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April 2, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #65 - Westworld

Though I'm generally nerdy in person, there have been a select few times in my life when the level of nerdiness I'm capable of is truly evident to all those around me.  For no particular reason, I remember one of those times.  It was sometime in 1998, and I turned to a friend and randomly said "Y'know, one of these nights I need to have a 25th anniversary sci-fi double feature with Soylent Green and Westworld".  Not surprisingly, his response was a bit of bewilderment followed by "You should run a movie theater or something someday".  I'd like to think his delayed, confused response was directly related to my awesomeness, but he probably thought it was just weird that I'd throw that out there.  I regret nothing.

But hey, it's 13 years later, and I'm here to say I love Westworld.  (Don't get me wrong, I still love Soylent Green too....but that's a different story for a different day.)  Michael Crichton's bit of sci-fi - which he both wrote AND directed! - is still a groundbreaking piece of pulpy fun that foreshadowed some of the biggest cinema crazes of the '80s.  It thrills the viewer throughout a brisk runtime of under 90 minutes, all while creating four different worlds that provide an interesting clash due to their differing morals, customs and - perhaps most importantly - tools of survival.
First and foremost, I have to point out that it's also a film in which James Brolin looks creepily....and I mean REALLY creepily....similar to Christian Bale.  I mean, it's uncanny.  You take the picture of James Brolin above, years before his immaculate Amityville Horror beard, and put it next to a picture of Christian Bale.  It's ridiculous.  I hear Russell Crowe is attached to a remake of the film - which by definition is a bad idea - but if they get Bale to fill the Brolin role (and maybe Andrew Garfield to fill in for Richard Benjamin?) - I'm suddenly interested, because that movie would be the closest thing to real life time travel we've ever seen. 
Now, about the movie.  Westworld tells the tale of two businessmen, played by Benjamin and Brolin, who are taking a $1,000/day vacation at one of the luxurious DELOS resorts which promise a trip back in time to one of three worlds gone by.  There's MedievalWorld, which promises the lifestyle of a swordfighter or decadent armorclad person.  There's RomanWorld, which kind of looks like a toga party with less sex - this is a PG movie, after all.  And there's the obvious choice, Westworld, which promises an authentic trip into the southwest of years gone by.

On their way to Westworld, it can quickly be determined that Brolin is the cool half of the duo - who's also returning to Westworld a second time - while Benjamin's character is a bit fidgety and not in any way cool like a Brolin (or Bale).  He gets plenty of chances to literally "cowboy up" during the opening days of the week long trip, which include picking up robo-babes, getting in barroom brawls, and participating in gunfights.  No one wants to pay $1,000 a day to die during a gunfight, so luckily the gunfights are mechanically rigged using some kind of body heat sensors.  (I never really understood this.  Why couldn't the script have just said they were using cheat codes?  I'd have understood THAT.)
In another attempt to be realistic, Westworld is fully equipped with a robo-gunslinger that looks just like that guy from The Magnificent Seven.  That's right, Yul Brynner himself co-stars opposite our displaced businessmen, and is an incredibly imposing villain once things go haywire near the film's midpoint.  There's something really neat about seeing the actor in his tough guy persona during the first half of the film - when the viewer knows he's harmless - and then seeing him become an unstoppable force in the second half.  Brynner is just playing into a stereotype, really, but he does so with a silent confidence and stilted mannerisms that remind modern viewers of future villains like Michael Myers and The Terminator.

The fourth world we enter in the DELOS resort might be my favorite to ponder.  It's the "behind the curtain" side of the resort, where a bunch of guys in white lab coats with varying degrees of glasses and facial hairs twist nobs and speak into microphones while running the army of World-Bots that keep all three resorts functioning.  There's also a pseudo-morgue in this whitewashed series of hallways, which is just another part of this control center set that I am completely fascinated by. 
New viewers will undoubtedly spend much of the film wondering a) how all these controls and all the robo-doctoring can go so smoothly to run such a large resort and b) whether or not these computer controlled facilites are the dumbest thing ever invented by people smart enough to create functional robogunsligers, roboknights, and robowhores.  (I answer a) Don't know, I'm not a robotologist, and b) Yes.)  There's definitely a parallel that can be drawn between these control rooms and some of the sets in Crichton's Jurassic Park, and there's just something about these "I can control every individual water fountain in sequence using this series of knobs and levers" type centers of SCIENCE that makes me smile and wonder.
There are plenty of other things to wonder about in regard to Westworld - like exactly how robo-ho sex works or why all the whitecoated sci-guys didn't think to build doorknobs that weren't computer overridden - but none of it really takes away from how fun Westworld can be as a vacation from reality.  Crichton's film has aged remarkably well, and there's no reason Westworld - hopefully via blu-ray in the near future - wouldn't be a great pick for the next time you want to see a one of a kind sci-fi film with an iconic unstoppable killer and a time-traveling Christian Bale. 


Emily said...

Oh man, I've known about this movie for years, yet still have never seen it. Thanks for the reminder The Mike!! I'll have to get on that soon.

deadlydolls said...

I love the idea of WEstworld, but it's also my go-to answer for what film do I want to see remade. I just think there's SO MUCH MORE there that could be made into an absolutely kickass film. GIve me GreekWorld!

simoncolumb said...

I had a friend who, whenever I noted how much I loved JURASSIC PARK, they would turn round and say "Jurassic Park is a rip off of WESTWORLD". He said this for years and I eventually watched it and, yes, they are similar. But I know which one I prefer. The one with big-fucking-dinosaurs.

The Mike said...

Emily, I would totally see a remake of this one. It's definitely just a tease of what could happen, but I still love what it has to offer in its simple form. I see that the OOP sequel, Futureworld, is on Instant Netflix, so I may have to check that out soon.

Simoncolumb, I'd agree there are similarities. But I wouldn't call it a rip-off, for sure. And yes, BFDs are a deciding factor. Thanks for reading!

deadlydolls said...

A warning: don't get your hopes up. There's a reason no one's clamoring for an official Futureworld release...