Friday, 21 October 2016

Classic Movie Review: Westworld (1973)

What better way to connect the recent release of The Magnificent Seven remake and HBO's TV show of Westworld, by reviewing the original sci-fi classic. Now if you're wondering why I mentioned The Magnificent Seven, well Yul Brynner was the star of that original movie and he's one of the creepiest robots you'll ever see in this movie. Westworld is also the first movie ever to use CGI and while not at all what we're used to now, it's still very impressive.

The Delos Resort is an adult amusement park where guests can go to three seperate worlds and live an immersive experience for one thousand dollars a day. The three worlds are Roman World, Medieval World and West World. The amusement park is inhabited by androids that are programmed to do whatever the guests want to do. Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) is a first time visitor, being shown around by his friend John Blane (James Brolin). Initially Peter and John have a great time, getting into gunfights with the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) and going on the run from the law. But soon the scientists behind the scenes, including the chief engineer (Alan Oppenheimer), find a computer virus that is making the androids go crazy. As things get worse and worse for the guests, Peter and John realise they shouldn't have hassled the Gunslinger so much.

On the surface, Westworld could easily be dismissed an old school sci-fi movie that isn't too good. It isn't until the end of the movie that any action really happens and it wraps up all too quickly. If it wasn't for the TV show that is currently airing on HBO, I doubt many people would even know about it. Indeed a friend of mine was surprised to hear that it even was a movie, he just thought it was a cool show. But dig a little deeper and it's actually quite a revolutionary movie. It is the first movie to use CGI sequences. There are a few times when we get to see through the eyes of the Gunslinger. It is only very basic pixels where coloured blocks represent actual things (and later a primitive version of infrared). While most action blockbusters today have some element of CGI in them, back then this was an unknown thing. It's little surprise to hear that this movie has a direct connection with Jurassic Park, the movie that pioneered the technique two decades later. Michael Crichton wrote and directed this movie, while inspiring himself to write Jurassic Park.

The performances in this movie are of note too. While Richard Benjamin does give a very bland performance in the lead, Yul Brynner and James Brolin do their best to shoulder the weight. It would be terrible to describe Yul Brynner's performance as robotic, but that's exactly what he is. It is so much fun to watch a classic actor to show no expression, no emotion, just movement. That adds a level of fear to his performance. This thing is capable of anything and you believe it. He is also dressed in the exact same costume as his character in The Magnificent Seven and acts in a total antithesis to that character. To me James Brolin looks like Christian Bale in American Psycho. There are definite parallels between the characters too. Both John Blane and Patrick Bateman do things with a disregard to the world around them. At least John Blane does it with the knowledge that the world around him is fake.

Westworld is a forgotten gem of the sci-fi genre, even though it has influenced so much of today's entertainment. Everything from the types of things we watch to the way they make them owe a lot to this movie. And while it may seem clunky and robotic for a modern audience, it's still an exhilarating action movie.

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