Theatrical release poster by Neal Adams
|Directed by||Michael Crichton|
|Produced by||Paul Lazarus III|
|Written by||Michael Crichton|
|Music by||Fred Karlin|
|Editing by||David Bretherton|
|Running time||88 minutes|
|Box office||$4 million (US and Canada rentals)|
Westworld is a 1973 science fiction western-thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton and produced by Paul Lazarus III. It stars Yul Brynner as an android in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as guests of the park.
Westworld was the first theatrical feature directed by Michael Crichton. It was also the first feature film to use digital image processing, to pixellate photography to simulate an android point of view. The film was nominated for Hugo, Nebula and Golden Scroll (a.k.a. Saturn) awards, and was followed by a sequel film, Futureworld, and a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld. In August 2013, HBO announced plans for a television series based on the original film.
Sometime in the near future a high-tech, highly-realistic adult amusement park called Delos features three themed "worlds" — West World (the American Old West), Medieval World (medieval Europe), and Roman World (pre-Christian Rome). The resort's three "worlds" are populated with lifelike androids that are practically indistinguishable from human beings, each programmed in character for their assigned historical environment. For $1,000 per day, guests may indulge in any adventure with the android population of the park, including sexual encounters and even a fight to the death, depending on the android model. Delos' tagline in its advertising promises "Have we got a vacation for you!"
Peter Martin (Benjamin), a first-timer, and his friend John Blane (Brolin), who has visited previously, visit West World. One of the attractions in West World is the Gunslinger (Brynner), a robot programmed to instigate gunfights. The firearms issued to the park guests have temperature sensors that prevent them from shooting humans or anything else living, but allow them to "kill" the "cold-blooded" androids. The Gunslinger's programming allows guests to outdraw it and "kill" it, always returning the next day for a new duel.
The technicians running Delos notice problems beginning to spread like an infection among the androids: the robots in Roman World and Medieval World begin experiencing an increasing number of breakdowns and systemic failures, which are said to have spread to West World. When one of the supervising computer scientists scoffs at the "analogy of an infectious disease," he is told by the Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer), "We aren't dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they've been designed by other computers. We don't know exactly how they work."
The malfunctions become less peripheral and more central when an android rattlesnake succeeds in injuring Blane in West World, and, against its programming, an android refuses a guest's sexual advances in Medieval World. The failures escalate until Medieval World's robotic Black Knight kills a guest in a swordfight. The resort's supervisors, in increasing desperation, try to regain control by shutting down power to the entire park, but this traps them in the control rooms, unable to turn the power back on while the robots run amok on reserve power.
Martin and Blane, passed out drunk after a bar-room brawl, wake up in West World's bordello, unaware of the breakdown. When the Gunslinger challenges the two men to a showdown, Blane treats the confrontation as a typical amusement until the robot shoots and actually hits him, mortally wounding him. Martin runs for his life as the robot implacably follows him.
Martin flees to the other areas of the park, but finds only dead guests, damaged robots, and a panicked technician who is shortly shot by the Gunslinger. Martin climbs down through a manhole in Roman World to the underground control area and discovers that the resort's technicians suffocated when the ventilation system shut down. The Gunslinger stalks Martin through the underground corridors. Ambushing it, Martin throws acid into its face and bolts, returning to the surface in the Medieval World castle. The Gunslinger, its optical inputs damaged by the acid, is unable to track him and Martin sets it on fire with a torch. He tries to rescue a woman chained up in a dungeon, but she turns out to be an android. The burned hulk of the Gunslinger attacks him one last time on the dungeon steps before succumbing to its damage. Martin, apparently the sole human survivor, sits in a state of near-exhaustion and shock, as the irony of Delos' slogan resonates: "Have we got a vacation for you!"
Westworld was filmed in several locations, including the Mojave Desert, the gardens of the Harold Lloyd Estate, and several sound stages at MGM. It was shot with Panavision anamorphic lenses by Gene Polito, A.S.C.
In the scene when Richard Benjamin's character splashes the Gunslinger in the face with acid, Brynner's face was covered with an oil-based makeup mixed with ground Alka-Seltzer. A splash of water then produced the fizzing effect.
Digital image processing
Westworld was the first feature film to use digital image processing. John Whitney, Jr. digitally processed motion picture photography at Information International, Inc. to appear pixelized in order to portray the Gunslinger android's point of view. The approximately 2 minutes and 31 seconds worth of cinegraphic block portraiture was accomplished by color-separating (three basic color separations plus black mask) each frame of source 70 mm film images, scanning each of these elements to convert into rectangular blocks, then adding basic color according to the tone values developed. The resulting coarse pixel matrix was output back to film. The process was covered in the American Cinematographer article Behind the scenes of Westworld and in a 2013 New Yorker online article.
Crichton's original screenplay was released as a mass-market paperback in conjunction with the film.
Network TV airings
Westworld was first aired on NBC television in 1975. The network aired a slightly longer version of the film than was shown theatrically or subsequently released on home video. One added scene shows a brief fly-by shot of the ekranoplane zooming just a few feet above the desert floor. Previously, all scenes involving the ekranoplane were interior shots only. Another additional scene later in the film features a guest in Medieval World being subjected to a torture rack.
The film has a rating of 84% at Rotten Tomatoes. Reviewing the DVD release in September 2008, The Daily Telegraph reviewer Philip Horne described the film as a "richly suggestive, bleakly terrifying fable — and Brynner's performance is chillingly pitch-perfect."
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Robot Gunslinger - Nominated Villain
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Science Fiction Film
A sequel to Westworld, Futureworld, was filmed in 1976, and released by American International Pictures, rather than MGM. Only Yul Brynner returned from the original cast to reprise his Gunslinger character. Four years later, in 1980, the CBS television network aired a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld, expanding on the concepts and plot of the second film with new characters. Its poor ratings caused it to be canceled after only three of the five episodes aired.
Beginning in 2007, trade publications reported that a Westworld remake starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was in production, and would be written by Terminator 3 screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Bracanto. Tarsem Singh was originally slated to direct, but has since left the project. Quentin Tarantino was approached, but turned it down. On January 19, 2011, Warner Bros announced that plans for the remake were still active.
In August 2013, it was announced that HBO had ordered a pilot for a Westworld TV series which will be produced by J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nolan, and Jerry Weintraub. Nolan and Lisa Joy will write and executive produce the series with Nolan directing the pilot episode.
In popular culture
A fifth season episode of The Simpsons, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, features a chase scene that references a similar scene in Westworld. The sixth season episode Itchy & Scratchy Land also parodies and freely quotes Westworld. Set in a futuristic theme park, the robots of Itchy & Scratchy Land rebel against their programming and attempt to kill the Simpson family.
A third season episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo?, Go West, Young Scoob, the gang travels to an old western town, Cyber Gulch, where the robot residents have spiraled out of control. It features a bald gunslinger who wears a black hat. Very akin to the one featured in Westworld.
The first half of the third season episode 6 of The Angry Beavers, The legend of Kid Friendly, Features the beavers fighting against a cowboy robot in a western style theme park, which might be a reference for westworld.
In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark quips at his aggressor Eric Savin, saying "You like that, Westworld?", in comparison of Savin's and the Gunslinger's mental slowness, indestructible persistence, and bald heads.
The "analogy of an infectious disease" made by the computer scientists in the conference early in the film concerning the central processor malfunctions being experienced by the androids may be the first reference to an induced software malfunction, aka a computer virus, in a motion picture. Veith Risak's pioneering article on a self-replicating computer program had been published in a technical journal in 1972, the year before Westworld was released.
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