Westworld (1973) marks the feature film debut of Sci-fi writer Michael Crichton who had recently met success in Hollywood with the film adaptation of his famed novel The Andromeda Strain. Westworld stars Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin) James Brolin (John Blane) and Yul Brynner (The Gunslinger).
Westworld is set in the near future (now passé) where a resort known as Delos, comprised of three resort communities gives its adult patrons the opportunity for $1000 a day to live out their fantasies as either an old west desperado, a medieval knight, or a hedonist in the pre-Christian Roman Empire. The park is also home to human like androids that are engineered to look, talk, and react just like humans.
Peter Martin (Benjamin) accompanies his best friend John Blane (Brolin) who has visited Westworld before. Peter begins asking John how the theme park operates and most importantly, what can they expect while enjoying their two week stay as wild west outlaws. After their orientation and then being equipped with authentic old west clothing and pistols, Peter and John arrive at the Westworld theme park by stagecoach where Peter is in awe of the park’s authenticity.
After the two settle in their hotel, Peter and John decide to go to the local bar up the street for a drink. The bartender asks the two men what they would like John replies “whiskey” while Peter asks for a vodka martini. John asks Peter to get into the feel of things and that he is here to enjoy himself. Peter feels as if the whole trip is a joke and John reminds him that it’s only an amusement park and that he is living out a childhood fantasy in the old west. While enjoying their drinks, a black clothed gunslinger approaches the bar and causes Peter to spill his drink on himself. The gunslinger (Brynner) begins to taunt Peter and John reminds Peter that the gunslinger is an android and he should shoot him for insulting him.
Peter faces off in the bar with the gunslinger and shoots him several times. Two men pick up the body of the gunslinger and drag him from the bar. John, who had jumped over the bar to avoid being shot turns to Peter and says “pretty realistic huh?” It’s at this moment that Peter realizes that he has killed an android programmed to lose at a duel. Later that evening in their hotel room, Peter asks John about the possibility of shooting another guest by accident. It is then revealed that the guns are equipped with a sensor device that reads body temperature and therefore won’t fire at a human. Peter marvels at the technological advancements of the park and replies “they thought of everything.”
Peter and John enjoy their every moment in the park, whether it’s busting out of jail and shooting the town Sheriff, indulging in sex with android hussies at the local bordello, or getting involved in an old fashioned bar fight, Westworld has it all. As the slogan says “Have we got a vacation for you.”
While the guests indulge and live out their every waking fantasies the park’s technicians and operators begin noticing a breakdown rate in the androids that is spreading to each one of the parks. It is later implied that the park begins to suffer from a computer virus that quickly turns the androids into homicidal maniacs.
Crichton’s idea of machines running amok was the archetype for other films throughout the genre in the 1970s & 1980s. The concept of machines achieving artificial intelligence had been touched on in films like Colossus: The Forbin Project, a film about a super computer that enslaves mankind through the threat of nuclear annihilation. Many consider that film an inspiration for James Cameron’s The Terminator. The thought that machines could succumb to an infectious disease and turn on their masters was never ever seen in cinema before.
I first saw Westworld when I was about eight years old and instantly fell in love with the film’s premise that a theme park like this could exist in the future. The film is wonderfully directed and it is the first film in history to use digital image processing photography that appears pixilated as the new and improved gunslinger’s point of view.
The film wasn’t a huge box office draw but it went on to achieve cult status with the advent of VHS in the mid 1970s. The film was followed with a not so successful sequel entitled Futureworld (1976) and a short-lived CBS television series that ran for three out of its five filmed episodes in 1980. Warner Brothers was slated to remake the film back in 2007 with Arnold Schwartzenegger but no director was attached to the project. Warner Brothers claims that the film’s status is still active and Westworld will be remade before today’s technology becomes passé.
Westworld is available on DVD through Warner Bros. Home Video and can be rented through Netflix or streamed through most HD devices.