Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The futuristic theme park Delos, for $1000/day, caters to the traveler's wildest fantasies. Three different realms, capturing life in ancient Rome, medieval times, and the American West, are peopled with androids whom guests can kill or have sex with. A pair of vacationing businessmen take a trip to Westworld, where they encounter comely barmaids, brawlin' desperadoes, and a taciturn gunslinger (Yul Brynner) that won't stay dead.
One assumes that first time feature writer-director Michael Crichton was paying serious attention to the films made of his earlier work, because Westworld is an assured fucking filmmaking debut. Crichton is as adept at showing as he is at telling - Westworld's descent from tightly-controlled paradise to hellish technological riot is expertly paced, reflected in the increasingly frantic performances of the actors playing humans (which itself is terrifyingly offset by the steady stillness of the actors playing androids). Crichton lets his scientists tell us the mechanics of what's going wrong, but the larger reasons why they're going wrong (and the implications for our lives outside the theatre) are left for us to ponder. And the film balances its philosophizing with a profoundly visceral feel, making us feel every death and escalating the stakes as the lone survivor makes a desperate run for survival, dogged by Brynner at every step. The sound design is particularly fine, with beautifully canned cowboy music gradually being overwhelmed by sinister electronic drones that hum with the same kind of semi-organic malevolence that animates Brynner.
Westworld is not widely heralded as a classic, but its influence can be felt on may classics that followed it, from the work of John Carpenter (who modeled unstoppable killing machine Michael Myers on Brynner's gunslinger) to James Cameron to, hell, to Crichton himself (Jurassic Park really is Westworld with dinosaurs). There's really not much attention paid to Crichton's work as a filmmaker, and Westworld suggests that a retrospective would not be remiss. Among other things, it'd please your proprietor to see Looker projected.