(director/writer: Michael Crichton; cinematographer: Gene Polito; editor: David Bretherton; music: Fred Karlin; cast: Yul Brynner (The Gunslinger), Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin), James Brolin (John Blane), Norman Bartold (Medieval Knight), Alan Oppenheimer (Chief Supervisor), Victoria Shaw (Medieval Queen), Dick Van Patten (Banker), Linda Scott (Arlette); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Paul N. Lazarus III; MGM Home Entertainment; 1973)
“Its serio-comedy is intelligently presented.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Michael Crichton (“Looker”/”Runaway”/”The Great Train Robbery”) in his film debut as director in this novelty hybrid Western and sci-fi film, that uses the theme of robots as man’s slaves who go amok from a malfunction and go on a killing rampage. To his credit, the visionary scientist Crichton envisioned a computer virus before that was thought possible. The film had great box office success as one of the first films to open wide in 300+ theaters instead of the usual way of doing business by opening in NYC and LA and later the rest of the country. The title refers to a Disney-like theme park for the rich adults, who for a $1,000 a day become tourists to exercise their historical fantasies. The corporation that runs the theme park is called Delos, and advertises it as a vacation resort of the future for today, and offers its guests a choice of experiencing one of its three recreational theme parks: Medievalworld, Romanworld or Westworld. They are manned by robots acting as real people and are almost indistinguishable from human beings except for the hands, which have not yet been perfected. The parks capture in the smallest detail the historical periods recreated. For some of the theme scenes the gardens of movie comedian Harold Lloyd’s estate were used, other spots were the Mojave Desert and several sound stages at MGM. The film is also of note because it’s the last movie MGM produced before dissolving its releasing company.
First-time guest Chicago lawyer Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and repeat guest John Blane (James Brolin) choose to stay at Westworld, a recreation fantasy world of the Westen Frontier of the 1880s. They are outfitted with authentic Western dress and real six-shooters. As programmed, the robots are supposed to lose to the humans every time and their guns are programmed to stop firing when detecting a human as the target. In the opening scene, Peter guns down the gunslinger, a robot played by an excellent Yul Brynner, who always loses. When the computer system goes haywire for some undetermined reason (one of the techies says it was “mimicking the infectious disease process”) and can’t be shut down (apparently no emergency exit strategy was provided by the game creators), the robots in the three theme parks kill all the guests and then their batteries run out. Eventually the gunslinger and Peter are the only two left, and Peter has to use his noodle to figure out a way to stop the unstoppable gunslinger robot who is determined to kill him.
Fun for awhile, but the film lags in the middle when the novelty idea tires. But in the last half hour the pic redeems itself with an exciting gun duel that was filmed with hardly any dialogue. I also thought Crichton left us with a fuzzy message about technology. On the one hand he warns of its dangers and in us relying too much on it, and on the other hand his eyes are open wide in schoolboy awe at what technology can do for mankind.
It’s solid entertainment even if it’s schlock; yet its serio-comedy is intelligently presented, and it’s certainly unique as a Western that tells us there’s never such a thing as a certainty that the good guys always win.
REVIEWED ON 5/12/2008 GRADE: B