Writer / Director Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, Coma, Jurassic Park) has the uncanny ability to pit science and technology against man like no other. Usually in his stories, man has overstepped a bit and it’s up to science to teach him a cold hard lesson. And why not? Crichton has developed his own special brand of Sci Fi Thriller over the years. Having been trained in medicine (a background he revisited when he created the acclaimed TV series ER), Crichton is able to lend a more credible authenticity to some pretty far out concepts.
In 1973’s Westworld (Crichton’s directorial debut) we have a modern day theme resort, Delos, that just so happens to be inhabited with extremely lifelike, thespian androids, as it were. Tasked with acting out scenarios and creating a fully immersive experience for the resort guests.
This resort is split into sections like Disney Land. But unlike Disney Land, the park allows adults to play out their wildest fantasies – be it gunning down a cowboy at high noon in Westworld and then fraternizing with the lovely (android) ladies in the saloon. Or, donning a toga for a bit of hedonism in Romanworld. Still not your thing? How about being king for a day in Medievalworld, then? It’s the guest’s choice for $1000 a day.
OK. So, two men (James Brolin and Richard Benjamin) arrive at Delos for a little R&R. They’ve chosen to stay in Westworld and quickly get into their parts: dressing in their big hats and boots and strapping on their six shooters. James Brolin’s character, John, has been there before and so he gives his friend Peter the run down: Everything is nice and safe. The android’s guns can sense and only fire blanks at humans. So picking a gunfight is just fine – and encouraged.
Enter a particularly surly gunslinger (played brilliantly by Yul Brynner) that just doesn’t like Peter very much. After taking a few insults at the bar, John eggs Peter on a bit and soon he’s open firing on the Gunslinger in a crowded saloon. The cowboy goes down in a dramatic display and Peter has protected his honor.
Peter really got his money’s worth and is exhilarated by the experience. All is well.
The next day, Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John are confronted by the Gunslinger once again on the street. But this time, much to everyone’s shock, the bullets are real and John is shot. Something has gone wrong. A technical glitch has removed the android’s fail-safe and all bets are now off.
Westworld at the heart is a relentless chase movie between the Gunslinger and Peter. The premise is fun and the suspense is real. Peter is not a fighter by any means and so when forced to survive we see an interesting transformation. Yul Brynner as the Gunslinger sets the tone for movies like The Terminator (1984) and his performance as the unrelenting android is indeed a memorable one.
This movie was followed by Futureworld (1979) which starred Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner and involved a rather convoluted plot to replace world leaders with androids. Still that movie was notable for being Yul Brynner’s last performance and the first major feature film to use computer generated imagery (a 3D human face and hand created by CGI pioneers, Ed Catmull and Federic Parke, no less). The movies also spawned a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld (1980).