Judge Mike Rubino can't stop dreaming of Yul Brynner. Get outta there Yul!
Our review of Futureworld, published February 16th, 2011, is also available.
Where you can't tell the mortals from machines…even when you look in the mirror!
Sci-fi films of the '70s have a visual vocabulary all their own. The technology is clean and kind of stupid. The fashions aren't very futuristic at all. And almost every movie has one scene involving some experimental psychedelia. You see, filmmakers were wrestling with big ideas back then, like how to take what is essentially a Twilight Zone episode and stretch it to a feature-length runtime. Futureworld, the sequel to Michael Crichton's fun 1973 film Westworld, feels like the epitome of disco-era sci-fi…before those Jedis ruined everything.
The film takes place years after the public ruination of Delos, a corporation that built a theme park filled with robots that went crazy and killed a bunch of people. Now, this corporation decidedly NOT made of people is back on the rebound. To prove that their new multi-themed vacation destination is up to snuff, they invite two reporters to check it out. One is an arrogant investigative journalist named Chuck (Peter Fonda, at his Fonda-iest), and the other is a fluffy TV magazine anchor, Tracy (Blythe Danner, Meet the Parents). Together, they slowly unmask the secrets of Delos 2.0—and to no one's surprise, evil is afoot.
A sequel to Westworld isn't totally unwarranted, but there are dozens of avenues to explore that don't involve rehashing the original film's plot at every turn. It's like watching any film about the Titanic, you're just looking at the clock waiting until the robot hits the iceberg. Once the Delos plot is actually uncovered, the evil plan is actually an engaging one—the movie just spends the bulk of its runtime covering the same expository ground as the first installment.
Rehashing old plot points is a lot easier to sit through when you've got good characters. Too bad, then, that Chuck and Tracy are two of the goofiest, laziest sci-fi characters around. Peter Fonda is insufferable as the misogynistic, cynical, and downright rude journalist out to take this place down. I get it, he's anti-authority—but can't he be at least a likable guy? Why do they keep letting him wander off into the pipe-filled underbelly of Futureworld? Then there's Tracy, a one-note damsel often in distress who inevitably falls for Fonda's wispy hair and unmoving eyes. Give me a break. If it wasn't for the surly Delos mechanic Harry (Stuart Margolin, Days of Heaven) and the devilish CEO Duffy (Arthur Hill, The Andromeda Strain), no one would be worth looking at in the future.
To further drive home that this is a sequel, Yul Brynner makes a strange dream-sequence cameo in the film. Not sure why. It's never explained. But it was enough to get his name on the cover.
Futureworld does have some good stuff in there. The film, directed by Richard Heffron, is surprisingly artsy at times. He uses a lot of slick camera movements and experimental imagery (a lot of it happens for no reason, but it looks great!), and really captures the scale of Delos' facilities. Pretty much any time someone gets his or her face cut off, it looks cheesy and awesome. Overall, the film's tone is similar to a disaster film, but occasionally blips of humor come through beautifully. My favorite scenes involve Harry's robot sidekick, who makes cocktails and cheats at poker.
All those trippy '70s visuals do just fine in Shout Factory's Blu-ray treatment of the film. Generally, the 1080p transfer is grainy and old looking—it could have used a little cleaning up for a more consistent look—but it feels right. The DTS-HD audio track is decent for being just in stereo, with a good mix of dialogue and effects. The film has an orchestral score that sounds appropriately dramatic for what is essentially The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The supplements are a disappointment, with just a few commercials and a slideshow. What, no expanded footage of that game show in movie's opening scene?
Fans of signature '70s science fiction will find plenty to geek out over with Futureworld. It's a corny, somewhat unoriginal sequel to a real gem, but it works on its own as an artifact from a simpler time.
Guilty of being an enjoyable inferior clone!
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Studio: Shout! Factory
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