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Why WESTWORLD Matters

I recently revisited Westworld (1973) a film that kind of scared the crap out of me as a kid, even in its television version.

I think it scared me less because it was incredibly violent and generally unusual in its SciFi production design, but more because it was such a cynical tale of the human condition.

But watching the film today goes beyond taking pleasure in its kitschy early-70s take on the future (although that’s a hell of a lot of fun).

I’d go so far as to say we need more smart Science Fiction like Westworld.  Last year’s Prometheus was as close as we’ve gotten in a long time (Sunshine before that) and I’m afraid this summer’s After Earth just doesn’t cut it.

Some reasons why Westworld matters…

IT EXUDES THE CREATIVE MIND OF MICHAEL CRICHTON

The late-great Crichton was a mastermind of pop science-fiction and medical anomalies that worked well for him so early in his career that he was given the role of director of this movie, which he also wrote.

He would go on to direct the similarly spooky Coma film adaptation from a novel by Robin Cook.  Crichton just had an eye for the genre, and he peaked his multifaceted career with a number one movie, book and television show all during the same time in 1994 (Jurassic Park, Disclosure and E.R.).  Hollywood could use a few more multi-tasking, multi-talented filmmakers able to hold their power with little studio interference.

At the very least someone should get started on building Michael Crichton robots.

THERE WOULD BE NO JURASSIC PARK WITHOUT WESTWORLD

Before the dinosaurs ruled the Earth, this was Crichton’s exploration of a theme-park gone gonzo.  Given our post-Jurassic Park movie expectations, you’ll be surprised how much plot and style made its way into the JP books and movies.

Even the line “spared no expense” originated from Westworld.  “Hold on to your butts,” on the other hand, was all Samuel L Jackson.

HOLLYWOOD IS STILL MAKING THIS MOVIE

This past weekend’s The Purge is yet another tale of a crazy “get your ya yas out” futuristic society.  A reflection of a violent world dealing with violence through violence is nothing new of course, but Westworld goes to some balsy places for a 1973 Hollywood release.

Guests of the adults only amusement park, known as Delos, embark on chosen stays in West World, Medieval World or Roman World.  Each world features the romanticized versions of their time period and culture, but guests know they’re also getting the full out experience with prostitution, violence, adultery and other hedonistic pleasures not likely to be found at Disneyland.

IT’S ENTERTAINING AND INTROSPECTIVE

We, the audience, are as guilty as the fictional park guest characters on the screen, which is kind of the whole point.  The movie is pure escapist entertainment, and designed to keep you entertained with a mix of drama, action, comedy, fantasy, science fiction and even horror.

We may never get to the robotic reality of Westworld, but we take comfort in the safety of seats as viewer.

THERE’S A WHOLE LOT OF SLOW MOTION

And it’s pretty awesome too.  This was the 70s, when every action scene meant slo-mo sequences accompanied to funky synth on the soundtrack.  None of this quick cutting, fake Avid crap.  We’re talking beautiful shot-in-slow-motion bar fights and robots flying through plate glass windows.  Bring it and bring it SLOOOOOOOOOW.

IT WAS ODDLY PROPHETIC
We may not have theme parks where “killing” and/or having sex with robots is welcome, but we do have a lot of high-priced recreation amusement parks.  One could argue even that most amusement parks, spurred on by the success of the Disney model, became more thematic after the early 70s.

Virtually every franchise-friendly property has made or will make its way into a park deal – Marvel,  Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, Snoopy, Sesame Street and Avatar to name a few.  I remember Hanna-Barbara Land completely blowing my mind as a kid at Ohio’s KING’S ISLAND way before stepping foot in the mouse house.

Also, all three experiences in Delos–West World, Medieval World and Roman World–are post-modern, 1970s takes on time periods, having more of an authenticity with later culture interpretations.

Take a look at biblical theme parks in the world today, equality inspired by populist takes.  What would Jesus ride?

As for the more adult oriented high-priced attractions, the current average space flight stands at around $200,000 for a 3-6 minute ride.  At least in West World, you could kill and have sex with robots.  I don’t think you get to join the mile high club in weightlessness.


WESTWORLD is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.  It is currently available with your Amazon Prime membership for free streaming.

It was followed by a sequel, Futureworld also available on DVD and Blu-ray and then by the television series Beyond Westworld, not currently available for retail.

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