Michael Crichton’s terrific slice of speculative fiction exemplifies the allure of the pre-Star Wars science fiction genre. Sharp socio-political commentary, in this case the darkside of man’s insatiable desire for entertainment, trump kitschy low rent production values to arrive at a rivetting thriller with intriguing and complex underlying ideas.
Westworld (1973) dir. Michael Crichton
Starring: Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner
By Alan Bacchus
What a talent Michael Crichton was. He will be missed. A man who began his career as a doctor, before turning to writing, authoring the megahits Andromeda Strain, Congo, Jurassic Park and others, but also a man who at will turned himself into a filmmaker, writing and directing a number of feature films, not necessarily based on his books. Here’s his theatrical feature debut, Westworld, finally makes it to Blu-Ray.
At the time Westworld, might have seemed like a near future version Deliverance. That is, the characterization of the characters James Brolin and Richard Benjamin, two white collar-successful men spending a thousand dollars a day to play in an adult amusement park to live out their male ego fantasies, resembles the strong themes of the the four upstate businessmen in Deliverance attempting to ‘conquer nature’ in hillbilly Appalachia.
Today we can look on Westworld as a thematic precursor to Crichton’s terrific novel and screenplay for Jurassic Park. Instead of a park of dinosaurs, man’s achievements with robot technology have seen the creation of an amusement park inhabited by lifelike robots, inseparable with exception of their hands, from real humans.
Peter Martin (Benjamin) and John Blaine (Brolin) arrive at Delos, the larger park which combines Westworld, Medieval World and Roman World, via some kind of hydroplane in the middle of the desert to engage in the violent life of an outlaw from the traditional American western. Blaine, as played by a young James Brolin, looking like a spitting image of Christian Bale, has been before and is shepherding the meek and reluctant Martin into indulging in carefree violence and whoring. The skeptical Martin at first finds himself in a bar being tested by a belligerent Yul Brynner. Upon the encouragement of Blaine, Martin stands off against Brynner, eventually killing him in Peckinpah worthy bloody slow motion. Thus, Martin is allowed to have the thrill of the kill without the danger or emotional ramification of killing a real human being.
Of course, like the dinosaurs running amok, so do the robots. Gradually through the eyes of engineers behind the scenes we see glitches appear in the robot’s circuits developing self-determination and ultimately a thirst for revenge against their masters. Using robots as thematic metaphors to American slavery and really any kind of historical revolution or feudal servitude hits the nose on the head as strong as Planet of the Apes did. But as a cautionary tale of man’s foolhardy appetite for technological advancements Westworld is remarkably profound.
But at core, Westworld succeeds as a rip-roaring action film, in particular the final act after the robot revolution Martin finds himself on the run from the impressive and unwavering pursuit by Yul Brynner. The final 30 mins is a riveting one-on-one chase, through the ravaged amusement park, much of the imagery influential to James Cameron’s The Terminator as unstoppable force uninhibited by emotion or reason.
Westworld is available on Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video