Westworld (1973) Film Review

At the time of writing I haven’t watched the series of the same name, so i would be reluctant to add any commentary comparing the two iterations. Conversely many of you did not know the successful series was derived from this cult classic. Either way – sling your saddle and grab your guns cos we’re going to WESTWORLD! (Also : SPOILERS)

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“In the then-future year of 1983, a high-tech, highly realistic adult amusement park called Delos features three themed “worlds”: Western World (the American Old West), Medieval World (medieval Europe), and Roman World (the ancient Roman city of Pompeii). The resort’s three “worlds” are populated with lifelike androids that are practically indistinguishable from human beings, each programmed in character for their assigned historical environment. For $1,000 per day, guests may indulge in any adventure with the android population of the park, including sexual encounters and a simulated fight to the death. Delos’s tagline in its advertising promises “Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”

The promo intro delivers all the exposition information the viewer needs and within the first 3 minutes.

The trepidation and cautiousness the characters initially feel walking into the resort is shared by the audience. At this stage we have only seen glimpses of Westworld, hand-picked and carefully ambiguous. We’re walked through the world alongside the central character. We’re introduced to the rules and the laws at the same manageable pace he is.

The soundtrack alleviates the mood of sections that could otherwise appear quite sinister, and sinister is something this film does well. The music changes to scratchy ominous tones and percussion with tasteful timing. The music becomes very agitated and directed at key plot points thanks to the wonderful Fred Karlin. These shifts are not only unconventional and tone-setting they are fantastically and tastefully jarring.

The obvious Michael Crichton (writer/director) connection aside, this film is equal parts Jurassic Park, The Truman Show and Fistful Of Dollars. It even hits some of the same plot beats as Jurassic Park which is comforting and even includes a “Hold on to your butts” sequence. 

If it wasn’t for the pacing and Sci-Fi nature of the film, the main characters Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (a play on the name John Wayne played by a truly gritty James Brolin) could be mistaken for characters in a romcom setting : two buddies take a trip to an amusement resort to help one of them get over a breakup. One, a cool guy and the other an uptight lawyer, downtrodden and in need of a holiday.

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Editing-wise, slow motion is used liberally and to good effect. In contrast a special shout out goes to the Benny Hill-esque comedy bar fight scene. 

Plot-wise this film sets up the world and inhabits it for the majority of the films duration, moving the players into the plot points with ease. It takes 58 minutes for any horror aspect to enter the story and when it does it’s excruciatingly tense. The characters are treated like utilities for the world, we never really get to know them and this is fine because we don’t need to. Like the robots of the resort they are just aspects of this world – the audience has all of the back story we need.

Yul Brynner (reprising his look from Magnificent 7) going full terminator (as The Gunslinger) has the desired affect – an unfeeling, unwavering, unstoppable killing machine. His cold expression and mechanical movements make his portrayal terrifyingly realistic.

My favorite scenes were the ones that show the back-end sections of the resort. These are fascinating to watch and bolster the world-building lore making the film all the more convincing.

Someone saw the potential of this franchise and commissioned a sequel. Future World is set 3 years later and features Yul Brynner reprising his role for a few seconds at least. Further to that, in 1980 a series called Beyond Westworld was commissioned and swiftly cancelled due to a lack of ratings, with only 3 episodes being aired. 

Great comfort can be taken from the obvious reference Westworld gave to later works such as Total Recall, Terminator and the Itchy and Scratchy Land episode of The Simpsons (Season 6 Episode 4).

In criticism of this film i would relent that the other worlds seem out of place in the narrative, somehow wacky and not in-keeping with the Westworld portions. How has it aged? Not well to be perfectly honest, but being a fan of 70’s cowboy films the style and editing sit alongside the eras finest. It is worth noting that this film was decades ahead of its time narratively-speaking, and the robot POV sequences represent the first use of computer effects in a film. If it wasn’t for the series they would totally be remaking this one today (entirely nerfed for sensitive audiences obviously).

This is a wonderful piece of film all round. Refreshing to see a film that depicts the future in a form that is not dystopian, but more a wealthy and happy place with recreation. The care and attention to world-building adds a layer of charm that modern films seem to miss out on. Sure it has its moments (the bent prop sword during the Black Knight fight. The blinking robot during the lab scene) but what film doesn’t? Could these even be meta?

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