January 20, 2013

Westworld (1973)
Starring Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, and Yul Brynner

"Contact us today, or see your travel agent. Boy, have we got a vacation for you."

Comments:    At one point in the late 60's or early 70's, science fiction author Michael Crichton went to Disneyland for the first time and he was fascinated by what he saw.   Between Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean, what he saw were lifelike animatronic figures that were frighteningly realistic and, if you didn't know any better, could easily pass as being actual human beings.  He was astonished at how real they looked and how much technology it must have taken behind the scenes to get those things working.

After his shock at seeing how far technology had come in the world, after his amazement at how realistic the animatronic figures looked and acted these days, obviously the next step for a writer like Michael Crichton was to sit there and wonder, "Hey, I wonder what happens if these things go berserk and they start attacking people?  What happens if Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, and the pirates start eating people?"

Does that quote sound familiar to you?  Well it should.  It is a quote from Michael Crichton's 1993 hit movie Jurassic Park.  Jeff Goldblum says it right before Jurassic Park breaks down and the dinosaurs start attacking everyone.

Well this isn't a review of Jurassic Park.  

No, this is a review of Michael Crichton's FIRST attempt at Jurassic Park.  In fact, some would even say it is the better one.  This is a review of the very first "Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down and the pirates start killing people" movie, Michael Crichton's 1973 movie Westworld.

No longer the happiest place on Earth

Westworld is one of those movies that is very well known to people of a certain age.  If you grew up in the early 70's, if you know anything about 1970's science fiction, obviously you know all about it.  This movie was a big hit at the time and it was a major science fiction movie of its era.  In fact one could easily argue it is one of the single most influential movies that has ever been made (more on that later).  

However, if you did NOT grow up in the early 70's, there is a good chance that you have NOT heard of Westworld.  For whatever reason this movie seems to be virtually unknown among people who were born after 1980.  Heck, I was born in 1974 and not only did I not see it until a couple of years ago, I had never even HEARD of it until I was in my mid 30's.  And that is pretty amazing for me to never have even heard of a movie, because I know so many random obscure little movies from the 70's and 80's that it is not even funny.

I will tell you where I first was tipped off about Westworld.  

One day I was watching the DVD commentary for my favorite horror movie of all time, Halloween.  And John Carpenter was talking about where he came up with the idea of Michael Myers.  Because remember, there had never been a quote/unquote "slasher" movie prior to Halloween.  There had never been any sort of template for that type of unstoppable killer until John Carpenter invented it in 1978.  People forget this, but prior to 1978 there was no Michael Myers type of movie character.

Well John Carpenter was talking about how he came up with the idea of Michael Myers, and in the DVD commentary he said that he basically just stole the idea from a movie called Westworld.  He said that he loved Westworld so much, and he loved Yul Brynner as the unstoppable gunslinger so much, that he basically just ripped off the idea (and he ripped off Yul's walk) when he created Michael Myers.

And I remember sitting there thinking, wait what?  WTF?  How is it that I have never heard of Westworld before?

The original Michael Myers. The original Jason Voorhees.  The original Terminator.  The grandfather of all of them.

Westworld is the story of the most amazing theme park in the world.  It is called Delos and it is basically a completely animatronic version of Disneyland.  For a thousand dollars a day, people who want the vacation experience of a lifetime can travel to Delos and they can visit one of three "lands".  

They can go to Medievalworld, which is a faithful representation of living in a medieval castle.

They can go to Romanworld, which is a faithful representation of the excess of ancient Rome.

Or they can go to Westworld, which is a faithful representation of being a cowboy in the Old West.

Visitors to Delos can go to one of these completely animatronic, completely realistic worlds.  Where everyone they meet is a robot and they are free to do whatever they want.  And as the advertisement on the radio promises, "Nothing can go wrong."

... go wrong...

... go wrong...

Well obviously it wouldn't be much of a movie if nothing went wrong.   I mean, come on, you've seen Jurassic Park.  You know how these movies work.

Our two main characters (Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) show up to Delos as part of a vacation, and they immediately decide to go to Westworld.  After all, how much fun would it be to be a cowboy in the Old West?  Especially if you can shoot all the robots but none of them are allowed to shoot you?

Oh yeah, and how much fun would it be to have sex with all the smoking hot animatronic prostitutes?

"Yeah they look completely real.  Everything but their hands."

Well our two heroes show up to Westworld and for the first day or so they have a grand old time.  They start an old fashioned bar room brawl.  They stage a prison break.  They visit a brothel.  They take turns shooting the shit out of the bully in the local saloon.  For the first day in Westworld everything is exactly as advertised.  It indeed is the vacation of a lifetime.  And nothing can possibly go wrong.

