Friday, July 24, 2009

WestWorld: When the West was "Meh."

westworld, michael crichton, yul brynner

In 1973, acclaimed author and all-around cool guy Michael Crichton decided that he would write and direct a theatrical film. The story is pretty decent, and would have probably made an entertaining novella, or maybe expanded a little into a real novel. Unfortunately, what we have is this movie instead.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't terrible. It just isn't terribly good. I wasn't expecting it to be brilliant, so I wasn't disappointed. I've seen Maximum Overdrive, so I know how movies that are directed by writers can turn out (though I am glad for Maximum Overdrive, because it has a little league coach being bludgeoned to death by a soda machine). I'm sure there are some quality films directed by novelists, I just can't seem to think of any right now.

Ok, sorry about that, this movie isn't all that bad. It was released in 1973, was written and directed by Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, James Brolin, and Richard Benjamin, with a puzzling cameo by Dick Van Patten. In the future (or maybe not), there exists an adult amusement park, where for a paltry $1,000 a day, you can basically live in a carefully recreated medieval, Roman, or American western-themed world, and the primary thing that people want to do when they go there? They want to kill and/or have sex with robots.

John and Pete are going to WestWorld as the film opens, taking a hovercraft that jets majestically over a projected-screen desert. John's been there before, and Pete's a WestWorld virgin. When they arrive, we notice immediately that several of the stewardesses, attendants, whatever, have blank, terrible, soulless dead eyes. These are robots, with fully articulated movements, limbs, and extremely subtle and realistic facial expressions, mouth movements, etc. What's the one thing that these amazing future-scientists can't quite get right? Their hands. (This is a pretty major flaw in how an actual android would be; Currently, Japanese scientists have created some pretty amazing robot heads, but the faces are really the hardest thing to pull off. It's a big problem in CG, too.)

The only real problem with this movie is that I can't bring myself to care about the characters. They're pretty poorly developed, and there are some basic attempts made early on to round them out. Pete's apparently recently divorced, though it doesn't really matter too much. Not much is known about John, other than he really gets into the whole Western thing. The major conflict arises when the robots arbitrarily decide that they're not going to obey the rules anymore, and start killing everyone. Again, there are some basic attempts made to scientifically explain this, like it's some sort of real virus spreading around between the robots. But it doesn't really matter.

westworld,yul brynner

The best part about the movie by far is Yul Brynner. He's essentially playing his role of Chris from The Magnificent Seven. He only has like four lines in the movie, gets shot up a couple of times, and mostly stalks around in a very robot-y way, first kiling John and then spending some time trying to kill Pete. He's also apparently the only robot in WestWorld, because when all the rest of the robots go crazy, it seems to mostly be localized in the Roman and Medieval worlds. He also might just have a longer energy reserve than the other robots (because the dumb scientists shut down all the power, which didn't do anything except seal off some rooms and their own doom). The movie never really explains how the Yul Brynner Gunslinger character is able to rampage for so long, but evidently, it doesn't really matter. Because, y'know. He's a robot, man! And he's unstoppable! Literally a killing machine, what's better than that? This film attempts to postulate that not much is in fact better than that.

Westworld,michael chrichton,yul brynner

Also, they take his face off, and it's pretty cool.

This review seems pretty negative, so I must have disliked the movie more than I thought. I took a lot of funny notes while I was watching it, though, so I did enjoy it. (Sample note: "He gives a robot girl that was being tied up a sip of water and her friggin' face shorts out, and smoke pours from her cheek/ear/side of hear head. Good job, idiot. You could have totally had sex with that robot.") It is also a testament that I watched it all the way through. If a movie is that terrible, I'll stop watching it.

It's not imperative that this movie be seen by millions of people. It's even less imperative that anyone go out and watch the sequel, Futureworld, where the amusement park is used to lure the rich and powerful to their robot-y doom. There was also an ill-advised and thankfully short-lived television series called Beyond Westworld, where I rightly assume that the only thing it was "beyond" was sense, rationality, and the notions of entertainment.

If you're a super-huge fan of Michael Crichton, you may want to watch it, just to say that you did. Or, you may just be a huge fan of Runaway, the unexpected flop starring Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons, which was unexpectedly overshadowed by The Terminator in 1984.

I give WestWorld two and a half faceless robot Yul Brynners out of five.

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