STARRING: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Norman Bartold, Dick Van Patten, Linda Scott, Steve Franken, Michael T. Mikler

1973, 88 Minutes, Directed by: Michael Crichton

westworld.jpg (17661 bytes)Havoc ensues as the controlled environment of an amusement park goes awry and the exhibits starts killing off the park’s visitors.

Jurassic Park? Close, but rather its ideological predecessor, Westworld, an early-1970s sci-fi actioner also written by Michael Crichton. (Crichton also directed, by the way.)

Inspired by the then revolutionary Pirates of the Caribbean exhibition at Disneyland, Westworld is about an adult future amusement park in which visitors can (at $1 000 a day!) indulge themselves in one of three environments, namely "Romanworld", "Medievalworld" and of course "Westworld" itself.

Think the immersive world of the holodeck in those Star Trek - Next Generation episodes, but populated with automated intelligent robots instead of holograms and you get the idea. Inspired more by Hollywood fantasy than reality, visitors to these parks can indulge in their every whimsy – which includes having gunfights with the robots, sleeping with robotic whores at the local brothel, etc. Obviously the robots are programmed to obey all the visitors’ demands and, of course, lose at the gunfights. Then things start going wrong when the robots refuse to obey commands and stop losing at those gunfights . . .

"The original unstoppable killing machine, more than a decade before Terminator!"

The plot is riddled with more holes than your average chunk of Swiss cheese. For starters, it is never really explained why "Westworld" would suddenly stop functioning properly altogether.

The lab-coated scientists overseeing events (from a room that in the 1970s represented high-tech computing but is ludicrously outdated today – just as I suspect our current representations of future technology would be one day) doesn’t know either. It just happens – maybe the robots just grew tired of being targets, punch-bags and receptacles for human semen. Who knows?

At least Jurassic Park had an overweight saboteur and "chaos theory." Despite serving the needs of the plot, this complete malfunction just ties in with Crichton’s own technophobic prejudices in his other movies – like the rampant robots in Runaway, for example.

There are other questions left unanswered: how come the manufacturers of the robots couldn’t get the robots’ hands right but your "basic pleasure model" (as they said of one replicant in Blade Runner) has the right, er, equipment for intercourse with human visitors to the park? How can the robots discern any objects whatsoever with such a pixellated eye sight? And so forth . . .

But despite all this, Westworld is tightly directed by Crichton and is bit of an amusement park ride by itself. Also, getting Yul Brynner to reprise his Magnificent Seven persona (as one of the cowboy robots who has to lose at all those gunfights) was an excellent touch. Here is the original unstoppable machine more than a decade before the first Terminator movie hit the screens. Cool retro fun . . .


Sci-Fi Movie
Page Pick: Jurassic Park . . . but with robot cowboys! More retro 1970s sci-fi. This time about things going awry at a Disneyworld-like amusement park. Sounds familiar? That's because it was also written by Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame . . .



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