Reviewer: John Carpenter
Release date: 11/21/1973
88 mins/Rated PG
It had been so long since I ‘travelled’ to ‘Westworld’, I was looking forward to the trip. This time the journey would be different. Rather than watching the movie on a 4:3 television, ‘Westworld’ was going to be screened in 35mm glory as part of the Alamo Drafthouse’s Terror Tuesday. For those not familiar with the story, ‘Westworld’ is about an amusement park for rich adults. For $1000 a day, men and women from all over gather to themed ‘worlds’ to live out their fantasies with the most realistic robots ever. While some vacationers head to Roman World and Medieval World, the plot focuses on Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) as they head to Westworld. The men dress up like cowboys and stay in an authentic ‘western’ town with amenities from the 1800’s. The era was dangerous, so the men are equipped with real guns to defend themselves. In order to keep things safe for customers, the guns are designed to only fire at the life-like robots. Soon after arriving, Peter is harassed by a gunslinger (Yul Brenner). Peter shoots him down and begins to soak up the fantasy world he is visiting. Then things start to go wrong. Some of the robots begin to malfunction to a point of making the trio of towns dangerous for the guests. The gunslinger no longer relies on the commands given and turns the fantasy world into a nightmare by stalking Peter and John.
The pace of the film is nice, though it does trail off a bit in the final 15 minutes. There is humor peppered throughout and once things heat up, ‘Westworld is a solid thriller. While the gunslinger is hunting down Peter, the film loses a bit of steam. It almost feels like a slasher movie. It still saves a few surprises and keeps viewers guessing as to how the villain will ultimately be defeated.
As we all know, when a lot of time passes before watching a movie again, perspectives change. ‘Westworld’ was one of those movies that I caught on television all of the time while growing up. It is a PG movie that teeters on an R rating and was always given the green light by my parents. Written and directed by Michael Crichton, it is now hard not to compare the film to ‘Jurassic Park’ or ‘Terminator’. There are a ton of similarities, but rather than rely on technology to sell the story ‘Westworld’ hangs its hat on the iconic Yul Brenner. He is timeless in the role. Crichton cloned the character of Chris Adams from ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and turned him into a cold, bloodthirsty robot. From the first time he bums into Peter in the bar until the final scene, the ‘gunslinger’ is a menacing villain. The role is so intense, it is actually difficult to go back and see ‘The Magnificent Seven’ without thinking of ‘Westworld’ and how the character was manipulated so well.
‘Westworld’ is a must see film that has gotten better with age. Michael Crichton may have revisited similar themes with ‘Jurassic Park’, but it this 1973 classic had stood the test of time. The movie can be found on DVD for less than $10. If you haven’t seen ‘Westworld’ in a while, I highly recommend taking a futuristic look at the world from a 1970’s perspective.