A movie about a place where prostitution is legal and murder is encouraged is PG. Thank you very much, 1970s.
DIRECTOR: Michael Crichton
I watched this movie with my dad as a kid and I was obsessed. But I haven't watched it since then. After my wife and I binge-watched the HBO series, a moment of kismet landed a copy of the original movie in my lap. So we watched it immediately after the finale and I have all of the feelings...
...not all of them good.
Westworld as a concept is actually very cool. As a prototype to Crichton's later success Jurassic Park, the film offers what could be considered an intro to morality class about the nature of good v. evil and what the objective good could be considered. It ponders whether man is inherently good or does he need evil without fully ever spelling it out. I kind of love these hypothetical morality plays. Twilight Zone almost exclusively dealt with this subgenre of science fiction and it plays really well in a television format. I honestly think that's why the TV show works so well. But the cool concept is a little bit of a double edged sword because a big budget science fiction story almost requires a plot to sell to large audiences. And the plot itself is pretty cool! The robots decide to murder everybody. (30 somethings instantly flashed back to Itchy & Scratchy Land and now it allllllll makes sense.) The problem is that the plot only really starts playing out in the last 20 to 30 minutes, which is criminally short for a 90 minute movie. The rest of the movie is simply explaining the potential of a world full of murder. It's a lot of "Wouldn't it be cool if..."?
Something that seems to be pretty consistent with a lot of '70s sci-fi is how cheap the movie looks. Crichton wasn't really a proven director. He never really became a proven director for the most part. He was known for spinnin' a pretty solid yarn, but never showing what works and that might be Crichton's biggest flaw in this movie. The set really screams "Reused studio backlot". Considering that the park is meant to be the epitome of authenticity, the walls look like plywood and the details are nowhere to be found. This movie somehow found its way into the canon of great science fiction, but it really looks like a made for TV movie at times. This is an era where science ficiton isn't really seen as viable. Remember, this is pre-Star Wars. Its contemporaries are Logan's Run and The Omega Man, which also kind of look equally chincy. But those movies don't base themselves on the premise of complete immersion.
The casting is the third element of this movie. Being the super cool eight year old that I was, I loved The Magnificent Seven. Having Yul Brynner semi-reprise his role from this movie is a complete joy. This really shouldn't work. Brynner is barely in the film, but he steals the show despite his actual lack of lines. He's super creepy and makes the film self-aware. I get the vibe that Brynner is paid through the nose for being in this, which explains the budget and the other casting. James Brolin somehow doesn't get lead billing for this movie because he's in a ton of it. It would have been easier to have him be the protagonist, but that luxury comes down to Richard Benjamin. I don't know if Crichton is trying to break the trope of the typical leading man, but putting Benjamin in this role is just bizarre. His charisma is confusing and he just seems kind of mousey. I applaud him if he's trying to break a trope, but it is too ambiguous if that is the case.
I loved this movie as a kid, but I don't think that this movie really holds up against time, especially knowing that the new show really just blows it out of the water. A lot of this is on the budget and on Crichton as director. This has the bare bones of greatness, but there's a lot of tweaking that needs to happen here.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.