For $1,000 a day, patrons can visit high-tech recreations of historically based mythical settings controlled by lifelike androids and synthetic environments: a Roman world that recreates tales of ancient Rome; a medieval world that recreates the legends of the Middle Ages; and Westworld, which recreates the myth of the classic Western. Two Chicago businessmen, Martin (Richard Benjamin) and Blane (James Brolin), spend their vacation in Westworld, where they live out their fantasies of the Old West mythology: chaotic barroom brawls, random love with beautiful prostitutes, and a violent jailbreak during which they shoot the local sheriff. But the complex technology that supports these fabricated worlds develops complicated syndromes faster than the scientists behind the scenes can resolve them. Soon the entire resort breaks down into chaos, and the androids turn hostile on the visiting tourists.
Directed by: Michael Crichton
. Starring: Yul Brynner
, Richard Benjamin
, James Brolin
, Norman Bartold
, Alan Oppenheimer
, Victoria Shaw
, Dick Van Patten
, Linda Gaye Scott
, Steve Franken
, Michael T. Mikler
, Terry Wilson
, Majel Barrett
, Anne Randall
. Music by: Fred Karlin
The theme of "Westworld" is one that has formed part of science-fiction since at least the time of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"- what would happen if mankind could create artificial life and if our creations then turned on us. Think, for example, of Isaac Asimov's "Robot" stories, with their Laws of Robotics designed to prevent such a thing form ever happening or, for that matter, of Hazel O'Connor's song "Eighth Day" (from which the title for this review is taken).
The film is set at some indefinite time in the future, a time when robots have been perfected to the point where they are virtually indistinguishable from humans. It doesn't, however, look much like the future. The only other futuristic invention we see is a gigantic hovercraft, and we never see the outside of that. (The film was evidently made on a tight budget). From the inside it looks just like a late twentieth century airliner, even down to the stewardesses uniforms and the passengers' clothes, all of which scream "1970s!", although presumably Richard Benjamin did not realise at the time just how retro his moustache and polo-neck sweater would look thirty years on. (Another thing that dates the film is the assumption that hovercraft would be part of the future; from the viewpoint of 2006, as a recent article in the "Daily Express" pointed out, they seem very much an idea whose time has come and gone).
The passengers are on their way to Delos, a hi-tech holiday park where guests can choose, for $1000 a day, one of three resorts, Roman World, Mediaeval World and Westworld, each of which recreates a specific historical period with the aid of robots. The main characters are two friends, Peter Martin and John Blane, who are spending their vacation in Westworld, a recreation of the American West of the 1880s. There they can live the life of a cowboy, complete with "Dodge City"-style bar fights, duels with robot gunfighters and even sex with female robots.
A team of technicians oversee everything to repair any damage to the robots and to ensure safety. The robots are supposedly programmed (echoes of Asimov's First Law) not to injure any of the guests; the film explores what happens when the system breaks down and the robots start attacking human beings. John is shot and killed, and Peter is forced to flee for his life from the menacing gunfighter (played by Yul Brynner recreating his character from "The Magnificent Seven") who tracks him across the desert landscape. (Director Michael Crichton is able to generate a lot of tension in these scenes).
The philosophical and ethical implications of artificial life were thoroughly explored in another robot film from ten years later, Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner". These issues are only touched on in "Westworld" which does not try and ask questions like "can an intelligent machine have a soul?" Unlike the replicants in "Blade Runner" which seem very human in their thoughts and emotions as well as in their physical appearance, the "Westworld" robots are quite alien. This is particularly true of Brynner's gunfighter, who speaks and moves in a slow, deliberate manner suggestive partly of a half-human machine and partly of a predatory animal tracking its prey. We never get the sense- which makes Brynner's character all the more frightening- that this is a creature motivated by any passions that we could understand.
It is never explained exactly why the robots turn on the humans, but such an explanation is not needed. (Indeed, as we are dealing with a futuristic technology far more complex than anything known in the twentieth century, such an explanation would probably not make much sense even if it were given). If there is a philosophical message behind the film, it is perhaps the familiar Luddite one found in Shelley's novel and O'Connor's lyrics, namely that mankind's technological hubris, the lust of knowing what should not be known, will inevitably lead to nemesis.
The film also has some satirical points to make. As another reviewer has pointed out, there are similarities between the Delos concept and present-day theme parks such as Disney World. There is also satire at the expense of the "heritage" industry and the way in which it panders to our sense of nostalgia. In Delos, the only use to which the technology of the future is put is to create a replica of an imagined past. "Westworld", however, is best approached not as a satire or as a philosophical "message"film but rather as an exciting thriller which ingeniously combines the science-fiction and Western genres.
Review by James Hitchcock from the Internet Movie Database.