Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Truly Realistic Resort

"Have we got a vacation for you!"

At first glance, Michael Crichton's Westworld appeared to be the perfect adult resort. (Well, the $1,000/day price tag was a bit steep.)

Staffed by realistic robots, Westworld was divided into three distinct worlds — West World, where guests could re–live the days of the Old West; Roman World and Medieval World. Each was realistic, but everything — gunfights and duels included — was controlled. Nothing could possibly go wrong, guests were assured.

Everything was designed for the guests' pleasure.

In "Westworld," which made its debut on this day in 1973, James Brolin played a prior patron. Richard Benjamin was a first–timer who had been persuaded by Brolin to come to Westworld to distract him from his domestic problems.

The three worlds were occupied by robots that were designed to accommodate any guest's desire, be it a fight or a sexual rendezvous. In almost every respect, the robots were indistinguishable from the guests. There was one little physical flaw, but you had to know what it was. Otherwise, the difference was imperceptible to the naked eye.

The robots, though, were cold–blooded whereas the guests were warm–blooded. The weapons that were given to guests had sensors that prevented them from being used against living things. Robots, like the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), were programmed to be outdrawn by guests.

But problems began to emerge in Medieval World and Roman World. Robots began breaking down. A knight killed a guest in a swordfight; an android refused a guest's sexual advances.

In the control room, the technicians scoffed at the notion that some sort of virus was spreading from one world to the other. But that was exactly what was happening.

In West World, Brolin and Benjamin were passed out drunk in a bordello, where they woke up hungover and tried to make their way back to their room. They were confronted by the Gunslinger. Unaware of the situation, Brolin challenged the Gunslinger to a gunfight — and suffered a mortal gun wound.

Benjamin began to understand what was happening, and the rest of the movie was about his attempt to escape.

The Gunslinger proved to be remarkably resilient — until Benjamin's character threw acid on it. That was the result of one of the most inspired special–effects scenes I have ever witnessed. Brynner's face was coated with a special makeup that contained ground Alka–Seltzer. When Benjamin threw a cup of water on Brynner's face, the fizzling effect was created.

Another thing.

Have you ever looked at Brynner in "Westworld" and thought you had seen him before but in a different movie?

You weren't imagining it. Brynner's costume as the Gunslinger was nearly the same as the one he wore as Chris Adams in "The Magnificent Seven."

Maybe everything old is new again.