Westworld (1973) The Original Terminator

Cover of "Westworld"
Cover of Westworld

Written and directed by Michael Crichton and starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Dick Van Patten and Majel Barrett in a cameo as the Brothel owning Miss Carrie, Westworld  was a breath of fresh air in the Science Fiction genre.

Released in 1973 the film has admittedly not aged as well as it could have. Despite having the distinction of being the first feature length film to use digital image processing, a lot of the special effects, especially those dealing with the computerized hardware on the robots, are very dated. The transistors and ‘chips’ and wiring are ludicrously huge compared to today’s computer technology.

This doesn’t hurt the film though. A good story with excellent acting can overcome a lot. I remember watching this film in a drive-in as a youngster and ‘the gunslinger’ scared the crap out of me.

He still does.

Westworld is set on another planet and it is just one of three adult ‘theme’ parks. There is also a Medieval world and a Roman world. Guests pay a thousand dollars a day to experience these worlds. Each one is as realistic as possible and is populated by incredibly life-like android robots. The only part of the android that is a complete give away are the hands. “They haven’t perfected the hands yet,” James Brolin’s character wryly points out.

Richard Benjamin is lawyer Peter Martin, freshly divorced from his wife and she’s taken him to the cleaners. James Brolin is John Blane, Peter’s best friend and a ‘regular’ to the adult theme park. A shuttle takes the new guests to the park’s reception area. While on the shuttle guests are given a coloured badge to signify which world they will be staying at. Blue equals Westworld.

The two men get settled in and John teaches Peter  how Westworld actually works. He finds out that the guns won’t work on real people after he has a gunfight with Yul Brenner’s gunslinger. While the film is focussing on the two main guests, John and Peter, we are able to see ‘behind the scenes’ and witness how the park is maintained.

We also learn that the park is experiencing problems with the androids and other robots in the various worlds. The Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) is concerned ,as it appears that the robots are ‘transferring’ the problems, “like a disease.”

The main focus of the film are of Peter and John and the gunslinger. Played chillingly by Yul Brynner, the gunslinger is malevolent, un-stoppable, and damned scary. He is the first terminator. While watching this film for the first time, my daughter stopped it about halfway through. She looked at me and said, “Without this film there would have no terminator.”

I agree. Brynner’s mechanical treading towards his victim is undeniably scary. Combined with the overlaying soundtrack making a noise like a ruler being thrummed on something (a description my daughter came up with to equate the sound to) he sounds mechanical and menacing.

In fact the music of the film helps to set up each world, but the music for Westword, so evocative of say Ennio Morricone or Dominic Frontier intermixed with the computerized and mechanical music sells the action perfectly.

I have read that Warner Bros are still talking about doing a remake of Westworld and I hope it never happens.

Where on earth are they going to find an actor of Yul Brynner’s calibre. Brynner was paying a homage to his role as Chris in The Magnificent Seven, that brilliant remake of Seven Samurai and one of the best westerns ever made.

Are there any actors out there at the minute who can fill Yul’s boots?

I don’t think so.

Walk of fame at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis...
Walk of fame at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee. Yul Brynner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, vlogger, blogger, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, YouTube shows, Books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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