Dystoporama Review: Westworld and Futureworld   February 25th, 2017

“Delos is the vacation of a lifetime.”

I’ve been delayed on this project. I’ve been making notes on various movies, but hadn’t had a chance to get something fully fleshed out for awhile.

After finishing watching the HBO series “Westworld” I revisited the source material with the 1973 original film and its 1976 sequel “Futureworld.” The first movie is about the dangers of a technological world we don’t not fully understand, and the sequel is about the dangers of a corporation protecting its own interests. The first film was written and directed by Michael Crichton, who has written many technological thrillers, including “The Andromeda Strain” and “Jurassic Park.” The HBO series takes ideas from both movies and also works on the fallibilities of people as well.

The HBO series exists in a different world than the movies. There was an event which occurred near the park’s opening which is slowly revealed, but it is different than the disaster which happened in the “Westworld” movie. The DNA of both films is clearly visible in the series though and you can see where the HBO series picked up ideas from the films. The original robots in “Westworld” were eventually replaced with organic replicants in “Futureworld” and the series shows that progression of technology as well. There are a few fun references to the original films in the series. Astute viewers will notice a sly reference to Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger character hiding out in a background shot when Bernard visits an old section of the underground complex.

The HBO series took its time setting up the world and putting the pieces in place for eventual conflicts, but that time was well spent. It allowed for the creation of a world that was very fleshed out and a very complex narrative plot. The story was at times hard to follow, but worth it every step of the way. The series also was both plot and character-driven, and delved into the lives of characters both human and of the park’s artificial “hosts.” I have an interest for characters which are artificial constructs, and while at times some of the character’s motivations didn’t always make sense, the character’s journeys were strongly compelling.

So it was with much interest that I revisited the original film, not having watched it in over twenty years. Watching “Westworld” it’s very obvious that the film was made in the 70s, but the film doesn’t suffer for it. The story and plot are still engaging and entertaining. The film definitely has dated visuals, but they still hold up well today. It makes nice use of early video effects for the robot’s vision. The circuitry shown inside the robots is obvious prop work, it’s still effective and efficient use of minimal props to suggest a complete internal mechanism.

The film starts with a TV advertisement for Delos, the adult amusement park of the future, available today. There are three theme parks: West World, Medieval World and Roman World. The sequel showed the abandoned west world and added a new destination, Space World. The parks use state-of-the art robotics to people these worlds with “hosts” to cater to the guests’ every whim, including desires both violent and carnal. As with the HBO series, the film focuses on two men, one a novice to the park and the other a return visitor. They visit the titular “Westworld” while other side-characters are briefly shown at the other parks.

The movie narrative cuts between the various theme parks and the underground control and repair facility. Inside the technical operations of the park, it is revealed that things are slowly spinning out of control, though the workers don’t realize it at first. A manager is seen talking to a technician diagnosing a malfunctioning robot. When the technician describes another “central malfunction” the manager bemoans that it’s yet another one.

Later at a staff meeting, one of the engineers observes that the failure rates are increasing and that they are seeing more central versus peripheral breakdowns. The analogy to an infectious disease is mentioned, though not everyone believes it. The technology is described as being complex organisms, approaching that of humans. An engineer even mentions that parts of the robots were designed by computers, and the they don’t completely understand how they work. This idea of complex technology growing out of bounds is a very quintessential Michael Crichton idea.

The plot progresses and more breakdowns and odd behaviors of the robots continue. A rattlesnake bites a guest in West World and a castle servant refuses a guests seduction in Medieval World. Management finally starts to believe there could be a problem, but they don’t want to close the park and lose guest confidence. That ends up being a fatal mistake.

Back in the West World park, the two buddies are having a wonderful time. The first day the newbie finally gets into character and steps up to rise to the taunting challenge of Yul Brynner’s nameless Gunslinger. The second morning the Gunslinger returns after being repaired during the night. He shows up a fight and they catch him by surprise and kill him again.

On the third day, things have seriously degraded. The Black Knight kills a guest in Medieval World kills and the Gunslinger comes back for revenge. The technicians in the underground control room finally respond to the threat, but by then its too late. The robots don’t respond to power shutdown, running on a stored charge and the technicians end up slowly suffocating when doors lock and life support shuts down along with the rest of the systems. Man falls prey to the complex tools and toys he has created.

The Gunslinger was programmed to be aggressive so it’s hard to tell at what point he became defective and murderous. The ambiguity was nice, especially when they don’t need to over explain everything. That was one of the things I really appreciated about “Westworld.” There is enough hints at the technology and issues, but the underlying reasons for the breakdowns is never explained and it doesn’t need to be. Too many films feel the need to answer every little question, which ends up at the point of diminishing returns. Thankfully this film didn’t try to do that and it’s a better story for that decision.

Yul Brynner is also the star of the film. He doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he had a good presence with body language and expressions, without needing a lot of dialogue. He also looked like he was having fun playing the bad guy and then getting to exact his revenge when he malfunctioned. Brynner returns in the sequel, in reused footage from the first film as well as a really painfully-ridiculous dream sequence. I felt kind of bad for how he was used in there.

Both movies play on the theme of technology becoming more complex and unpredictable and posing threats to humanity. In the sequel, “Futureworld” the park “hosts” are all now biological replicants, an improvement over the old mechanical robots. The sequel has Delos reopening the park three years after the deadly accident and trying to convince tourists that it is completely safe to visit. It also has Delos trying to replace key world leaders with artificial duplicates, so the corporation can get their hooks into world governments. The also want to replace members of the press to write good reviews for the park.

The plot is pretty silly, especially since none of the guests coming to the newly reopened theme park seem to care about the grisly deaths which happened before. There’s a fair amount of padding fluff as well, such as the dream sequence mentioned above. There’s also a scene in Space World where they showcase Martian Skiing, which is just normal skiing filmed with a red filter over the camera lens. It was quite obvious that Michael Crichton had nothing to do with this film and it’s a pale shadow of the original film. “Futureworld” is worth watching as a popcorn movie, but where the original film was a tight thriller, the sequel is definitely run of the mill schlock 70s cinema.

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 25th, 2017 at 6:03 am and is filed under Dystoporama, Movies and TV. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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