westworld_ver21When you come up with a great idea for a movie and it proves to be very successful, I suppose from an economic point of view its not a bad idea to recycle the idea and milk it for whats it worth. This is precisely what Michael Crichton did in 1973 and again in 1993. In 1973, Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a story about an amusement park that allows its guests to relive their fantasies in the Wild West, Ancient Rome, or Medieval Times. Everything progresses smoothly until the human look-alike robots that populate the amusement park go AWOL and begin killing the guests. Sound familiar? Thats because in 1993, Crichton dusted off his successful formula and repackaged it as Jurassic Park, which is also about an amusement park that goes apeshit on the guests. To his credit, Crichton did have an awesome idea and a very commercially viable one at that. I loved the hell out of Jurassic Park and not surprisingly, I also greatly enjoyed Westworld.

The film stars James Brolin (Josh Brolin’s dad), Richard Benjamin, and of course, the great Yul Brynner. Brolin and Benjamin play the guests to the amusement park. They are well-to-do city folk who have decided to live out their fantasies of being cowboys in the Wild West. In watching Brolin, I was constantly being reminded of how much his son resembles him (NOTE: I think Josh Brolin is one of the best actors working today). Brolin and Benjamin both give good performances. They perfectly embody the nouveau riche weekend warriors who want adventure without having to get their nails dirty. When you first meet these two characters you think you know which one is going to die first. Brolin had already visited Westworld and he gives off a laid-back seen-it-all attitude about the place. Benjamin, on the other hand, is a first time visitor and he is initially timid in embracing the fantasy world and his role in it.

This brings me to Yul Brynner (he is so awesome that he gets his own paragraph). One of the most unfortunate tragedies of lung cancer and tobacco was the death of Yul Brynner. To this day, no one has been able to command the screen the way Brynner did. If you have not seen any of his film, then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. In Westworld, Brynner plays the evil gunslinger. He is like the Terminator of the Wild West. He doesn’t say much (Brynner doesn’t have more than a handful of lines in the film) and he doesn’t need to. His stare says everything and its enough to intimidate the hell out of you. If you have seen The Magnificent Seven, you will recognize his character and his costume. Brynner wears the same costume he did in The Magnificent Seven and his character here is an homage to his character in that film. Like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, Brynner contributes a large part to this film’s success.

For any of you writing a screenplay involving a story that requires the audience to first understand a set of ground rules, Westworld is a good example of how to do this without resorting to a lot of exposition. Instead of a person explaining how things operate in the setting of the movie, this film opens with a commercial advertising the amusement park. Its an effective narrative device and it maintains the pace of the movie. Jurassic Park resorted to a similar novel technique to describe its park by using a short animated presentation used on a ride. If you have seen Jurassic Park, which unless you have been living under a rock for the past 16 years I will assume you have, you pretty much know how this movie will play out. At 1 hour and 28 minutes, Westworld moves at a brisk pace. My only gripe about the story was the 3rd Act, which felt too dragged out with Brynner chasing Benjamin for a seemingly endless amount of time. However, this is only a minor issue that barely detracted from my enjoyment of the movie.

Westworld is not just for science fiction fans. It is a well told story that will appeal to general audiences, whether you’re a film snob or a casual moviewatcher. I enjoyed not only the performances and the narrative, but also the meticulous and well thought-out attention to detail Crichton seemed to give his story. Despite its age, this film still delivers a lot of entertainment and its a worthy rental.