Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Westworld (1973)

This is the umpteenth time I've rewatched this movie, but I've never written about it before so.... I've always loved Westworld. It's both fun and frightening. For one thing, the concept is great. Westworld is one of three amusement sub-parks within Delos. The other two are Roman World and Medieval World. For $1,000 a day, guests can immerse themselves in the time period recreations, which are populated by robot characters so real you can only tell them apart by their hands. I'd jump at the chance to go to Westworld! Man, where do I sign up?

Heading on vacation to Westworld are two buddies, Peter (Richard Benjamin), a first-timer, and John (James Brolin), who's been to Westworld before. I love the opening in the hovercraft, when Peter's grinning like a goon and asking all the dumb questions most of us would probably ask if we got to go there ("can I get the holster with the strings?" he asks). The two vacationers' adventures in Westworld are juxtaposed against the behind-the-scenes shots of how the park is run. Every time the scene cuts to the workings of the park, it's a bit creepy. And each time gets creepier, particularly as you find out there appears to be a virus spreading through the robots and messing up their central controls. You know it's only a matter of time before the robots stop obeying their programming and start doing whatever they want. And then the fun really begins. Not.

And for our two particular vacationers, that means running afoul of the Gunslinger.

If I was going to rank "movie things I don't want chasing me," then Yul Brynner's Gunslinger from Westworld is right up there in the top five. I originally saw Westworld on television when I was fairly young, and Yul Brynner's Gunslinger scared the crap out of me. He still does. Like the Terminator that came years later, he has a one-track mind and he just doesn't stop coming after you not matter how you try to destroy him. But I find him scarier than the Terminator, mostly because Yul Brynner can act and Arnold can't. Brynner's got these frightening little smirky satisfied smiles that pop up when he knows he's figured out your plan that are chilling. You can see his robot mind recalculating his own counterplan. It's lots of subtle expressions that just really bring the Gunslinger to life.

Heck, just the way he walks is downright creepy, particularly towards the end when his footsteps are echoing down the underground tunnels, with no music, just those boots tapping concrete as he stalks his prey... and then he breaks into a precise jog, those echoing footsteps going to double-time. It makes me want to start running away every single time I get to that part, and I'm sitting comfortably on my couch. And his eyes! Gah! Those reflective eyes still freak me out. Even his few lines of dialogue are creepy. The fact that he dresses just like his character Chris (from The Magnificent Seven) just increases the cool factor, even if you wouldn't hire this guy for anything in the world.

And really, when it comes down to it, the main reason to watch Westworld is to watch Yul Brynner play the scariest robot ever. Oh, the two main characters are entertaining, and the supporting actors fill in the cracks, and there's some truly funny moments, along with bar brawls and jail breaks, and shoot outs, and sword fights (in Medieval world, which we get a few glimpses of). Don't think too closely about the plot or how this amusement park works (but what if someone wanted to walk around at night when the crews are cleaning up with floodlights? she asked plaintively), cuz there's a jillion holes if you start thinking. But it's not about that. It's about:

Tech: "Gunslinger... must be a model 404 or maybe a 406. If it's a 406 he's got all the sensory equipment. It's a beautiful machine."
Peter: "He's after me!"
Tech: "I don't doubt it."
Peter: "What can I do?"
Tech: "There's nothing you can do. If he's after you, he'll get'cha. You haven't got a chance."

And watching Peter trying to escape and out-think this unstoppable Old West terminator is what makes Westworld such a cool movie.


  1. Anonymous10:03 AM

    Couldn't agree more with all this. I love Westworld, always have. The thing that always got me about Brynner's gunslinger was the fact that he never rushes. He's not in any hurry: he's got all the time in the world to kill you...but he will kill you. :-P

    And you want to hear something funny? When I first explained the idea for FPS to my dad (an early, early idea), his immediate reaction was "oh, you're doing Westworld." I wish I could have seen the look on my face when he said that. I'll bet it was a picture. :-D

  2. Oh, that is too funny about FPS (the early early version).

    Glad you love it too!! And yeah, he's not in a big hurry, but he's also so very deliberate about his stalking. Great character. So glad they got Yul Brynner to do it. It would not be the same with anyone else.

  3. I watched this movie once a long time ago - I remember it creeping me out completely. Took me awhile to get over Yul Brynner as a robot!

  4. When this film gets the remake treatment, I sincerely hope that it's the same instant Brahma awakens.