Theatrical release poster by Neal Adams
|Directed by||Michael Crichton|
|Produced by||Paul Lazarus III|
|Written by||Michael Crichton|
|Music by||Fred Karlin|
|Edited by||David Bretherton|
|Box office||$10 million|
Westworld is a 1973 science fiction western-thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton and produced by Paul Lazarus III about amusement park robots that malfunction and begin killing visitors. 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 (the pre-Christian city of Pompeii). 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 "Boy have we got a vacation for you!"
Peter Martin (Benjamin), a newly divorced lawyer and first time Delos visitor, and his friend John Blane (Brolin), who has vacationed at the park before, go to 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 with a high body temperature, but allow them to "kill" the "cold-blooded" androids. The Gunslinger's programming allows guests to outdraw and "kill" it, with the robot always returning the next day for another 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 a robotic 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 Black Knight robot 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. However, the shutdown traps them in Central Control when the doors automatically lock, unable to turn the power back on and escape. Meanwhile, the robots in all three worlds run amok, operating on reserve power.
Martin and Blane, passed out drunk after a bar-room brawl, wake up in West World's bordello, unaware of the park's massive breakdown. When the Gunslinger challenges the two men to a showdown, Blane treats the confrontation as an amusement until the robot outdraws, shoots and mortally wounds him. Martin runs for his life and the robot implacably follows, tracking him with its heightened senses, including infrared scanners.
Martin flees to the other areas of the park, but finds only dead guests, damaged robots, and a panicked technician attempting to escape Delos who is shortly thereafter shot by the Gunslinger. Martin climbs down through a manhole in Roman World into the underground control complex and discovers that the resort's computer technicians suffocated in the Control Room when the ventilation system shut down. The Gunslinger stalks him through the underground corridors. Ambushing it, Martin throws acid into its face and flees, returning to the surface inside the Medieval World castle.
With its optical inputs damaged by the acid, the Gunslinger is unable to track him visually and tries to find Martin using its infra-red scanners. He stands behind the flaming torches of the Great Hall to mask his presence from the robot before setting it on fire with one. Hearing weak cries for help, Martin rescues a woman chained up in the dungeon, but when he tries to give her water she short-circuits, revealing she is 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 on the dungeon steps in a state of near-exhaustion and shock, as the irony of Delos' slogan resonates: "Boy have we got a vacation for you!"
- Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger
- Richard Benjamin as Peter Martin
- James Brolin as John Blane
- Norman Bartold as the Medieval Knight
- Alan Oppenheimer as the Chief Supervisor
- Victoria Shaw as the Medieval Queen
- Dick Van Patten as the Banker
- Linda Scott as Arlette, the French prostitute
- Steve Franken as the Delos Technician shot dead by the Gunfighter
- Michael Mikler as the Black Knight
- Terry Wilson as the Sheriff
- Majel Barrett as Miss Carrie, madam of the Westworld bordello
- Anne Randall as Daphne, the serving-maid who refuses the Medieval Knight's advances
- Nora Marlowe as the Hostess
- Robert J. Hogan as the Delos Guests' Interviewer (uncredited)
Crichton says he did not wish to make his directorial debut with science fiction but "that's the only way I could get the studio to let me direct. People think I'm good at it I guess."
The script was written in August 1972 and was offered to all the major studios. They all turned down the project except for MGM, then under head of production Dan Melnick. Crichton:
MGM had a bad reputation among filmmakers; in recent years, directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Blake Edwards, Stanley Kubrick, Fred Zinneman and Sam Peckinpah had complained bitterly about their treatment there. There were too many stories of unreasonable pressure, arbitrary script changes, inadequate post production, and cavalier recutting of the final film. Nobody who had a choice made a picture at Metro, but then we didn't have a choice. Dan Melcnick... assured [us]... that we would not be subjected to the usual MGM treatment. In large part, he made good on that promise.
Crichton says preproduction was difficult, with MGM demanding script changes up to the first day of shooting and the leads not being locked down until 48 hours beforehand. He says he had no control over casting and MGM originally would only make the film for under a million dollars but later increased this amount by $250,000. Crichton says that of the budget, $250,000 went on the cast, $400,000 on crew and the remainder on everything else (including $75,000 for sets).
Westworld was filmed in several locations, including the Mojave Desert, the gardens of the Harold Lloyd Estate, several MGM sound stages and on the MGM backlot, one of the final films to be shot there. It was filmed with Panavision anamorphic lenses by Gene Polito, A.S.C.
Richard Benjamin later said he loved making the film:
It probably was the only way I was ever going to get into a Western, and certainly into a science-fiction Western. It’s that old thing when actors come out here from New York. They say, “Can you ride a horse?” And you say, “Oh, sure,” and then they’ve got to go out quick and learn how to ride a horse. But I did know how to ride a horse! So you get to do stuff that’s like you’re 12 years old. All of the reasons you went to the movies in the first place. You’re out there firing a six-shooter, riding a horse, being chased by a gunman, and all of that. It’s the best! [Laughs.]
