Review: Westworld (1973)

With the new HBO television series Westworld coming to our screens now, I really wanted to return to the original that inspired it, Michael Crichton’s own written and directed Westworld feature from 1973.
I haven’t watched this film in years, maybe even fifteen years, but I always remember it fondly. Fondly enough that in hearing about the television show I had some reservations… While I’ve not started the show yet, I’ve heard nothing but good things, so I can’t wait!

I really hope people don’t forget this film; it is way ahead of its time!

Delos Destinations invites you to one of three immersive experiences: Roman World, Western World and Medieval World. Here you can fulfill any desire you please! Only for $1,000 a day!

Two friends visit Western World to escape their normal everyday lives, a total recreation of the American frontier, populated by robotic animatronics that look, sound and act like real people of the time. Unable to be hurt themselves, the rich and pampered guests can experience gun fights, barroom brawls and anything else in total safety.
What could go wrong?

Watching films like Westworld is like rediscovering Asimov, in some regards. You can’t help but look at it with some superiority; the passage of time giving us huge leaps in technology and science, making high concepts such as robots and artificial intelligence some what commonplace. Yet… these writers and creators implemented these concepts with what tools they had, with what limited perception they had of what the future could hold. It is fascinating!
Is that a nice way of saying it has dated? Maybe. But Westworld still holds its own in every other regard. And even if I were saying that, it is still a massive compliment.

Nine years before Bladerunner brought in the cyber-punk era and long before science fiction films came close to social commentary and satire like Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, Westworld starts off with a surprisingly edgy piece of satire. A reporter filming a piece on the film’s amusement park company Delos Destinations asks a patron what he did in Westworld. The response: “I shot six people!” he says excitedly.
With today’s increasing focus on gun laws, this immediate excited response, the following sheepishness, and the framing device of a televised interview, felt straight out of a Verhoeven movie.What’s more it is still effective today!

The film is an often moody, intense experience, but doesn’t forget to remind you that this is an amusement park. Our main characters, Peter and John, are there for a good time, and the film certainly shows them fooling around and fulfilling some of the better cliches of the Wild West. But in the background we have the technicians and scientists working behind the scenes, and from there we see mishaps and chaos brewing.
While it has dated in aesthetics, it still carries off the effect it desires. The final twenty minutes or so is classic and extremely memorable as Yul Brynner’s “Gunslinger” goes on a rampage. I love how Brynner looks exactly as he did in The Magnificent Seven thirteen years earlier. The finale is virtually silent, the tone going from a satire western into stalker horror! Inspiration for The Terminator, no doubt.

It is a great little science fiction story, unique and well told with only the early 70s tech dating it. In light of watching it again, I can see how a television show could be spun from this; one the film’s strengths is all the potential for expansion! It makes you think.

Don’t let it be forgotten, the original Westworld is quite a gem for its time.


Additional Marshmallows: I love how the tagline of the film is:

“…Where nothing can possibly go worng!”


One Comment Add yours

  1. wotsbooks says:

    Not seen the series yet but looking forward to it. Watched this a while ago, again, and it’s still one of my favourite sci-fi movies. Though, as you mention, it is let down slightly by being dated through its lack of 70s effects etc it’s easy to overlook these due to itd i telligent oncept. And like logan’s run or robocop they may be remade, rebooted or remained but the originals will always remain classics

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