Film review: ‘Futureworld’

Year:  1976

Starring:  Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Arthur Hill and Yul Brynner

Directed by:  Richard T. Heffron / Written by:  Mayo Simon and George Schenck

What’s it about?

Two reporters are invited to visit the reopened Delos resort, closed down after its android ‘attractions’ malfunctioned and began murdering the guests…

In review

Having recently reviewed Westworld (which you can read here), I thought I’d take a look at its sequel.  I actually saw Futureworld a few years ago and didn’t remember it being very good but given instances where I’ve looked on things more favourably with subsequent viewings, maybe it deserved a reassessment?

Well, this is certainly not one of those instances.  Futureworld (named from the new ‘theme area’ of the Delos resort) is a prime example of an unnecessary sequel done “for the sake of it”.  The main protagonists are newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Fonda) and television reporter Tracy Ballard (Danner), both weakly drawn and clichéd characters, the snooping reporters eager for a story/the bickering (later romancing) man/woman team up we’ve all seen before in a thousand films and television shows.  Both Fonda (who’d later star in another ill-conceived sequel – Escape from L.A.) and Danning make what work they can of the dull script with the latter the superior of the two leads, infusing a bit of fun in the Lois Lane style hijinks (an intention on the writers’ part?  There’s reference to Superman in the film with an android character named ‘Clark’, after Clark Kent).  Unfortunately Fonda’s performance is a little flat at times although he’s a little more ‘animated’ than James Brolin was in Westworld.  This aside, the two do have decent onscreen chemistry – providing at least one watchable aspect of the film.

Inevitably and predictably things eventually go awry for the two reporters as they end up on the run from murderous malfunctioning androids.  What worked in Westworld just doesn’t here and a sign that it sorely lacks the creative touches of Michael Crichton, Yul Brynner’s cameo as the Gunslinger in a bizarre fantasy dream sequence is a disservice to his Westworld character and a misuse of a fine actor (and a massive shame since it was his last screen appearance) who’s cleverly restrained and nuanced performance was the key to the prior film’s effectiveness.  It’s something that none of the performers in Futureworld are able to replicate – the sequence where Fonda and Danner are chased by android Samurai is a laughable example and fails to instil anything near resembling the chills or tension that Westworld evoked.

Other attempts to shock the viewer also fall flat – the android clones of the two central characters set loose in the final act by the evil Delos corporation (another cliché?) only upholds the above point and again lacks what was achieved so effectively in Crichton’s film.

Futureworld also looks rather cheap, granted Westworld didn’t exactly have a massive budget, but the production design is rather uninspired and the direction workmanlike leaving the film feeling more like a slightly souped-up television production.

The bottom line:  Futureworld is a poor and completely unnecessary follow up to a little gem of SF cinema, with nothing really to recommend it.  You’ll laugh and you’ll cry for the wrong reasons – stick with the far superior Westworld instead.

Futureworld is available on Blu-ray (select territories) and DVD.

'Futureworld' features an android named Clark Kent - guess he didn't want his face associated with the film!

‘Futureworld’ features an android named Clark Kent – guess he didn’t want his face associated with the film!

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