Have you seen… ‘Westworld’?

The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…

Year: 1973

Starring:  Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin

Director:  Michael Crichton

What’s it about?

In the near future, Peter Martin accompanies friend John Blane on a vacation to the high-tech $1,000 per day adult theme park known as Delos, split into three themed areas – Roman World, Medieval World and Western World.  During their stay in Western World (aka ‘Westworld’) the android ‘characters’ begin to malfunction and the two men are soon running for their lives…

In review

Written and directed by the late Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, Westworld presents the chilling notion of technology gone awry that holds just as much relevance today as it did back in the 1970s.  It’s an idea that Crichton would adapt just as successfully to Jurassic Park (whereas the park’s attractions would be biological as opposed to mechanical, the failure of technology would still precipitate disaster) but is perhaps more unsettling here given that the very human-like (only discernible from real people by inspection of the palms of their hands) androids programmed to fulfil the fantasies that the guests take for granted in safety and comfort, would unexpectedly turn on them.

Yul Brynner, in homage to his character from classic Western The Magnificent Seven is key to the film’s success by providing a virtually emotionless, cold and robotic performance as the homicidal Gunslinger.  Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger made you believe he was an unstoppable killing machine in The Terminator so does Brynner (the difference being that he was actually a damn good actor anyway), instilling fear and chills in the viewer by using simple body language and flat delivery of the little dialogue he has.

There is some fun interaction between Benjamin and Brolin (Brolin’s character constantly prodding at Martin until he starts to loosen up and ease into the spirit of things) and until Brynner appears the tone of the film is fairly light but it is then that Westworld really draws you in.  Although Brynner’s ‘character’ is gunned down twice with relative ease by Martin, it adds gravity to his return the third time as Westworld starts building to a terrifying and tense climax as the Gunslinger (upgraded with infra-red vision) pursues Martin relentlessly through the park and the corridors of its control centre.  With the staff and guests murdered by the android attractions, Martin stands alone against a machine without conscience.  The influences on James Cameron’s afore-mentioned Terminator are clear, also providing the basis for the hilarious “Itchy & Scratchy Land” episode of The Simpsons (back when it was still good).

Why you should watch it

Westworld is a gem of science fiction cinema that’s a tense and unsettling ride, particularly in its last half hour, with a truly chilling and iconic performance from the late, great Yul Brynner.

Standout moment

Martin and Blane have not long since arrived in Westworld and enter a saloon, an android Gunslinger enters and starts to taunt Martin.  Blane convinces Martin to get into the spirit of things by shooting down the Gunslinger – little do they know that it won’t be the last they see of him…

Did you know?

The late Majel Barrett – wife of Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry – has a cameo appearance in the bordello scenes as ‘Miss Carrie’.

Watch it if you like…

Jurassic Park, The Terminator

Westworld is currently available on Blu-ray (select territories) and DVD from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.

Yul Brynner's chilling and mechanical performance in 'Westworld' is key to the film's effectiveness.

Yul Brynner’s chilling and mechanical performance in ‘Westworld’ is key to the film’s effectiveness.