Westworld (1973)

Yeah, but John, when Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.

—Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

Walt Disney World Resort (Disney World) opened in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in 1971. One of the exhibits was The Hall of Presidents, featuring automated mechanical likenesses of all the American Presidents up through Richard M. Nixon.  Disney’s imagineers coined these likenesses Audio-Animatronic Figures.  I saw re-worked updated versions of these figures a few years back. Yes, they are still creepy.  What if these automatons were sentient, self-aware beings sick of gawking humans? What if they went on a killing spree?

That’s the premise of Westworld (1973).

In the high-tech future, for $1,000 a day, Delos amusement park offers the adult fantasy of a lifetime.  Interact with realistic robots from one of 3 themed parks: WestWorld (the American West in the 1880’s), MedievalWorld (Europe), and RomanWorld (pre-Cristian Rome).  Kill, eat and have sex with the robots.  Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) decide to visit WestWorld.  Peter is new to the scene. John has visited before, and raves about the park and encourages Peter to relax and have fun.

Yul Brynner plays the robot gunslinger heavy.  He dresses identical to his character Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven (1960).  He’s fast, but the tourists are faster.  Peter guns him down.   However, the robots start acting quirky.

In a startlingly prophetic sequence, the engineers of Westworld discuss the feasibility of “diseases of machines” that behave like viruses and affect computers.  Technology is failing and mankind has little control of the consequences.  Writer/director and novelist Michael Crichton later re-visited this theme in the film Coma (1978), book Congo (1980), and especially the novel and film Jurassic Park (1990 | 1993) (where an amusement park full of bio-engineered dinosaurs goes berserk), Timeline (1999), and Prey (2002).

The gunslinger goes in for repairs.  But he get’s an upgrade for new infra-red optical modifications.

Later, Peter and John encounter the gunslinger again.  Your move…

…and James Brolin bites the dirt…

The movie then jumps into second gear with a nonstop chase.  It man vs. machine as the star of The Magnificent Seven methodically stalks a poorly-equipped tourist.  Brynner was a wonderful villain.  Just look at this guy.

Michael Crichton was my favorite contemporary novelist.   I started reading the hacked together manuscript novel Micro (2011), “co-authored” by Richard Preston.  I got no farther than the second chapter.  Crichton was a gifted technical writer. He excelled at pitting mankind versus natural and anthropologically-induced situations: an adaptable extra-terrestrial virus; killer mutant apes; runaway robots; insect-like nanobots; eco-terrorists; and those remarkable raptors.  Before 1990, had pop-culture and college syllabuses even embraced the term velociraptor?  What a legacy of novels and films Crichton has left us.

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