'Westworld' Review–A Genuine Sci-Fi Influencer

Updated on April 13, 2018
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction, but I love classics and various cult pieces also.

Westworld was released in the early seventies as an irreverent response to the dozens of movie clichés imposed for decades by the entertainment industry, especially in the western genre.

In Westworld, a group of tourists travel to Delos, a giant high-tech amusement park with three themed “worlds” to choose from: Medieval World, Roman World, and West World. The three environments are full of androids that are virtually identical to humans, and whose only functions are to serve and entertain the tourists. They should encourage adventure without risking the safety of the customers and, in some cases, even respond to seduction and fulfill the sexual desires of the visitors.

Underground, a group of scientists, engineers, and technicians constantly monitor all activities. Everything is under strict control: the weather, animal behavior, and every physical and personality aspect of all androids.

However, when Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John (James Brolin) begin to constantly face a black-dressed Gunslinger (portrayed by a wonderful Yul Brynner who creates a physical performance that succeeds in bordering the uncanny valley) that seems to have a special obsession with them, all in Westworld begins to be perceived in a different way.

At times, Westworld looks like a mere excuse to mix robots with cowboys (and medieval knights!) with the sole objective to grab the viewer’s attention for this unique and striking circus. There is no clear motivation or explanation for the antagonists’ behavior (just an unbelievably coordinated general malfunction). If there is a critical element, it is not easily perceived. It feels like a missed opportunity to develop the motif on the power of humans over an artificial intelligence that greatly resembles humanity.

This is one of the first techno-thriller experiments by a still young Michael Crichton, who would later refine the formula into future classics like Jurassic Park or Disclosure.

Westworld seems to underestimate itself most of the time. The first hour is practically a light-tone comedy about a wacky amusement park, with silly jokes and witty lines about the quality of the android-prostitute sex. It’s only in the last half hour when this film shows its real teeth, becoming a sci-fi thriller full of technophobia and a voracious criticism to escapism. This tonal inconsistency ended up costing Westworld the rank of a classic, yet reaffirmed its strong cult film status.

Crichton, however, did show hints of his visionary approach. Westworld, for example, focuses its premise on the spread of a virus software, highlighting a term 20 years before its popularization.

Westworld was also technically inventive. Even with a low budget (which resulted in long shots, captured chronologically to save time in analog editing, which means a conservative direction with a traditional approach and a slow pace), this film was the first to use digital image processing for a pixelated effect in the androids’ vision. Considering the importance of CGI these days, that milestone was a gigantic one.

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Westworld has become a reference and direct influence of contemporary classics such as Total Recall, The Truman Show, Jurassic Park, The Cabin in the Woods, and Terminator. In 2016, HBO has released a series based on the film, with Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams as producers and with a luxury cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, and Evan Rachel Wood.

Even with its undeniable shortcomings, the legacy of Westworld is undeniable.

Movie Details

Title: Westworld
Release Year: 1973
Director(s): Michael Crichton
Writer(s): Michael Crichton
Actors: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, a.o.

3 stars for Westworld (1973)

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