Picture this: a fantastic theme park where relics of long ago are brought back to life through advanced technology, and people can interact with them and experience something beyond their wildest imagination. No, I’m not talking about Jurassic Park (1993), I’m talking about a different Michael Crichton-related film, Westworld (1973). The HBO series kicked off last month and is already a television phenomenon, so let’s take a look back at Crichton’s first time directing a major motion picture.
The plot is, in fact, very similar to Crichton’s most famous work, the aforementioned Jurassic Park. Havoc breaks out when malfunctioning robots (one played by Yul Brynner) go on a rampage, attacking tourists in a futurist theme park where people immerse themselves in medieval times, the Ancient Roman Empire, and of course, the Old West.
Just so we can get it out of the way, let’s go ahead and talk about the similarities between this and the park with the dinos. First, both have a plot where modern-day audiences experience something from long ago, the difference being that in Westworld, robots go crazy, and in Jurassic Park, dinosaurs are brought back to life with advanced DNA reconstruction. Much like the dino park, events inside Westworld, the theme park, go horribly wrong which result in a bunch of people getting killed. But unlike Jurassic Park, Westworld is open and has seen great success with tourists. By the way, yes, this plot was satirized in The Simpsons episode “Itchy and Scratchy Land.”
The fact that Westworld is such a successful tourist attraction adds extra terror to its plot. No one would suspect an amusement park with continued success to have this big of a problem. With Jurassic, the park was in the testing stages, the only visitors being the scientists and investors coming in to inspect it. Now, Jurassic Park is still a thrilling and suspenseful film, and a classic, but Westworld should get some recognition for the extra horror for its “theme park goes bad” scares.
One could interpret the film as Crichton critiquing or poking fun at escapism, especially since Disney World opened up two years before the movie came out. Disney World and Disneyland were both places where people could experience places from bygone eras or fantastic lands beyond our realm. But really, I’d like to think Crichton was hit with the thought, “Hey, what if Mickey Mouse went on a murderous rampage?”
The terror in this film comes, primarily, in the form of Yul Brynner’s robotic gunmen. Brynner’s cold stare is a terrifying force to reckon with. His gunslinger has actually been influential in a lot of ways — John Carpenter said that the indestructible nature of the killer served as an influence for Michael Myers in Halloween (1978), and Arnold Schwarzenegger used Brynner’s murderous cowboy as the basis for his performance in The Terminator (1984).
If the HBO series satisfies you, I highly recommend this movie. Experience this film for yourself and see how much of a gem this is.