If you’re like me, then you’re gutted that last week, after branding a huge W on our hearts, HBO’s Westworld rode off into the sunset. In an effort to pick up the pieces, I decided to go back to where it all began and watch Michael Crichton‘s 1973 vision of Westworld. So, is it still any good?
Westworld, as a concept, could have gone two ways. And I’ll admit, when I first heard about it, I didn’t see how anyone could turn the idea of a malfunctioning robo-cowboy ranch into anything good. HBO proved me wrong. And had I seen 1973’s Westworld, that would have proved me wrong too.
To summarise, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin (father of Josh Brolin) are out for an old fashioned good time in a robotic simulation of the old west. The women are willing and the bullets are harmless until Yul Brynner‘s robotic, badass, unblinking gunslinger decides to go off script and hunt the two of them down.
And that’s it. The first half of the film is spent setting up the rules of the world and the second half is spent knocking the world down. It’s fundamentally a chase film. A pounding, synthesizer driven, panic stricken escape from a near invincible machine. It’s a tense watch.
When things start to fall apart in West World, it’s genuinely upsetting. It’s something akin to a massacre at Disneyland. Add to this neighbouring Roman World and Medieval World where things have also gone similarly awry and a malfunctioning life support system in the control room, and you have what feels like the last man on earth facing off against a steely eyed force of nature in the middle of a dead planet.
Watching 1973’s Westworld is a real treat for anyone who loves the show. The tropes are all there, only they’ve been remixed. There’s the two guests who fight and screw their way through the park until things get too real for them, the man in the black hat who’ll stop at nothing until he gets what he’s hunting for, the glitch in the system and the unseen hand of the puppet masters who keep the park humming along. But knowing what Jonathon Nolan and co. turned Westworld into doesn’t detract from the film. It enhances it. Going from Westworld ’73 to HBO’s Westworld shows you how an adaptation should be done.
It isn’t just some nostalgic trip seeing where the phenomenon began. Westworld ’73 stands on its own two feet. It’s so good that they turned it into a Simpsons episode. It’s so good that Terminator should probably be paying kickbacks to Crichton’s estate for stealing all of its best moments. It’s so good that in 2016, 43 years later, people are still talking about Westworld.
Agree/disagree with my verdict? Leave a comment and let me know why I’m spot on/should see the errors of my ways in the comments below!