Year – 1973
Country – USA
Writer – Michael Crichton
Director – Michael Crichton
Cast – James Brolin, Richard Benjamin, Yul Brynner
It’s one of our ultimate fantasies!
Imagine being transported to a theme park like no other; forget roller-coasters and merry-go-rounds and replace them with utopian recreations of past, future and even fantasy.
Years before the average human could feed their hunger for the Wild West by taking control of pixelated cowboy John Marston; writer Michael Crichton had already envisaged an imminent moment when the rich could pay to act out their dreams as if it were exact truth.
Westworld (1973) was Crichton’s directorial debut. He would later to go on to pen the novel Jurassic Park in 1990 which was adapted into the definitive adventure movie of its era by Steven Spielberg in 1993. Westworld, however is a more adult offering though still focussed on the painful fusion of mankind with the temptations of science and technology.
The film is set in an unspecified future where for $1,000 a night you can book a place in Delos, the ultimate adult theme park. Split into three ‘worlds’, each guest can choose to fulfil their aspirations to be a Goddess in ‘Roman World’ or perhaps a Lord in ‘Medieval World’ or maybe even a Sherriff in ‘Western World’. How is this possible? With robots of course! There is a robot to play out your sexual fantasies and another few to take the bullets from your gun when you feel like securing your masculinity by taking someone’s life.
When John (Brolin) takes his newly single friend Peter (Benjamin) on a trip to Westworld, he thinks it will do wonders for his confidence. They wear the costume, smoke the cigars, drink the whiskey and shoot the guns, all the while oblivious to the malfunctioning machines around them. Suddenly, the compliant robots no longer want to serve and led by the Gunslinger (Brynner) a revolution begins.
The plot instantly highlights the many similar themes in both Jurassic Park and Westworld. The ignorance of human nature, nostalgia and desperation for scientific control echoes in both texts and aims to warn audiences of what can happen when we lose sight of reality. Westworld also feels like a wonderful mix of The Crystal Maze and 1971 musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Both take the audience into worlds of pure imagination but also present threat and punishment for irresponsibility.
The years haven’t necessarily been kind to Crichton’s Westworld, though in many ways it has gone full circle. The opening sequence which is inserted before the credits could have been written by Will Farrell – the 70s idea of the future being people in flares with perfect hair flying into bright white airports. As the film continues there are many lines of dialogue which are delivered with incredible comic timing and the characters’ self-awareness of blindly living in their favourite Western blockbuster adds to the charm. The performance by Benjamin can be cringe-worthy at times but it is a guilty pleasure. The scene where he uncomfortably attempts pillow talk with a Western-Prostitute-Robot is hilarious. Brynner, on the other hand is almost terrifying and only let down by the staged falls and wooden fight scenes.
Westworld is simply one of those films which is such a legendary idea that you can’t fault it. Despite the 1970s cheese which is well past its sell-by date, Crichton knows how to write an adventure story which truly resonates with all corners of an audience. This is one reason why there are always rumours of a remake, and for once this is a film I would like to see updated for a new generation.