Our heroes

Our heroes in Western garb

Our hero blowing the crap out of the bully in the saloon


Well unfortunately day one is as far as their vacation gets.  Because on day TWO, well, that's when the shit kind of hits the fan.  That's when, for lack of a better term, a computer virus sort of gets in the system.  And suddenly the animatronic robots at Delos go berserk and they start attacking people.  Yes, this is the part of Pirates of the Caribbean where the ride breaks down and the pirates start attacking the guests.  Just like Jeff Goldblum talks about in Jurassic Park.

And nobody is more unstoppable than the bully gunslinger

The second half of Westworld is amazing.  It is just Yul Brynner walking around like a badass trying to shoot everyone.  And there is nothing you can do to stop him.  When I saw it for the first time I immediately thought, "A ha, now I see what John Carpenter was talking about.  This really IS like Halloween.  He is right when he says he completely ripped off Westworld."  And then the second thing I thought was "How come everyone doesn't already know that?  How come I am just finding this out now?"


Now obviously Westworld was an influence on Halloween.  John Carpenter even tells us that himself.  And since Halloween was basically the template for every slasher movie after that, well that makes Westworld kind of a big deal.

But wait.  There's more.  We are not done yet talking about what a big deal this movie was.

Westworld was also a major influence on Jurassic Park.  I mean, duh.  Michael Crichton wrote both of them and they are basically the exact same movie.  In fact you could easily just call Jurassic Park "Westworld version 2.0."   They both came out of Michael Crichton wondering what would happen if things at Disneyland suddenly went wrong.

But wait.  There's even more!

It is impossible to watch Westworld (from 1973) and not also think of The Terminator (from 1984).  After all, you have an unstoppable robot in black walking around killing people.  And that is all he knows how to do.  He shoots and he kills.  And he feels no pity.  Does that sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator to you?  Well I'm sure that James Cameron sure saw Westworld before he made The Terminator.

Oh yeah, and then I have to add this:

See that image?  That is a picture of Westworld as seen from the robot's point of view.

Which doesn't sound like that big a deal, until you realize that THIS WAS THE FIRST COMPUTER DIGITIZED IMAGE EVER SEEN IN A MOVIE.  Yes, that's right.  You know how The Terminator and Predator were famous for showing the world from a robot's point of view?  Well Westworld did it first.  About a decade earlier.  Michael Crichton invented that storytelling technique in 1973 in Westworld.

Westworld isn't the greatest movie in the world.  It is kind of cheesy (even by 1970's science fiction standards) and some of the computers and technology now look downright laughable.  But damned if it isn't a fun movie that doesn't get the respect it deserves.  EVERYONE should know about Westworld, not just people who grew up in the early 70's.  Everyone should know this movie inside and out, like the back of their hand.  It is that damn important.  I mean, it basically influenced EVERYTHING.  Horror movies.  Science fiction movies.  Creepy theme park movies.  Cloned dinosaurs chasing Kirsten Dunst movies.  Westworld is the father of just about of all them.  It is a crime that so few people have actually seen it (or even heard of it) before.

And again, I can't say enough about Yul Brynner as the gunslinger.  He should be right up there with the Michael Myers and the Freddy Kruegers and the Jason Voorhees of the world.  He was that damn good, and he was that damn iconic.  Yet no, I would guess that 75% of the people who are reading this review are only hearing about him for the first time right now.

It is a damn shame.  This is why Westworld is a perfect movie for my "200 Movies that Deserve More Love" countdown.

Oh yeah, and this.  Yul Brynner is basically doing a parody of his character from The Magnificent Seven.

In short, Westworld is one of those movies that you just have to see at least once.  It should be required viewing for anyone who has any interest at all in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, horror movies, James Cameron movies, science fiction movies, or Jurassic Park.  It is amazing that a movie like this came out in 1973, it was so much ahead of its time.

For about ten years, I have been hearing rumors that Hollywood is going to remake Westworld.   Every couple of years you hear it pop up in the news that a remake is being planned, and that they are working on a script, and yadda yadda.  I know for a couple of years there were rumors that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to star in the remake.  But at this point in history (January 2013) it has never actually happened.  I know it WILL happen one day, this movie is too cool for someone not to take the chance on.  But as of now there is still only one Westworld.  And I kind of like that.

By the way, for those of you who don't think that this was an influential movie, check this out.  My 10 year old son was watching an episode of Jimmy Neutron this morning (I swear, it was about two hours ago.)  And at one point in Jimmy Neutron one of the characters promises that nothing can possibly go wrong.  Then his voice tails off and it echoes "... go wrong... go wrong...."

