Today I watched Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973)
Delos is a high tech amusement park and resort of a most astounding nature, it replicates three periods of history for it’s guests to enjoy. These three areas are Rome World, Medieval World, and the titular West World. These parks are inhabited by androids and guests are encouraged to indulge in pretty much any vice they can think of, from robbing banks and shooting people in West World to orgies in Rome World. Peter is a recently divorced lawyer and his friend John is taking him to West World for his first time, which Peter is a little trepidatious about. But after he shoots down an android gunfighter played by Yul Brynner and spends some time at ye olde whore house, he really finds himself getting into the spirit. Unfortunately something is going wrong in the park, glitches are becoming more and more common at an alarming rate and the supervising staff are having trouble keeping it all going smoothly. Things finally come to a head when a black knight kills a guest in Medieval World and suddenly all the robots start going axe crazy. Peter finds himself pursued by the Gunslinger now and with the park being shut down around him, its only a matter of time before he is caught in Brynner’s terrifying gaze and gunned down.
This film opens with an advertisement for Delos that questions a few clients, the first of which says straight up that he shot people and that was the entire appeal of his trip. This is the kind of provocative subject matter that this genre clash provides. Crichton really likes the imagery of the getaway, the resort, and the amusement park, finding dark suggestions on the nature of humanity in their ideals of luxury unleashed. In that sense this is a brilliantly evocative piece but one that covers up it’s more nihilistic interpretations behind a veneer of pleasantness which makes the final act and the subtle themes all the more disturbing.
I think where this film falters is in it’s pacing though as the middle does seem to drag somewhat. The main characters of Peter and John just aren’t that interesting and the film spends too much time focusing on them enjoying the attractions. I felt that the park and the situation was well established long before things really get going and the horror elements pick the film back up. It’s really the finale that keeps this film together, notably Yul Brynner’s steely eyed turn as a killer robot which is absolutely perfect. I think the film could have extended this intense finale longer and shortened much of the setup, sure there is plenty of good satire in the early film, but the payoff is what makes that satire work. The finale is also when Fred Karlin’s odd musical score really kicks off, much like the film blending sci fi and western elements with a touch of comedy and horror, just in sound form.
Even with it’s troubled pace, this is a deeply satisfying film, at least by the time it wraps up. Yul Brynner steals the show completely as the murderous android gunslinger, the actor was famous for his work in conventional westerns and he calls upon that experience to inform his performance, he just removes any human warmth; the film can’t get to his villainous turn fast enough. Westworld wraps some deeply concerning themes in an otherwise very entertaining veneer, a wonderful roller coaster ride that becomes quite disturbing when you think about it. 4/5