Westworld: A Michael Crichton Retrospective

Michael Crichton made the transition from novelist to filmmaker with the release of his sci-fi Western, Westworld, in 1973.

I have to be honest. Despite being a Crichton fan, I had never heard of Westworld until after Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy adapted it as an HBO TV series. In spite of that, I kept putting off viewing the original 1973 film. I watched it for the first time last week but the heat impacted my viewing, making it very tough to focus, let alone stay awake. As such, I decided to give the film another go this week. It was certainly worth giving it was second viewing because it is a very innovative film for its time. The visual effects are certainly what they were for the early 1970s but it’s very easy to see why a TV series was made using today’s technology.

Unlike many other Crichton films, this one is not an adaptation from a book. Crichton’s screenplay is original. Given how this is the first film to use digital image processing for simulating an android’s POV using pixelated photography, Michael Crichton was more groundbreaking than I give him credit for! It’s not even three minutes worth of footage but very impressive. There’s no way that he could have gotten around with such a POV by writing a book. What we have here is certainly a game-changer for the early 1970s. Of course, things would change, for better or worse, with Star Wars in 1977. This does not even begin to get into the impact of Jurassic Park, adapted from Crichton’s own novel. Little did I know that he recycled his own plot points in his later novel. But hey, the 1993 thriller would inspire a generation.

The gist of the film is that a pair of guests, Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) are visiting an interactive amusement park with lifelike androids. The park, Delos, features three distinct parks: Western World, Medieval World, and Roman World. Visiting Roman World is like taking a time machine back to Pompeii before the volcano. The other two are self-explanatory: the American Old West and medieval Europe. Visitors can do anything they want there for the cost of $1000 per day. Unfortunately, the androids begin malfunctioning–including Western World’s Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) and all chaos soon breaks loose. The thing with the Gunslinger is that he is programmed to start up gunfights. Other androids are programmed for other things, including intimate encounters with guests.

When guests go to Western World, they get guns. Not just any guns but guns that can sense body temperature. It’s a way of making sure humans do not kill each other. They can shoot at androids until their heart is content. But anyway, things start breaking down in their parks. Western World is the last to break down and given the Gunslinger’s programming, it is a recipe for disaster. Neither John or Peter know about the park breakdown and Peter runs for his life when the Gunslinger murders John in cold blood.

I have to admit that growing up on watching Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments makes it weird seeing him in other roles. He’s not a bad actor but I just associate him so much with one role in particular. I was also late to watching The Magnificent Seven, which, interestingly, is an inspiration for the Gunslinger’s portrayal. Brynner certainly plays one heck of a villainous android. It’s a bit weird to see the android without a face but again, that just speaks to the technology of the era.

Over fifty years later, Westworld remains a groundbreaking sci-fi Western.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Michael Crichton
CAST: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Norman Bartold, Alan Oppenheimer, Victoria Shaw, Dick Van Patten, Linda Scott, Steve Franken, Michael Mikler, Terry Wilson, Majel Barrett, Anne Randall, Julie Marcus

MGM released Westworld in theaters on August 17, 1973. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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