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.
Crichton later wrote that since "most of the situations in the film are cliches; they are incidents out of hundreds of old movies" that the scenes "should be shot as cliches. This dictated a conventional treatment in the choice of lenses and the staging."
The movie was shot in thirty days. In order to save time, Crichton camera-cut.
The original script and original ending of the movie ended in a fight between Martin and the gunslinger which resulted in the gunslinger being torn apart by a rack. Crichton said he "had liked the idea of a complex machine being destroyed by a simple machine" but when attempting it felt "it seemed stagey and foolish" so the idea was dropped. He also wanted to open the film with shots of a hovercraft travelling over the desert, but was unable to get the effect he wanted so this was dropped as well.
In the movie's novelization, Crichton explained how he re-edited the first cut of the movie because he was depressed by how long and boring it was. Scenes which were deleted from rough cut include a bank robbery and sales room sequences; an opening with a hovercraft flying above the desert; additional and longer dialogue scenes; more scenes with robots attacking and killing guests, including a scene where one guest is tied down to a rack and is killed when his arms are pulled out; a longer chase scene with the Gunslinger chasing Peter; and one where the Gunslinger cleans his face with water after Peter throws acid on him. Crichton's assembly cut featured a different ending which included a fight between Gunslinger and Peter, and an alternate death scene in which the Gunslinger was killed on a rack.
A Yul Brynner biography mentions that 10 minutes of "adult material" was cut because of the censors (probably for PG rating), but no details about footage that was cut for rating issues were mentioned in Brynner's biography or anywhere else.
Once the film was completed, MGM authorized the shooting of some extra footage. A TV commercial to open the film was added; because there was a writers strike in Hollywood at the time, this was written by Steven Frankfurt, a New York advertising executive.
Digital image processing
Westworld was the first feature film to use digital image processing. Crichton originally went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but after learning that two minutes of animation would take nine months and cost $200,000, he contacted John Whitney Sr., who in turn recommended his son John Whitney Jr. The latter went to Information International, Inc., where they could work at night and complete the animation both faster and much cheaper. 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.
The film was a financial success, earning $4 million in rentals in the US and Canada rentals by the end of 1973 becoming MGM's biggest box office success of that year. After a re-release by 1976 it earned $7,365,000.
Crichton's original screenplay was released as a mass-market paperback in conjunction with the film.
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
After making the film, Crichton took a year off. "I was intensely fatigued by Westworld," he said later. "I was pleased but intimidated by the audience reaction... The laughs are in the wrong places. There was extreme tension where I hadn't planned it. I felt the reaction, and maybe the picture, was out of control."
Crichton did not make a film for another five years. He did try, and had one set up "but I insisted on a certain way of doing it and as a result it was never made."
Network TV airings
Westworld was first aired on NBC television on 28 February 1976. The network aired a slightly longer version of the film than was shown theatrically or subsequently released on home video. Some of the extra scenes that were added for the US TV version are:
- Brief fly-by exterior shot of the hovercraft zooming just a few feet above the desert floor. Previously, all scenes involving the hovercraft were interior shots only.
- The scenes with the scientists having a meeting in the underground complex was much longer giving more insight into their "virus" problem with the robots.
- A scene with a couple of techs talking in the locker room about the work load of each robot world.
- There was a longer discussion between Peter and the sheriff after his arrest when he shot the Gunslinger.
- During the scene where robots are going crazy,there was a scene in Medieval World where a guest is getting tortured on the Medieval rack. At first he tries joking while getting dragged to the rack and saying "What is this, a joke? Hey! I paid in advance!" But then he really gets desperate and says "I really don't want to do this!" and then starts to scream as he gets placed on the rack and stretched and then his arms are pulled out of their sockets. One still shot shows piece of this scene with guest on rack while one of the robots wearing some kind of hood is standing next to him.
- Gunslinger's chase of Peter through the worlds was also extended.
- There was a scene added in which Gunslinger is splashing water on his face from the sink after being hit with the acid, he recovers and then there was a close-up of his face when he turns around real quickly and his silver eyes turned into black and crazy look.
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.
Crichton used similar plot elements - a high-tech amusement park running amok and a central control paralyzed by a power failure - in his bestselling novel Jurassic Park.
Westworld contains one of the earliest references to a computer virus, and the first mention of the concept of a computer virus in a movie. The analogy is made by the Chief Supervisor in a staff meeting where the spread of malfunctions across the park is discussed.
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 his wife Lisa Joy will write and executive produce the series with Nolan directing the pilot episode. Production is set to begin in Summer 2014  in Los Angeles.
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