TV series, onto the original Sci-fi horror which had until recently become an obscure cult film that I had only heard snippets about. I have in-fact got a clip of the film in Cue the Lights (2014) without knowing what the film was about short of being robotic cowboys.
That was until more recently, checking out the trailer that gives more away yet not as big a plot-spoiler if it were released today. Westworld is one third of a theme-park for the rich to spend a week of escapism. Think Disney World but far more immersive, you’d be getting much closer with Itchy and Scratchy Land, visited by The Simpsons with similar consequences. So already I am finding that America wanted to escape from its own realities to it’s past, the mythical frontier space, populated by androids, operated by the Delos Amusement park. To get location that can only be reached by hovercraft, complete with advertisement to further entice the new batch of tourist who are ready and waiting for adult escapism. The focus on the Westworld, completely disregarding Roman world and Medieval world shows how much attentions put into revitalising the genre that is seriously lagging. Returning to an ideal history of that as portrayed on-screen is something I’m sure I might even consider.
As two men, John Blane (James Brolin) on his second visit and eager friend Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) who wants to know and try out everything at Westworld. He’s like a big kid going to Disney world wanting to try out all the rides. Wanting to really play the cowboy even down to the details on his gun belt, it’s all about the authenticity of the experience for him. For John he’s more than happy to show him around. On the surface we have fun place for big kids to go and have some unadulterated fun. Even a few killings without the consequences of going to jail. When they meet the Yul Brynner‘s Gunslinger they discover how much fun then realy=ly can have. Guns that will only shoot at androids’ its like being on the holodeck with the safety mechanisms still in places.
I’m reminded of The Stepford Wives (1975) which takes the android to another level of replacing a mans wife with his ideal, pacified wife who will obey his every command. That was Women’s liberation movement in Hollywood, if you want the ideal technology can replace your wife with a better body and one that doesn’t talk back or has her own mind. I think a few of them are in Westworld when they two friends visit a hotel, however for Peter he takes a while to warm to the idea that he can have sex with a robot having no consequences, no one gets hurt at all, its all harmless escapism for the male visitor. Of course women can enjoy the same pleasures with male counterparts.
It’s a hedonistic theme park that knows no boundaries until the unknown starts to have an effect. There have already been a series of malfunctions at the park, which are overlooked by some of the scientist running it. More concern for profit than for guests safety as a series of faults become more alarming. Beginning as just a few malfunctioning robots, it’s seen across the three worlds before spreading like a virus. Something that could easily have been prevented, ignored in the name of profit. Of course we all know that it wont stop there.
With the reappearance of the gunslinger fresh from being patched up (and some clever upgrades) he is ready for a rematch with more deadly results. The safety’s are off, throwing the visitors back into reality which had escape hits them and hard. As if they are living in a film and they are allowed to be killed off. Brynner has only a few lines in this film, which makes his presence all the more felt. An aging gunslinger who can still stand his ground is not about to be messed around (for the last time). His is danger in android, he can’t be stopped, a super gunslinger complete with a sensory upgrade so he can’t miss his target. Its becomes a game of cat and mouse as technology has broken free and malfunctioned, man left powerless to their own creations. Brynner is definitely silent and deadly making for a hard nose bad guy who is the ultimate, no safety over-rides can stop him.
From Michael Crichton who I’m know mainly from Jurassic Park (1993) this plays on the same theme of complacency of technology before humanity losing control. Our reliance on it for our own amusement must be monitored. We are slowly getting to the point that Crichton has depicted, yet these are still pleasures for the rich, not the general public. In Westworld the sense of wonder is soon replaced with pure dread – 70’s style which HBO looks to have successfully updated, looking on sentience of the androids, its no longer about human pleasure. I’m looking forward to the blend of modern Western and Science fiction, how the film has been since updated and ultimately expanded.