“Westworld” stands test of time

Look at this face.

Yes indeed it’s Yul Brynner in the film “Westworld.” Why would this 1973 classic sci-fi thriller be the subject of a blog post in 2012? Because it was on TCM recently and I watched it last night after recording it on my PVR.

What a treat!

I hadn’t seen this film in many years. I had no idea it was Michael Crichton’s directorial debut. All I could remember was the scene near the end with the “acid.” But less than a year after my trip to Disney World, this film really hit home.

First of all, 70s sci-fi really stands out. I’m thinking The Andromeda Strain, Clockwork Orange, Omega Man, Silent Running, Soylent Green, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, (Star Trek: The Motion Picture? and of course Star Wars. It was, quite simply, a great decade for the genre. And Westworld fits right in.

Westworld is about a couple of friends that go to an amusement park called Westworld. But this park takes Disney a major step further. It’s run by robots that guests can shoot or shack up with, all for the low price of $1,000 a day. The problem is the robots malfunction and start to hurt the guests. After being “killed” twice, Yul Brynner’s gunslinger robot is out for vengeance.

I remember my Disney trip well. We had a great time, but Disney is exhausting. The tram rides from the parking lot to the entrance. The line-ups. The crowds. The money. All for fleeting thrills! Crichton, who wrote Jurassic Park years later, used the theme park setting again for his tale of rebellious dinosaurs.

Disney is mindless fun but Westworld really makes you think. It raises many questions about the morality of fun and what is acceptable for our amusement. When does a robot become a being with rights that should be respected? When do we cross the line? How far will we go for escapism? When is it unethical?

Perhaps today’s theme parks aren’t far off from what Westworld warned us about back in 1973.

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