GUEST: ‘Westworld’ provides a thrilling warning of technology


Our Guest film reviews are a collaboration with Billy Kaskay’s Ethics and Culture in Film elective.

Would you like to become a western gunslinger for a while, or a wealthy Roman living in a beautiful palace among ample servants, or a king in medieval England feasting lavishly and fighting like a knight. In the futuristic resort of Delos, you can do just that and with a guarantee of safety. For the price of $1000 a day, you can enter any of the three “worlds” of Delos: “Western World”, “Roman World”, or “Medieval World”. Westworld is a 1973 film directed by Michael Crichton, and stars James Brolin as John Blane, Richard Benjamin as Peter Martin, and Yul Brynner as the Gunslinger. In only an hour and a half, you can experience one of the most thrilling science-fiction movies and truthful predictions of what the future of entertainment might look like.  

The film opens following a group of tourists that are on their way to Delos via a futuristic mode of transportation. We are introduced to a couple of friends heading for Westworld: John Blane, and Peter Martin. John is a seasoned visitor of Westworld, and is taking his buddy Peter on his first trip to the manufactured West. We are also introduced to a couple who are taking two different trips, the husband heading to the “Medieval World” and the wife to “Roman World”. Everything begins as it’s meant to. The visitors are getting into their characters, and the mechanical people are providing a safe and enthralling experience. The two friends are exploring the western town, the husband is feasting lavishly and partying in his castle, and the guests in the reconstructed Pompeii are relaxing in the beautiful palace grounds. Overlooking the entire resort are scientists who monitor the robots and status of the parks, as well as repair any damaged robots. No one is thinking that anything will go wrong, but soon everything will fall apart. 

Our first run in with the main antagonist of the film is with John and Peter. They roam the perfectly convincing western town, finding a bar to rest in. While they are drinking whiskey and taking in the environment, the Gunslinger, one of the seemingly human robots, enters and insults Peter, looking for a fight. John tells the skeptical Peter to fight back and to kill him, and Peter rips out his revolver and fires every round into the “man” in black. He goes down, and Peter now believes even more that he is a cowboy and is feeling the thrill that Delos promised. Everything happened like it’s supposed to, but this won’t last for long, as the Gunslinger will return, and this time with his own agenda against the human guests.  

During the duel against Peter and the Gunslinger, we are hit hard by the futuristic sounds of the score, as we hear strange, pounding electronic rhythms as the bullets whip by in slow motion. And just as suddenly as it began, it ends, and we are left feeling the true intensity of the gun duel. The film does a wonderful job of using the correct music and camera techniques for every scenario. During a large-scale drunken bar fight scene in “Western World”, the score switches to a fast paced, upbeat country tune as the guest and robots start a mindless fight that is popular within the western genre. We see John and Peter having a great time drunkenly hurling bottles and chairs around as the camera cuts from punch to flying chair to broken glass in the crazy scene. During a sword fight against the “Medieval World” guest and the “Black Knight”, the score stops and we are left hearing only the sounds of the fight, which helps emphasize the odd feeling that something is off with the programming of the resort. 

Another highlight of the film is Yul Brynner himself. He gives a truly haunting performance as the gunslinger. In the scenes where he is hunting down his victims, his emotionless face and stiff, robotic movements are truly horrifying, as it seems he cannot be stopped. 

In every scene where Peter and John encounter conflict, whether it is safe or not, the camera stays at a normal speed, and the soundtrack is muted, until the shooting starts. When the bullets start flying, the camera slows down and the electronic pounding begins. The slow motion action in the film is a perfect way to make the viewer think twice as to whether or not the programming of the resort is safe, and gives off an uneasy feeling. 

Westworld is absolutely before its time. While watching this film from 1973 today, I didn’t feel like there was any “cheesiness” at all. The special effects feel real and convincing, with the only dated effect being the Gunslinger’s “pixel vision”. Besides the visual aspects of the film, Westworld’s ideas of the future don’t seem far-fetched in any way. This film reminded me of the Netflix series Black Mirror, and was most likely the inspiration for that show and many like it. This film takes an idea of robots and uses them to construct a very real and believable story that is turning into a reality today. I would recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of the Black Mirror series, to anyone who is interested in science fiction, and to anyone who likes classic movies. ★★★★★