Making his directorial debut with a story written directly for the screen, Michael Crichton's 'Westworld' is a solid mix between action and allegory that still holds up quite well 40 years after first appearing in theaters.
It's hard to think today of science fiction that doesn't involve spaceships and lots of special effects and explosions, but in the pre-'Star Wars' era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, science fiction movies had more to do with addressing current social issues than they did with simple good versus evil. In 'Westword,' Crichton tackles the issues of technology and man's overreliance on it. Set in the near future (which could very much be our own present), 'Westworld' (also frequently referred to in the movie as 'Westernworld') is one of three adult-themed amusement parks (including 'Romanworld' and 'Medievalworld') where adults pay $1,000 dollars a day to live out their fantasies. The "actors" within each park are highly-advanced humanlike robots, which means the customers can interact with them in any way they wish…insulting them, having sex with them, and – yes – even killing them, with no repercussions.
As the movie opens, friends Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John (James Brolin) are off to 'Westworld' for a vacation getaway. Peter is less knowledgeable and more wary about 'Westworld' than John is, who either has been there before or has a better understanding of how things work at the park. John serves primarily as the movie's information provider, telling Peter (and, thus, the viewer) how and why things work the way they do in 'Westworld.' When the two visit a saloon, Peter is taunted by a gunslinger (Yul Brynner) and winds up shooting him, only to have to shoot him again a few days later. You see, in 'Westworld,' the characters never really die, they just go back for repairs and resurface a day or two later.
The three theme parks are run and managed by a team of scientists and computer technicians who control how each robot reacts and responds to the vacationers. However, when John is bitten by a robotic snake, the scientific team begins to realize that they are losing control of their creations. One event leads to another and soon they've lost complete control of the robots in all three of the parks, leaving the humans within to fend for themselves.
If you haven't already picked up on it, there's a tremendous amount of similarities between 'Westworld' and another popular Crichton story that became a motion picture, Jurassic Park. One could even argue that the latter is basically the same story as 'Westworld,' with DNA-created dinosaurs replacing the robots. Comparisons can also be made to a non-Crichton film, The Terminator, as the stalking of Peter by the gunslinger in the last act of the movie certainly reminds one of a certain cyborg. In fact, there were talks a few years ago about Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the gunslinger in a 'Westworld' remake/reboot.
Sci-fans should also be on the lookout in 'Westworld' for roles played by actors who either had or would go on to have parts in other notable sci-fi franchises. You'll see Majel Barrett ('Star Trek') running the town's brothel, Jared Martin (TV's 'War of the Worlds') as one of the lab technicians, and (in one of the coolest connections) Alan Oppenheimer as the lead scientist who developed and repairs the robots. Oppenheimer, of course, also played Dr. Rudy Wells in two of the television films that lead to the launch of the 'Six Million Dollar Man' series.
The best way to judge the quality of a film is how well it holds up years later, and considering it's 40-years-old, 'Westworld' holds up pretty well. Naturally, the special effects and sets haven't aged well, and there's a silly barroom fight about half-way through the movie that is too long, too campy, and completely unnecessary for the story – but all in all 'Westworld' deserves its spot as one of the more memorable science fiction films of the early 1970s.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Westworld' gallops onto Blu-ray encased in another one of those eco-friendly (and flimsy!) standard cases. The case houses only the 25GB region-free disc with no inserts. The disc launches with the Warners logo and then takes one immediately to the menu, which is a nice change over some other Warner Bros. Blu-rays I own that immediately start the movie without letting you chose your A/V preferences first.
For a catalog title of a 1973 release, Warners has done a fairly nice job with the transfer here. Colors are bright (although at times a little oversaturated) and while some scenes do have a softer look to them, overall the transfer is fairly sharp and detailed. Warners hasn't gone overboard using digital noise reduction, leaving a nice layer of grain in the picture that is always evident, but never obtrusive. Any dirt or other defects from the original print have been removed here. Overall, this is a nice balance between giving us the sharpness that Blu-ray can provide, but still trying to maintain the original look of the theatrical presentation. Fans of the film should be pleased by the presentation.
The English track here is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio one (Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks are also available in Spanish (both Castilian and Latin), French, German, and Italian), but the vast majority of both the dialogue and music comes from up front, with little (noticeable) activity in the rear speakers. While both the dialogue and music are crisp and clear, the balance between the two is not. When Fred Carlin's score is featured, it's almost twice as loud as the dialogue in the movie, meaning most viewers will either be playing with their audio volume throughout, or just get a jolt every time the film's music is featured. Blu-rays where the music and other sound effects are louder than the spoken dialogue is nothing new, but it's much more evident in 'Westworld,' due to the fact that music rarely plays over dialogue and vice versa.
That small complaint aside, there's absolutely no issues with popping, hissing, or other problems you might suspect in an track for a 40-year-old film, and Warners has done an admirable job remastering the audio. Subtitles are also available in English, German, and Italian SDH, as well as Spanish, French, and Korean.
All of the supplements are exclusive to the Blu-ray version, so they're listed in the HD Bonus Content section that follows.
With an intelligent story, solid acting, and one of the more memorable villains to ever appear in a movie, it's easy to see why 'Westworld' has obtained somewhat of a cult status among film fans over the years. Warners has done the film justice with a disc that is both solidly remastered and affordable, with a few interesting bonus features included. This is a release worth adding to your collection. Recommended.