The Films of 1973: Westworld
But in the decade before The Terminator arrived in theaters, there was another silver screen model for relentless android villains: Yul Brynner's 406 model "Gunslinger" from the 1973 Michael Crichton (1942 - 2008) sci-fi/horror thriller Westworld.
Like Michael Myers himself, you can shoot, stab or burn the Gunslinger android and it doesn't seem to phase him one bit. And again like The Shape, the Gunslinger wears a mask of sorts; an inexpressive "human" face that reveals nothing of his internal motivations, needs or desires. He's impossible to read, beyond the fact that he absolutely wants to kill you.
After the thrilling action elements of Westworld, there's also a fascinating science fiction premise operating here, one specifically involving modern human morality. In this regard, the film concerns an amusement park called Delos where rich patrons can pay 1,000 dollars a day to relive past epochs in "Western World," "Roman World" and "Medieval World."
More than that, these patrons pay for the right to have sexual intercourse with subservient androids (with no consequences...) and even kill those androids (again with no consequences) in the various theme parks. Clearly, there's a statement here about the activities that human beings consider entertaining. Is it okay to commit violence when the target of such violence is a machine? Is it okay to engage in casual sexual relations with a slave, too?
Also, though it isn't heavy-handed about it, the film comments broadly on technology and the use we put it to. There's the suggestion here that the androids are beginning to develop some sense of awareness of themselves and their rights as intelligent beings.
And their uprising in the film -- though terrifying -- seems justified given their cruel treatment at the hands of the wealthy elite. In many ways, Westworld forecasts Terminator and also the re-made Battlestar Galactica of the last decade in exploring such a notion. It's a science-run-amok Frankenstein story in which the technological children of man, perhaps rightly, turn on their biological parents.
Westworld received decidely mixed reviews upon release in the mid-1970s. Newsweek's Paul D Zimmerman wanted the film to go further than it did, noting "What's the point of fantasy if it's rated PG?" Meanwhile, Pauline Kael assessed the film "moderately entertaining." Audiences were more enthusiastic, and today the film is indeed considered a genre classic.
Uniquely, Crichton returned to the narrative template of Westworld while fashioning his most famous novel (later a movie), Jurassic Park. In that instance, another high-tech amusement park also fell prey to a rebellion by its denizens: genetically-engineered dinosaurs.
"The best amusement park in the world...."
Westworld opens with a TV commercial that promotes the concept of the amusement park Delos to future clients.
Here, in this world, you can escape complex reality and live another life all together.
In Western World, Roman World (a place of "sensual, relaxed morality"), and Medieval World, visitors can indulge their most elaborate fantasies all while interacting with robots programmed to act, talk and even "bleed" just like humans. You can kill, or fuck, for sport.
When the commercial's spokesmen interviews visitors to Delos, they enthuse about the amusement park, noting that it is "the realest" thing they have ever done. One senior citizen raves about having played "sheriff" in Westworld for a week. Another client, a woman, blushes at her memories of Roman World.
After the advert ends, and a hover craft lands at Delos, two visitors to the park, the macho John (James Brolin) and the neurotic Peter (Richard Benjamin) choose Western World as their "world of choice" and are shuttled by tram to a re-created town mimicking conditions in the American West of 1880.
In short order the pair indulges in whoring and gunfights..and even murder. On two successive occasions, Peter is confronted by a bald, dressed-in-black Gunslinger (Brynner), an android who seems to have it in for him. And in both instances, Peter bloodily guns the robot down.
While John and Peter enjoy their week in Westworld, the scientists tasked with overseeing the vast Delos grounds toil in subterranean environs to repair and service hundreds of androids. A new concern soon arises. Android breakdowns are on the rise, almost as though an infectious disease is passing from one android to another. The scientists watch concerned as android behavior begins to turn...rebellious.
Instead of shutting down the park, the scientists opt to continue observing.
This delay in decisive action proves to be a mistake, since the androids revolt and begin to murder the Delos guests. In Westworld, the Gunslinger returns one last time, looking to even up the score. He murders John in a shoot-out. The machine then sets off on a relentless pursuit of Peter through Roman World and Medieval World.
A desperate Peter now must utilize every survival instinct and weapon at his disposal (including hydrochloric acid and fire) to survive the machine's endless attacks.
The first thing to acknowledge about Westworld is that the Michael Crichton has directed the low-budget picture with a real sense of competence...and most importantly, consistency.
We're constantly aware, via these frequent panning shots, of the momentum necessary to keep Delos operational. Underground, nothing ever stops. And the nighttime "clean-up" scene in Westworld with vehicles and workmen gathering the "dead" androids for repairs likewise adds to the film's sense of reality; to the sense of a real-life park at an apex of activity.