Monday, February 22, 2016


When I first heard of Westworld years ago, I thought it was an interesting gimmick.  An amusement park where the attractions flip out and attempt to murder everybody present because of the uncontrollable nature of chaos theory?  By the mid-90s, I had already seen that story done so well that it's stuck with me ever since.

Wait, that can't be right.  Anyway.

Finally, just recently, I sat down and watched Westworld.  The announcement that a television series featuring Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris piqued my interest in it again, and I figured that it was such a staple of science fiction that the fact I hadn't seen it yet was a pretty huge blemish on my "nerd cred."

I want that poster.

Watching a movie like Westworld now is interesting, because there are many times through my viewing where I started to think "oh, this movie just stole that thing from this other film I saw" until I realized that this movie predated most of the ones I thought of.  I can easily rattle off a list of films that I think owe some small (or huge) part of what drew audiences to them to this film.  The primary one I can think of, naturally, is Terminator and Terminator II.

It may have been used before by storytellers in the past, but I'm almost certain there's a straight line connecting Yul Brenner's Man In Black to Arnold Schwarzenegger's killer robot.  Dark clothes, completely emotionless aside from a slight bit of wit, implacably hunting down one person to kill them and unable to be stopped by any conventional means, being a robot... the similarities are just too distinct to think that James Cameron hadn't seen this movie at least once growing up.  John Carpenter admits in the commentary track to Halloween that he copied the Man In Black for the design of Michael Myers from the walk to the "unable to be killed" aspect.

The movie is the first film to bring the idea of a "disease" (read: "virus") infecting machines to the mass populace (considering this film was made in 1973, that's a pretty big deal).  Considering most people wouldn't even have access to a personal computer until the 80s, this was a pretty large logical leap to take since most people at that point would think "something infecting machines?  Impossible!"

The Delos corporation easily becomes one of the first "evil" major corporations in science fiction film along with the Soylent corporation from Soylent Green.  Easily the precursor to other major "evil" corporations, the executives are more than happy to simply leave the park open when the malfunctions start to happen in order to keep making money.  Between the two, you have the precursors to Omni Consumer Products from Robocop, Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, Weyland-Yutani from the Aliens franchise, and of course Cyberdyne Solutions from The Terminator.  and of course the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil all owe their employee manual and CEO induction program to Delos.

All that being said, the movie is an interesting mixture of drama and camp.  Based on what I've read about the production, it seems that making this movie burned out a young man named Michael Crichton (who I'm sure would never try to imitate his earlier work in anything he did later), as he was upset that people were laughing at scenes they weren't supposed to laugh at and getting tense at scenes that weren't supposed to be tense.  Watching it now, I'm not sure what he expected audiences to be thinking, considering some of the tense moments are "grip your chair" tense, but a lot of the comedy scenes either just work fine or fall flat.

For example, there's a bar fight partway through the movie that feels out of place.  Granted, they're trying to show that while everything is starting to go wrong, the people attending the park are simply having a great time, but the music feels a bit too upbeat and comical, as if we wandered into a Mel Brooks parody of the film.

Once things do click, however, the movie comes together extremely well, with the Man In Black hunting its target across the three parks (Westworld, Medievalworld, and EverybodyPretendToBeRomanAndJustHaveOrgiesWorld).  The movie makes sure we're aware of every advantage Yul Brenner has over his chosen target, from enhanced vision and hearing, enhanced strength and durability, to simply never getting tired or feeling like giving up.

Plus, bonus points for having Yul Brenner look just like his character from The Magnificent Seven.  That was a stroke of genius to take a character that recognizable and put him into the villain role.

The movie might not hold up as much as some modern science fiction classics, but I think that Westworld should be required viewing for anybody who wants to talk like they know what the history of film is, particularly in the genre of science fiction.  You can't really reference any big dystopian future film without there being at least a nod in some way to what Michael Crichton brought us in 1973.

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