Westworld (1973) Dir. Michael Crichton

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Before Michael Crichton gave us Jurassic Park, his penultimate theme park terror, there was Westworld. Westworld is a science fiction adventure story set in the future where a resort theme park is created for people to live out their fantasies. They can be cowboys in a western town. They can be a knight in a Medieval fantasy. Or they can live the life of the Romans. For only $1000 a day, with the roles of the towns characters played by cybernetic robots. What could go wrong? Well if you remember what Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, this is what happens when The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down and the pirates start killing the tourists!

What’s funny is that when I first entered this film, I expected something far hokier and cheesy than it turned out to be. On occasion there are a few things I was trying to wrap my head around, such as in a staged bar fight, how do the guests tell their hitting a robot and not another tourist? But it’s a minor thing. What plays out in a sense is a take-off of Disneyland and its use of audio animatronics in theme parks to create life like human characters, and what if there was a resort where humans interacted with robots to live out their fantasies. What’s great about the movie is that the movie plays as satire, with its own sense of humor. There are even funny moments where the characters actually act out their sexual fantasies with the robots. It’s strange and silly with the lack of moral implications throughout, as the guests are allowed to not only have sex with robots, but break tables, smash windows and blow up parts of the town, while a crew comes in every night while the guests sleep to repair things and fix the robots.

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But the one major shining aspect of this film is the great Yul Brynner who plays the Man in Black robot. He gives the guests a playful amount of trouble until things turn serious and the robots start acting against their programming, killing off humans for real. What unfolds is a precursor to Terminator, as the Man in Black hunts down our main protagonist human in a thrilling chase through the different resort areas. Breyner being such a major actor playing a robot, he really brings something to the character. We don’t know how much sentience he’s achieved because of his malfunctioning program. Like James Cameron’s Terminator, I found myself invested in the character where sometimes you would get these little intricate moments of humanity, and you wonder despite their programming if the robot is actually enjoying what its doing! Whatever the reason, Yul Brener is one of those great inspired actors and it was a brilliant choice to cast him for all the believability he could bring to the role.

The rest of the cast playing the guests of the theme park are phenomenal as well, playing up much of the humor about how a real guest would interact in such a world. There’s a side story as well about a middle age husband and wife couple, where the husband wants to do the middle ages resort and fall in love with a princess, while the wife wants to live in Roman times. It may not be a realistic depiction of how such a theme park would exist, but it’s made believable because you’re so invested in the characters entering this world. Before the main characters even reached Westworld, I found myself hooked right away in the story just because I liked the characters so much. With the satirical news reporter in the beginning advertising the park and interviewing the guests, I knew afterward that this movie was going to be a good time, and it was fun all the way to the very end.

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Westworld is just a really fun ride, and for all its silliness and satire, it enables you to take the story seriously enough to go with it even if it always doesn’t make sense. It’s a great film, highly enjoyable especially from a master story teller like Michael Crichton. If you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, I highly recommend you check out this earlier work from Crichton. It’s a really well told story, and gives you a good idea why he’s embraced the idea of the theme park gone wrong.

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2 thoughts on “Westworld (1973) Dir. Michael Crichton”

  1. A lot of ink gets spilled on actors who take on radically transformative roles, meeting the challenge of playing The Other by playing a sociopath or a mentally handicapped person or a much older person or a person from a very different culture. (Some examples of this would be Charlize in Monster, Johnny Depp in a lot of things, Daniel Day Lewis in a lot of things). I think one of the most challenging roles is to play an android, because the character is not just Other to the actor or Other to a particular filmgoing demographic, but really Other to all of humanity. Playing a convincing android usually means giving a very understated performance (Brent spiner as Data, Michael Fassbender in Prometheus, some would argue Harrison Ford in Blade Runner), which allows the very small glimmers of humanity to shine more brightly. Arnold Schwarzenegger, not really known for acting chops, delivers a bit of an amazing performance in Terminator (one suspects partly by accident) just by being so uncannily deadpan. I did not realize that Yul Brenner played the main ‘bot in Westworld — it rather warms my heart to think of the great old actor really embracing a scifi role that could have been a quick cash in and playing it for all its worth.

    1. Yul has all but 3 or 4 lines in the whole movie, but he milks every moment. I agree, to take a great actor and get such a fantastic performance for what any other actor might just walk through is pretty great. I couldn’t imagine anyone else taking on the role.

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