Westworld (Michael Crichton, 1973)
[originally posted 7Mar2001]
Does the world really need another technology-gone-mad movie? When the question can be asked (and fill in any type of genre after “another” and any type of media for “movie”), the answer is usually “no.” And thus Westworld seemed destined to fade into quiet and well-deserved oblivion even before its release. The second directorial project from author and well-known doomsayer Michael Crichton (the first being the forgettable Pursuit) wasn’t going to do anything to enhance the man’s budding movie career, said critics.
To an extent, they were right, but Westworld still survives almost three decades later. Much of the reason for this has nothing at all to do with Crichton’s predictably hysterical storyline or his somewhat wooden directorial style. Trekkies obsessively rent the movie as one of Majel Barrett’s rare big-screen performances, but the rest of us want to marvel at Yul Brynner—partially because he’s absolutely awesome as a homicidal and seemingly unkillable android, but mostly because he gets top billing for a minor role.
In case you haven’t seen it, Westworld is the story of a resort (no one knows where, except presumably those who operate it) where robots have been used to recreate various settings in time and place for the amusement of guests paying a thousand (1973!) dollars a day for the privilege of interacting with them. “Interacting” usually means doing things you can’t do in real life without punishment, such as sleeping with, shooting, or otherwise taking advantage of anyone you want to. Two friends, John (an understated James Brolin) and Peter (Richard Benjamin, now better known as a director than an actor), take a trip to Westworld just as the fur is starting to fly. On their first night, they get into a barroom brawl, and Peter shoots a robot gunslinger (Brynner), who mysteriously shows up again, alive and whole, the next day.
Simple, obvious, predictable, but still worth watching for Brynner’s performance. ***