Due to a slightly crazy last weekend (I donated blood and TYG had multiple demands on her time), the only film I caught was WESTWORLD (1973), which is probably Michael Crichton’s most influential work besides Jurassic Park. Influential in the sense that it led to one film sequel (Futureworld), a TV series (Beyond Westworld) and most recently HBO’s Westworld (which I finished up shortly before watching the film.
The movie’s premise is simple. The Delos corporation runs a trio of theme parks (Westworld, Romanworld, Knightworld) where most of the people are automatons. Guests can cosplay to their heart’s content, engage in gunfights in the street, participate in Roman orgies, then go back to their regular life. And the computers regulating the automatons keep everything nice and safe.
Unfortunately, as you might guess from the catchphrase at the bottom of the poster, it doesn’t work like that. We learn early on that a glitch is causing the robots to act outside their programming, and apparently spreading from automaton to automaton (it shows the film’s age that there’s no mention of computer viruses). Westworld vacationer Richard Benjamin sees gunslinger automaton Yul Brynner gun down Benjamin’s buddy James Brolin, then has to flee for his life from the relentless killer (it gets very Terminator). Like Jurassic Park, the people in charge assume they can control everything, but it turns out they can’t. Another way the film shows its age is that the subtext is Computers Cannot Be Trusted; today, we seem to accept similar possibly lethal glitches as a fact of life (the nature of the glitch is never explained). It’s still a neat little thriller. Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, it isn’t based on a Crichton novel — it started life as a screenplay.
Futureworld and Beyond Westworld go in a different direction, with a bad guy using the robots to replace important, powerful people (I covered both in Screen Enemies of the American Way). And then we get the HBO series, which charts a new direction, and clearly aspires to Serious Deep Thoughts. I wasn’t impressed.
Foz Meadows covers everything I disliked about it — gratuitous rape (and an implication that in context, the rapes were a good thing), a whole lot of hookers (though the Westworld staff gives us more female representation than we got in the original film), and catering very much to a white male gaze (we have brothel owner Thandie Newton aggressively hitting on female guests, but no male prostitutes available). I like it much less than Meadows, though. It’s got excellent acting but preens too much on exposing the human id (suffice to say, people are much more vicious to the robot “hosts” than in the film) and offering recycled thoughts about AI and human existence. The ending makes me think the second season won’t be anything but a cliché. So I won’t be back. I’ll pick a light thriller over an ambitious but clunky Serious Series any day.