Terminator and Jurassic Park owe everything to Westworld (1973)
One of the last films with Yul Brynner, Westworld (1973) has been ripped off by the best, to create even better films like Jurassic Park and The Terminator, so a lot is owed to cheap robot cowboys awkwardly fighting men in bell-bottoms. Michael Crichton wrote Westworld and Jurassic Park, so I guess I can excuse the guy for copying his own ideas, but if you replace a vacation land full of robots with a vacation land full of dinosaurs, it’s the same frickin story. And The Terminator (1984) ripped off the ‘killer robot who looks like a human’ device from Westworld, but James Cameron had nothing to do with this 1973 movie.
The movie begins with an interviewer talking to people who went on vacation to Westworld. Westworld is a popular vacation destination where you can act out all your western fantasies. The Delos Corporation have also built Roman World and Medieval World for patrons, populating each of these places with robots who look and act like people of the period. What could go wrong?
The first time through for Peter and John, everything in Westworld goes off like a dream. Peter kills The Gunslinger easily and his pal John takes him to the whorehouse. While they sleep, the clean-up crew carts off the damaged robots like garbage, and we come to our big theme in Westworld: Are the robots alive? Does it matter? If they are alive, does it matter how we treat them? Does it matter how we treat them if they’re not alive? These questions are not answered directly by Westworld, but the head technician notices more malfunctions as time goes by, which leads into more satire and commentary.
The head park technician admits that the robots are as complex and sophisticated as human beings. He also admits to not knowing exactly how they all work. That’s a problem, and might illustrate man’s inherent inability to control technology. If man can’t control technology, or at least sophisticated technology, then they’re in for a load of trouble. And this is what happens. Perhaps the movie is cautioning us not to jump beyond our means.
The park staff in this movie don’t know what the hell they’re doing. They don’t know what is going wrong with the robots and the audience is left confused too, perhaps on purpose, like man trying to control a technology that is beyond his understanding.
The film seriously criticizes the fantasies of the guests, making the robots strike back at them for their lust, greed, and violence. One of the robot girls slaps a guest, rebuking his inappropriate seduction. Was it inappropriate in the 12th century? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because the robots aren’t living, right?
The caretakers are fooling themselves, deluding their senses with computers that make no sense, spitting out weird symbols and jargon. The technical jargon becomes just that. Just nonsensical jargon. This is how the humans in the movie cope with their lack of understanding, through analysis, jargon and over-thinking that gets them nowhere.
The robots are living, and behave like humans. When the robots begin to break down, the technicians continue to exploit them anyway, and don’t take the breakdowns seriously. Don’t we sometimes ignore problems or overlook them? Humans overlook problems easily enough, because they are sometimes just unable or unwilling to cope.
In one scene, Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger glances around slowly like he’s lost, sad that he’s unable to function properly. I’ve always wondered what he was thinking acting in that moment. Was it vulnerability? Was the robot actually feeling emotion at that moment? Peter just stands there as The Gunslinger looks around for him, but he is forced to set him on fire as it lunges for him.
In the end, Peter is haunted by the destruction of Westworld. Today, as we advance into a more highly technological age, are we going to become as inhuman as the guests of Westworld? Those people did literally whatever they wanted. Without consequences. However, when one problem arose to disrupt the inherent exploitation of robots and technology in Westworld, it was dismissed. In the end, the “problem” with the robots was using them in the first place.
It is funny how Jurassic Park becomes a misuse of technology or exploitation of morality too. Crichton obviously borrowed ideas from Westworld and did it much better the second time around, adding a bit of dramatic flavor to make millions of more dollars. Talk about exploitation. The park guests have more of a hand in questioning Jurassic Park than John and Peter, who are little more than victims.
Because of Yul Brynner’s final scene where he is looking around hopelessly, I think he plays The Gunslinger with a great amount of depth, but the movie lacks the style and the futuristic backstory of The Terminator. I don’t think Yul Brynner gets much credit for this movie, which is a shame. As Peter wanders around Medieval World amongst the destruction, he can’t tell the difference between robots and humans. He certainly knows The Gunslinger is a robot, but what does it know of itself and its existence? Only pain, fear, and death.
All in all, Westworld (1973) has a lot more depth than at first glance. I think in addition to the social commentary, this movie has pretty good special effects and character moments. It needs a little more development though, which is why The Terminator and Jurassic Park are more successful in comparison, even though both of those movies owe everything to Westworld.