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TCM Spotlight: Out of this World
Remind Me


Wednesday July, 31 2019 at 08:15 AM

Films in BOLD will Air on TCM *  |   VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

Imagine a Disneyland for adults where every man and woman can live out their fantasies. That's what science fiction writer Michael Crichton did when he wrote the screenplay for Westworld (1973), a film that holds the distinction of being the last movie MGM produced before dissolving its releasing company. Westworld is also notable as the first theatrical feature directed by Crichton (He previously directed two television movies, Binary (1972), under the pseudonym John Lange, and Pursuit (1972) starring Ben Gazzara).

In an interview with Michael Crichton in American Cinematography, he discussed what inspired him to make Westworld: "I'd visited Kennedy Space Center and seen how astronauts were being trained - and I realized that they were really machines. Those guys were working very hard to make their responses, and even their heartbeats, as machine-like and predictable as possible. At the other extreme, one can go to Disneyland and see Abraham Lincoln standing up every 15 minutes to deliver the Gettysburg Address. That's the case of a machine that has been made to look, talk and act like a person. I think it was that sort of a notion that got the picture started. It was the idea of playing with a situation in which the usual distinctions between person and machine - between a car and the driver of the car - become blurred, and then trying to see if there was something in the situation that would lead to other ways of looking at what's human and what's mechanical."

For those seeing Westworld for the first time, you'll recognize a modern truism that occurs at the workplace and at home. Even the most sophisticated computers can crash. That's exactly what happens at Westworld but in this case, the consequences are deadly. After all, we're talking about cyborgs armed with loaded guns and sharp swords. When they go on the blink, they're no longer amusing toys. Especially Yul Brynner as the trigger-happy robot gunslinger.

Westworld was filmed in several locations including the Mojave Desert, the gardens of the Harold Lloyd Estate, and several sound stages at MGM. Apparently the film was shorn of ten minutes prior to its release in order to earn a PG rating which makes you wonder what the R-rated footage could have been. Perhaps a sequence with Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, and those obliging saloon girls?

According to Crichton, in an interview with Cinefantastique correspondent Stuart Kaminsky, Westworld took "thirty days to shoot. It had a typical post-production schedule...about 12 or 13 weeks. Five weeks were for the director's cut. We had shot about 110,000 feet of film on a budget of $1,300,000. We finished under budget and on time. In editing the picture I must have seen it, literally, hundreds of times."

When asked to pick his favorite sequence in the film, Crichton said, "I think it might be the sequence near the end where Brynner is almost blind and he finds Benjamin. That whole last half hour of the film is essentially silent. That's what I wanted to do, make that as a silent picture, with no dialogue." He also added that "when Benjamin kills Brynner the first time it is a total cliche - the lines, the staging, and the angles. I was very careful not to do anything visually tricky, because I wanted it to have a very standard look that I could play on later."

It is impossible now to imagine Westworld without Yul Brynner as the cyborg gunslinger yet on the surface his role wouldn't appear to require much acting. On the other hand, Crichton noted, "It's very hard to give the impression that you are a robot with no personality while at the same time having some sense of presence and personality. Brynner has this. I didn't cast Brynner or the other two principals, but I am very pleased with them in the film. Brynner is the gunfighter since The Magnificent Seven [1960]. If anyone really built a place like Westworld, they probably would make the gunfighter robot in the image of Brynner."

Westworld was so successful that it inspired a sequel - Futureworld (1976) starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner. Once again the story was set in Delos, the adult amusement park that includes Westworld and other attractions. Only this time the cyborgs were instrumental in a world domination plot concocted by Delos engineer Arthur Hill. Although Yul Brynner makes a brief cameo appearance in the film, Futureworld was a cheap imitation of the original film and effectively ended a potential Westworld film franchise. However, there was a television spin-off series, Beyond Westworld.

Producer: Paul Lazarus III, Michael I. Rachmil
Director/Screenplay: Michael Crichton
Visual Effects: Brent Sellstrom
Production Design: Charles Schulthies
Cinematography: Gene Polito
Costume Design: Betsy Cox
Film Editing: David Bretherton
Original Music: Fred Karlin
Cast: Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin), James Brolin (John Blane), Yul Brynner (Robot Gunslinger), Dick Van Patten (Banker), Alan Oppenheimer (Chief Supervisor), Norman Bartold (Medieval Knight), Victoria Shaw (Medieval Queen).
C-89m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford



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