Bored Chicago businessmen John Blane (James Brolin) and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) shell out $1000 a day for a holiday at Delos – a super-expensive theme park containing three elaborate Disneylands of the future: Roman World, Mediaeval World and Westworld – a simulacrum of the Wild West.
These realms are all populated by lifelike in-character androids that engage in realistic combat with the paying human guests, allowing visitors to experience the elation of emerging victorious from gladiatorial contests, jousts, and gunfights. The consequences are, naturally, fatal.
Here there are textbook illustrations of sci-fi’s now-disused ability to employ the fantastical to illustrate the psychologically realistic.
When a quivering Benjamin shoots the malevolent black hat android played by Yul Bryner for the first time – over a saloon bar altercation about spilt whisky that could have appeared in the first reel of any cheapo Western – you’re not thinking about robots and theme parks.
You’re thinking about the fear and the guilty thrill that seize comfortable, unprepared men when they’re confronted by sudden violence.
Benjamin can draw and gun down the Brynner machine because he knows he’s not in the West, he’s in a Western – and he’s wearing the white hat. Soon he and Brolin are swaggering about town shooting and whoring with the bored assurance of children who know they’re beyond punishment.
But it’s not long before the re-wired resurrected Brynner is dishing it out instead of taking it, and we are left to rue feckless modern man’s pursuit of artificial pleasures.
The other robots also revolt and incite a bloodbath, slaughtering the theme park visitors. In the end, Peter is the only survivor in a mass of dead bodies and melted machines. Let this be a lesson to you, Xbox players!
Shooting took just 30 days and MGM insisted on making Westworld on a tight budget of a little over $1 million. Consequently, much of the filming was restricted to the MGM backlot. It was one of the final films to shoot there and many of the old studio locations were in a state of disrepair.
Some filming took place in the Mojave Desert, for the sake of Western authenticity, while the gardens (standing in for Roman World) formerly belonged to silent comedian Harold Lloyd.
CBS produced a short-lived television spin-off, Beyond Westworld in 1980 with James Wainwright, Jim McMullan, Connie Sellecca and William Jordan. The series failed to develop an audience and only three of the five filmed episodes actually aired.
Futureworld (1976), a sequel by Richard T Heffron, was released in 1976.
Mercifully a planned 2003 Westworld remake starring Arnold Schwarzenegger never eventuated. Quentin Tarantino was approached to direct but turned it down.
The Westworld concept was rebooted by HBO as a television series in 2016 with a cast including veterans such as Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris (whose mysterious ‘Man in Black’ echoes Brynner’s Gunslinger), mixed with relative newcomers Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton.
Dick Van Patten
Linda Gaye Scott