I am glad to see that the legend of Westworld still exists today, even in random kids cartoons that were made forty years later.  

Now that is one influential movie.

Stay here.  I'll be back.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Westworld

Jurassic Park Version 1.0 -  24 July 2004
Westworld was the blueprint for what was later Jurassic Park. Here, Michael Crichton first envisoned Disneyland, if the Hall of presidents ran amuck. It provided many of the inspirations for later sci-fi films, like Terminator. It was a great blend of action, horror, and comedy.

Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are the heroes of the film, but Yul Brynner is the star. He portrays a robot, based on his character from "The Magnificent Seven." Brynner is the relentless killing machine who fights until the end. With almost no dialogue, he conveys fear with little more than expression and body language.

The film explores old themes, the dark side of technology, but it was ahead of its time in depicting the dangers of computers and automated systems. The effects are dated, but the story holds up well. The sequel, Futureworld, tried to add political intrigue, with less success. Definitely one for the sci-fi fan or collector, or cult movie lover.

The age old science fiction question. - 11 March 2011
What happens when robots are integrated into our society, and they malfunction turning against humans? Westworld is an early attempt at this genre of science fiction, being released in 1973. The subject matter is tackled in a creative way. This film takes place at America's newest and most popular amusement park. Guests are able to choose from a variety of three realistically simulated situations all referred to as worlds; Romanworld, Medievalworld, and of course Westworld. Romanworld is barely in the film at all only showing very brief glimpses. There is actually a decent amount of Medievalworld shown throughout the film. Unfortunately, there was never a big joust sequence even though it was hinted at. Main focus, as if you didn't know from the title, is Westworld. The movie starts off at a slow pace introducing the concept, and effectively giving us a cinematic representation of what it would be like for a first timer at the park. Once the newcomer gets comfortable in his setting with the help of his friend who has lived the experience all ready, the movie picks up the pace and remains rather action oriented throughout the duration. All of the typical things you would expect tourists to do in an old west setting where there are no consequences, start occurring including; shootouts, bar fights, jailbreaks, friendly saloon visits, etc… A little over halfway through a serious problem happens, the scientists are no longer in control of their robots. I will not get into details, as I would hate to ruin the film. The acting all around is decent, but in particular Yul Brynner, as the gunslinger robot, shines in what might be the best portrayal of a robot I have ever seen in film. A true classic, and one of my favorite movies.

For $1000.00 A Day -  19 November 2007
You can see the roots both in the plot and the special effects in Michael Crichton's Westworld that can later be found in the incredibly popular Jurassic Park series.

Like Jurassic Park the protagonists of Westworld are a pair of wealthy American yuppies who are going to a futuristic vacation resort. The place is called Delos and like Disneyland with its separate theme parks of Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and the World of Tomorrow, Delos has three different resort type places to visit, Romanworld, Medievalworld and Westworld.

Our two intrepids have chosen the Westworld experience. They get to mix and mingle in an old west frontier town, or at least a Hollywood type version of same and get the feel of western life. Included are gunfights and bar brawls such as you see in any good Hollywood western. This is what Richard Benjamin and James Brolin have chosen for themselves.

For reasons unexplained in the story, the whole thing breaks down in all three theme worlds and in the case of Westworld, a very nasty gunslinger robot has shaken loose from his programming and is on the hunt for human targets. Will man with all of his weaknesses defeat an apparently indestructible machine?

You can also see some of the themes in the later Terminator films that Arnold Schwarzneggar popularized. Here the relentless hunter is played by Yul Brynner in the familiar black western garb that he made popular in The Magnificent Seven.

The VHS copy of Westworld advertises itself as the very first use of computer graphics. If that's the case this is one unique experience for that reason alone and should not be missed.

RIP Michael Crichton - 30 July 2009
What a movie... the precursor to Jurassic Park. Nothing like it had been made before, and i doubt anything will match it. One of my all time favourites. Crichton put down his pen, picked up a camera, and effortlessly made a cinematic masterpiece. Yul Brynner as the renegade cowboy-droid is sinister personified, the soundtrack is eerie as hell, and the action scenes are somewhat Peckinpah-esque, which is always good! MASTERPIECE! 70's movie-making at its peak.... i urge all of you to watch it and bathe in the liquid genius. The two protagonists are geeky and cool respectively and make for highly entertaining watching as they peruse the delights of westworld... and the moment where they realise things are out of control is genius.


Definitely has held its viewing value - 12 August 2008
Westworld is one of a handful of sci-fi films that seems to never age. Made before Star Wars changed what sci-fi meant, it is more than just an adventure in the future plot: it is a great idea - What if you could go on holiday and be part of another world / time?

Wouldn't we all want that?

