Turn Back the Clock
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I saw this really crazy science fiction film set in a luxury resort where visitors got to act out some of their favorite fantasies with the help of robots that looked human. The movie was Westworld and it featured Yul Brynner as one of the robots gone bad in Western World. A few days ago, I was looking for a movie to watch and a memory of that film hit me from out of the blue. I searched for Westworld and quickly found myself a copy.
As the movie opens, we are introduced to Delos, a high-tech resort which employs androids to help bring visitors' vacation fantasies come true. Delos is made up of three theme specific resorts: Roman World, Medieval World and Western World. For $1000.00 a day, guests can select one of the three locations and be whatever they want, do whatever they want and enjoy every amenity. Nothing that the customer wants seems out of reach here and the androids are so incredibly human, it would not seem out of line for a guest to have relations with one (pleasure droids are aplenty).
Friends Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) have signed up for Western World. John has been here before and decides that this vacation would be a great idea to help take Peter's mind off of his recent nasty divorce and get him back on track. Peter is incredibly excited about the trip and impressed with it all. They enter the wild west full tilt, quickly finding themselves in a gun battle with an ornery Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) they meet at the bar. Pete kills the Gunslinger, then worries as to whether the man he shot was actually a droid. Once he is reassured that he can only harm droids, Pete really gets into the role.
Meanwhile, we learn that the scientists and computer programmers behind the scenes at Delos have been having some problems with the androids. Pleasure droids are refusing guests' advances. Animal androids are actually attacking guests. Other droids are simply behaving erratically. The Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) doesn't quite know what to do. Earlier droid models were made by scientists and programmers, but the newer models were actually created by other computers and droids. He likens the spread of erratic behavior to an illness spreading among the androids. A suggestion is made to close down the park, but is turned down as the powers that be realize just how much bad publicity this would bring about.
Just as this decision to keep the "amusement park" open is finalized, the droids start behaving even more erratically, going after guests in earnest. Suddenly, knights are out for blood. Duels in the street are more than just play. Romans are slaughtering people at will. What can humans do against the unstoppable robots bent on taking control of Delos?
When I was a kid, Westworld was a display of cutting edge technology. Now, it would be considered a bit cheesy, but the film's message is extremely poignant and has been used a number of times throughout movie history. The movie warns us about our reliance on technology, specifically robotic and computer technology. We have seen this same theme repeated in other films like Terminator, Logan's Run, Tron, WarGames, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. Reliance on computers and making those computers responsible for tasks we perform everyday could lead to a sentience that might decide we are no longer useful to their existence.
Look at the robots in Westworld, originally made by humans for the pleasure of other humans, more and more of the 'bots were allowed to be constructed by specially programmed computers. The Chief Supervisor talks of an illness that seems to spread from android to android, causing erratic behavior. Was that illness a computer virus or is it just the computer deciding that the androids were preferable to humans? Were the computers that were constructing the newer model androids placing a sentience in the new models that allowed them to think for themselves, causing them to rebel against pleasuring humans or being their shooting galleries?
I must admit, the message behind this film spooked me out. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't use computers. Hell, you're reading this review because I uploaded it on one. But that doesn't mean I do everything on computers. I am one of those folks who agree with the writers of this film - too much reliance on computers could lead to disaster. If not because the computers somehow decide to take over, then because they are not foolproof. Someone could hack them. Or they could go down completely - then where would we be? Would we even be able to survive without them?
Anyway, back to the actual movie. The acting wasn't all that spectacular...rather deadpan if you ask me. But Yul Brynner was awesome as the Gunslinger. He really didn't have to say a word. It was just that menacing I'm not gonna stop until I get you look that said it all. He was the actor I remembered most from this movie, despite the fact that James Brolin and Dick Van Patten also appeared in the film. The tension that builds as Pete is hunted by the Gunslinger is incredible. This is not a fast-paced scene by any means, but the fact that the Gunslinger keeps on coming no matter what Pete throws at it is enough to spark a heightened sense of adrenaline and urgency. The special effects at the time were state of the art. Watching them peel the face off of the android and fiddle with its interior was captivating back then. The Gunslinger on fire scene was incredibly intense. The night vision effects were also awesome for their time.
In short, Westworld was an amazing film for its time. Its message is still relevant to the world today...so much so that, as I write this review, I understand that work is being done to create a Westworld television series. Hopefully this won't bomb as did the Westworld sequel, Futureworld, and the 1980 Westworld series, Beyond Westworld, did. Westworld is a fun movie to watch with an important message for the computer world we live in today and I highly recommend seeing it before the new television series airs.