Posted on 5/15/11 08:35 PM
A pioneer both in its use of digital effects (the first ever in a feature film) and the use of an unstoppable arch-menace we would see again in THE TERMINATOR and HALLOWEEN, Michael Crichton's WESTWORLD is an amusement park you might want a season pass to. Err, I mean a DVD you might want to buy. Damn, I need to stop with these metaphors.
Crichton's theme park is a tri-partite complex known officially as Delos, and its billed by everyone and their grandmother as the best amusement park in the world. Why? Because not only do you have carte blanche to unleash your inner hedonist, you can do it in three spiffily recreated pasts: the Roman Era, the Medieval Era, and, of course, Westworld.
These parks were planned and executed with a scholar's attention to detail. You wont find any Byzantine sculpture in the Roman Era, it's no shoddy reproduction. The castles and rolling hills of the Medieval Era are straight out of a movie (well...) and the saloon doors and spitoons of Westworld look as if they were snatched directly out of the lawless 19th Century American frontier.
One of my fantasies, as a cinema buff, is to live in a movie set. Odd, I know. I'd pack up and move, in an instant, if one of the apartments in Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW ever became available for let. Having a keen interest in history as well, I'd kick back in Delos for a week as soon as I could scrape together the cash. Jurassic Park, Schmurassic Park.
Each park is populated, and herein lies the magic, by a colony of self-aware (well, to an extent) human cyborgs. These machines are the stuff of genetic engineers' wet dreams, gadgets that look exactly like the real thing and can act the part. Their only flaws, as revealed by one of our protagonists, are their hands, only rough sketches of the intricacy we find in human appendages. If "killed" or damaged in the line of duty, a black clad group of technicians steal them away to be repaired, and in some cases re-engineered.
But WESTWORLD isn't just a tour of this futuristic fantasyland, it has a narrative to boot.
Our chief protagonist is Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin), a mustached city slicker who's there, presumably, on the invitation of buddy John Blane (James Brolin). Blane's been there before, and has the cool confidence of a man with experience. Martin is slightly unnerved at first by the hyper-realistic world he encounters, and Blane fields his newcomer questions unbegrudgingly. We learn from Blane that guns don't kill, or at least they can't harm guests, and that for that matter nothing can harm guests. Attractive ladies in waiting or brothel girls never resist a paying customer's advances (!), and when shot at cyborg gunslingers fall to the ground dead, with a few satisfying blood splatters for good measure. Martin finds a nemesis to his hero in a nameless gunslinger who is-- I mean, absolutely is-- Yul Brynner. The chief problem a remake faces, out of the starting gate, is making do without him.
But it's a movie after all, and in movies that hold any kind of interest something must go wrong. In WESTWORLD its the uber-realistic man-machines who go awry, namely our nameless gunslinger. First, the Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) notices a spike in cyborg malfunctions. The disturbing trend seems to stem from a problem with the Central System, a nasty glitch that seems to be spreading, like a computer virus, from android to android. Never, as is emphasized, have the technicians seen such a high rate of breakdowns.
It's an inspired premise for a science fiction movie, especially a low-tech one. All is needed is a few actors to act faintly robot-like and a few setpieces that shouldn't be too difficult to find on an average Hollywood backlot. And although WESTWORLD isn't as perfectly realized as its flawlessly recreated pasts, it also isn't as mistake prone as the unnerving androids it immortalizes.
Boy, have we got a vacation for you!