THe clever part is that Westworld puts us in a cowboy setting and then introduces robots too - making the unfamiliar very familiar.

The Western kind of plays out just as you would want it to - imagine you were given such a holiday, you'd want gunfights and barfights and loose women, and with the robots around the moral consequences are avoided - until the robots go haywire.

Yes the computers look hokey, but in 72 they did look futuristic with their 3D figure modelling, but above all what makes the fliming stand out is great lighting, costumes (All new enough to look as they a company had made them for the experience), and good, clean directing and grading of film mean that this is far more ageless that you'd expect.

Very good entertainment with a brilliant turn by Yul Brynner as the robot cowboy - his eyes may be glazed but his body language is pure dynamite.

One of the better films of its genre, and a great film in its own right.


That's Not Supposed To Happen ! - 8 November 2008
Delos is a luxury theme park resort where the tourists live out their fantasies in fabricated worlds populated by lifelike robots. Peter and John are holidaying in Westworld, a wild-west frontier town, when suddenly the android programming goes horribly wrong …

Brilliantly written and directed, Crichton's first film is exceptional on multiple levels - as a straight action movie full of dynamic fights, chases and shocks, as an eerily effective blend of ancient and modern film styles (the shot of the body-strewn main street at night as the technicians come out is an astonishingly wrong image), and as a clever social satire of theme parks and decadent consumer leisure gone insane. In a strange way, the robots are almost more sympathetic than the humans - after all, they're only doing what they've been asked to - whereas the people are mostly corpulent pigs who demand what they've paid for. The masterstroke is the casting of iconic Brynner as the indefatigable black-clad gunslinger; not only is his physical performance outstanding, but his presence links this futuristic science-fiction film perfectly to a bygone cinematic age of epics and westerns. The stunning half-hour chase between him and Benjamin which concludes the movie is both great action and a mini-existentialist odyssey. Crichton dispassionately documents the complete failure of the technicians' ability to control their systems, but never at the expense of the ongoing story - his sense of the rhythm of the plot is superb. Featuring much excellent stuntwork and action choreography throughout by the prolific Dick Ziker, including a stunning example of the notoriously dangerous full body burn. This terrific science-fiction cult classic exemplifies my three Golden Rules of good cinema; make it original, make it exciting and make it stylish. Extremely influential on many subsequent sci-fi flicks (notably The Terminator and Jurassic Park), and followed by an enjoyable but unexceptional 1976 sequel, Futureworld.

Modest and successful - 17 December 2003
Part of the continuing Michael Crichton 'science is fallible' continuum, 'Westworld' is the sort of intelligent film that couldn't be made today without elaborate special effects, lots of noise and a loud hip hopping metallic score. It is a straightforward film that slowly exerts a grip, not unlike 'The Andromeda Strain'. The texture is miles away from the lumbering 'Jurassic Park' and subsequent clones.

The early scenes are fun with the characters Peter Martin and John Blane immersing themselves into the fantasy of the American West. Richard Benjamin as Peter Martin is very good, an ordinary guy initially sceptical, then plunging into the play with gusto, then frightened as the fantasy and fun turns to terror. He is completely believable.

The later scenes are basically a chase but what makes it worst is that he is being chased by a robot played by Yul Brynner. Yes, it's heroic Chris from 'The Magnificent Seven' turned into a relentless inhuman killer! It's a great piece of casting.

With atmospheric music to propel the story along this modest film is a real sci-fi jewel and deserves recognition as the fine forerunner of later but not better films.

Surprisingly very good!!! - 6 June 2003
This movie has mixed reviews on the imdb, I knew what to expect, but I wasnt sure how good it would be, but it was great. The idea was very outragous for 1973, and it still packs a punch now. I noticed that a lot of newer movies have ripped this off, for example: How it showed what the robot(Yul Brynner) could see in infered while hunting down Richard Benjamin, this was used 14 years later in "Predator"(1987), actually that whole final 20 minutes reminded me a lot of Predator. All in all this is a worthy addition to my collection, stands the test of time much better than any other sci-fi of its age.

* My favorite piece of trivia about Westworld:

* The first use of computer digitized images as part of a feature film (not merely monitor graphics) was the Gunslinger's point of view in Westworld. After the process was finally developed enough to produce satisfactory results, it took a mere eight hours to produce each ten seconds of Gunslinger's pixellated POV.

* My favorite scene in Westworld:

Pretty much any time that The Terminator... I mean Michael Myers... I mean the Gunslinger is on screen is an A+ movie moment.  Oh and the last 20 minutes of the movie are awesome.

Westworld at the IMDB

Westworld at Wikipedia

Back to 200 Movies That Deserve More Love