Westworld (1973)

This may be the best story Michael Crichton ever told…

Even if it wasn’t one of his novels, but an original screenplay he also directed.  And yes, he actually directed quite a few films, even if his greatest success came from his novels.

Particularly Jurassic Park.  But you already knew that.

It’s been years since I saw Westworld and it almost comes as a surprise how much of the film goes by before we get to the part everyone remembers.

Delos is, of course, the ultimate adult theme park, one that offers a chance to live in the fantasy world of your choice — whether Roman, Medieval or Western –for a mere Thousand dollars a day (you have to remember that that is in 1970s Dollars and would be far more expensive today).  Mind you, while it offers an immersive experience, where can rob the bank or become Sheriff if you like, the main selling point is that you get to kill people and have lots of sex with no consequences.

Which is rather unsettling, if you think about it too long.

Yul Brynner is the real star here, even if his ice cold robot gunslinger doesn’t get much screentime (at least not till the end) and has little in the way of a real personality.  It’s a marvelous performance, as cold and hard and relentless as polished steel and would inspire both John Carpenter’s Halloween and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in The Terminator.

Richard Benjamin (a busy TV actor you might remember from the short-lived SF comedy, Quark) plays a visitor coming to the park for the first time with his friend who’s been there before, played by James Brolin.

Ironically, though, the one you’d least expect survives.

You should spot Dick Van Patten  as well.  He is perhaps best remembered as the dad on Eight Is Enough, although he had a long career doing character roles on TV and in the movies.

The intriguing thing is that the cause of the disaster which strikes the park is never explained, only hinted at.  Something is going wrong, causing all sorts of minor glitches in the park’s systems.  it seems to be spreading like a disease, and there is a mention of someone’s theory that complex systems like computers can experience problems that mimic diseases in living things.  These days, we would think of this as a computer virus, but here it is apparently a spontaneous, if infectious, event.

Mind you, as far as I know, no one has ever found a computer virus that spontaneously created itself — not even from the fragments of a computer program that would do something analogous, like, say, a task manager, security or communications program.

But then, Michael Crichton’s love of cutting edge science did often mean that he embraced some fairly absurd notions, with The Terminal Man perhaps the most egregious.

However, when we are talking about  a movie this good, complaining because of a scientific mistake — even one this big — is rather like complaining that you don’t like the color of the brand new Ferrari that someone just gave you.

As in so many of Crichton’s films, the people running Delos believe that they have everything under control only to find that their own technology is turning against them.  Their fate is particularly ironic, as it is one of the security features that cost them their lives.

Let’s face it:  this is an incredible film.  It creates a remarkable world, offers us quite a few interesting ideas (many of them disturbing or out-and-out creepy!) and ends with a brutal and memorable battle between man and machine.  To say it is the best film Michael Crichton directed is small praise, perhaps, but it was also one of his finest story ideas, and one of the best SF films to come out during the Seventies.

And, in fact, one of the best SF films ever made.

So it isn’t just hard to go wrong watching this one:  it is hard to do better. After all, this is one of the all-time classic SF films.

So get out your six shooter and black hat, grab a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy.

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And check out our new Feature (Updated May 16, 2019):

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