Boy, have we got a vacation for you…
Michael Crichton is a man of many talents. He's written best selling novels including "Congo," "Sphere," and "The Terminal Man." In the early 1990s he created the hit television show ER. Crichton even had his best selling book "Jurassic Park" turned into a blockbuster film by none other than director Steven Spielberg. One thing fans may not know is that back in 1973, Crichton wrote and directed the "theme park gone amuck" thriller Westworld. Aside of being the first film to use digitized images, Westworld also starred the late Yul Brynner (The King and I) as a western themed android who gets himself a case of the itchy trigger finger. Also starring James Brolin and Richard Benjamin, Westworld was originally an MGM film, now released on DVD by Warner.
Facts of the Case
For $1,000 a day you can live out your dreams! It's all possible thanks to Delos, a company focused on making customers experience the most fulfilling vacation possible! At the Delos resort patrons can visit one of three worlds: Medievalworld, Romanworld, or Westworld. Each "world" offers exciting action and adventure fully free of any dangers. Or do they?
When buddies Peter Martin (Benjamin) and John Blane (Brolin) decide to spend a few days in Westworld, they find out that it's just like the old west including real brothels, real bar fights, and real bullets. Westworld is comprised of fully automated robots that are programmed to go along with the show (including making love and bleeding real blood), but never harm the guests.
However, John and Peter find out firsthand that the machines are susceptible to failure…with deadly results! When a robotic gunslinger (Brynner) starts to malfunction, the two heroes are soon caught up in a real life draw with the most deadly machine known to cowboy!
Westworld is like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly meets Jurassic Park with a twist of The Terminator thrown in for good measure. It's silly, it's light, it's entertaining. If Westworld were produced today, it would be considered a shining example of a popcorn movie. For those of you out of the loop, a popcorn movie consists of a summer blockbuster that is considered fluff, yet is entertaining in its own special way. The Mummy Returns and Jurassic Park III are excellent examples of popcorn films. So too is Westworld. Westworld is like an early incarnation of Crichton's blockbuster Jurassic Park—a new amusement park is opened, an unforeseen glitch happens, death and chaos ensue. Certainly nothing new, but in 1973 it was a pretty original idea.
Michael Crichton is a very good storyteller. Westworld was his first foray into directing, and he certainly shows that he knows what he's doing. Though the script sometimes languishes a bit too long in some scenes, the action is well paced and the character's firmly drawn. Peter starts off as a bit whiney (he doesn't quite understand how to get into the spirit of Westworld, feeling quite "silly"), but once things start to go awry he grows some golf balls and steps up to the plate. James Brolin is married to Barbara Striesand in real life, so he's obviously a pretty tough guy on and off screen. I am shamed to admit that this is the first film I can recall seeing starring Yul Brynner. Brynner has a frigidness that makes him perfect for the role of the Gunslinger. He stalks, he shoots, he makes life uncomfortable for all who come near his path. Every time Peter shoots Brynner's character down, the Gunslinger is taken to the back rooms in Westworld, fixed up good as new, then thrown back into the town for more mayhem. There's a certain creepiness to seeing a character bumped off so many times yet walking and talking fifteen minutes later. Brynner' character is the heart of Westworld, and with any other actor it wouldn't have been quite the same.
Westworld is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Warner has done a decent job with the transfer, though there are many spots where grain and dirt are visible. Colors were usually bright and natural with some softness in the image during some sequences. Edge enhancement was spotted in a few instances, as was shimmer. A passable if overall weak transfer.
Audio is presented in Dolby Surround 2.0 in English, as well as a mono track in French. The 2.0 track is nothing impressive, only making sure that the dialogue, music and effects are clearly mixed. English, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The only supplement included on Westworld is a widescreen theatrical trailer. Watching the trailer, I was reminded of all the complaints that moviegoers have given about recent trailers giving away too much of the story. For those who feel this is a new trend, take heart; Westworld's trailer gives away most of its story twists as well. I'd advise you to watch the film first, then the trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All right, who ordered the flip flop hairdos and shaggy sideburns? I haven't a clue what Richard Benjamin looks like today, but let's hope to high heaven he's shaved off his little Fu Manchu moustache that he sports throughout Westworld. Otherwise, Westworld's basic troubles come in the form of its age. The back of the box touts Westworld as being "the first film to use digitized images," though in today's high tech CGI world they're about as impressive as sitting down to a game of "Pong."
While Crichton is a competent director, his tendency to linger on locations and characters sometimes bogs down Westworld. While the thought of real life robots is interesting, the explanation is not; the robot's internal make-up was partially designed by other computers. This in turn inhibits the creators of the Delos theme parks from truly understanding how the robots function. I'm not so sure I found this to be most plausible reasoning for their malfunction. Then again, who ever imagined that someone like James Brolin would marry "Babs"? I find that just as baffling.
Westworld is an enjoyable fantasy filled with some fun images and a lumbering Dick Van Patten as a nerdy Westworld guest. What else could you possibly want in a movie? Yul Brynner, James Brolin, and Richard Benjamin all give nice performances, and with Westworld Michael Crichton makes a decent writing/directing debut. Warner is commended on re-issuing Westworld on DVD, though it's a shame there aren't any substantial extra features.
Westworld is acquitted of all charges, but watch out for that crazy Gunslinger…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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