Play It Again – Westworld

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By Jess Lomas
May 8, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

The malfunctioning robots at Itchy & Scratchy Land in The Simpsons prove to be more entertaining than their aged source material, Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi western Westworld. Set in an undated future, humans can pay $1,000 a day to visit a resort island and play out their wildest fantasies, so long as those fantasies fit neatly into one of three constructed worlds: West World, Medieval World, and Roman World. This adult amusement park is manned by an army of robots, programmed to recreate everything from a bar fight in a western saloon to a Roman orgy or a medieval feast. Above all, they’re programmed to never hurt a human… or so they thought.

John (James Brolin) has been to Westworld before; on this trip he’s bringing along his friend Peter (Richard Benjamin) to teach him the ropes and have some fun. Together they drink whiskey, socialise with the local ladies of ill repute, break out of jail, and face off against a robot with a grudge, Gunslinger (Yul Brynner). Despite the friends being victorious in two shoot outs with Gunslinger, he returns for a third time with a vengeance. Seems the robots are overriding their programming with one intention: to kill.

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The concept is intriguing enough – even the film’s opening shows promise in a cheap, outdated Silent Running sort-of-way – but the screenplay, also written by Crichton, spends too long establishing the merits of West World while the robot uprising feels smaller than was surely intended. With Gunslinger at the centre of the revolt, we only see one other robot attack a human guest, in Medieval Land, with Roman Land receiving the least screen time of the three.

Brynner is chilling in his portrayal of Gunslinger, though he is given little more to do than look menacing and walk – or ride his horse – slowly in pursuit of Peter. That the action scenes invoke little excitement, perhaps thanks to the movie’s overall plodding pace or David Bretherton’s (Cabaret) editing, contributes to Westworld’s modest run time feeling like an eternity. This is one flick best left in the vault.

2/5

Westworld is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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