Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Yul Brynner” with a minor in “Robot Snakes”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult buys an all day pass to the only amusement park endorsed by the NRA, Westworld!
Delos: The vacation of the future, today! A high-tech theme park designed to re-create the Wild West, Medieval Europe, and Roman city of Pompeii, and populated with lifelike androids that are practically indistinguishable from human beings and are programmed in character for their assigned historical environment. Guests can indulge in adventure, duels to the death, or even sexual encounters for a lavish fee, but when a computer breakdown causes the androids to go rogue, the holiday turns into a nightmare! Can the visitors defeat the robots and escape the park? Boy, have we got a vacation for you…in Westworld!
Westworld is a 1973 sci-fi, western, horror, thriller starring Yul Brynner as the robotic gunslinger and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as Peter Martin and John Blane, two hapless visitors caught in the deadly theme park. Westworld was written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton. Crichton is known for authoring Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Timeline, Sphere, and others, but he has a penchant for writing and directing mediocre sci-fi thrillers as well. Crichton is credited as a writer on the movie Twister, all of the Jurassic park films and many of the video games, and as a director on such movies as Coma, Looker, Runaway, and Physical Evidence. Though Westworld was Crichton’s directorial debut Crichton himself says he did not wish to make his first movie a sci-fi saying, “that’s the only way I could get the studio to let me to direct. People think I’m good at it I guess.”
Crichton became inspired to write this film after a trip to Disneyland, where he saw the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and was impressed by the animatronic characters and the script was written in August of 1972. It was offered to every major studio, but every one turned down the project except for MGM. Crichton said, “MGM had a bad reputation among filmmakers; in recent years, directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Blake Edwards, Stanley Kubrick, Fred Zinneman and Sam Peckinpah had complained bitterly about their treatment there. There were too many stories of unreasonable pressure, arbitrary script changes, inadequate postproduction, and cavalier recutting of the final film. Nobody who had a choice made a picture at Metro, but then we didn’t have a choice.” Production was difficult with MGM demanding script changes up to the day of shooting and the leads not being locked down until 48 hours beforehand. Crichton said he had no control over casting and MGM originally would only make the film for under a million dollars but later increased this amount to $1.25 million. Crichton says that of the budget, $250,000 went on the cast, $400,000 on crew and the remainder on everything else (including a measly $75,000 for sets).
Westworld was shot in 30 days and in order to save time Crichton cut in camera, a straightforward yet rigid filmmaking approach where the entire film is planned and storyboarded scene by scene before set up or filming and afterwards the filmmakers just have to follow the storyboards to make the film. In most production scenarios the storyboards are used but are often replaced in the spur of the moment if someone has a better alternative idea for a shot or if the director wants to experiment with the actors on set. Crichton didn’t have that kind of time or budget, so he sacrificed creativity for efficiency. Crichton later wrote that since “most of the situations in the film are cliches; they are incidents out of hundreds of old movies” that the scenes “should be shot as cliches. This dictated a conventional treatment in the choice of lenses and the staging.”
There were several minor injures during filming. During a shootout scene a piece of wadding from a blank cartridge struck Yul Brynner in the eye, scratching his cornea and leaving him unable to wear his light reflecting contacts without his injured eye turning red and tearing up, so shooting had to be maneuvered to allow time for his eye to heal. And during the scene where James Brolin’s character was bitten by a rattlesnake, while the milked rattler was attached to Brolin’s arm, he was bitten by the teeth on the snakes lower jaw, despite wearing padding on his arm made of leather and cotton.
In post-production Crichton was actually depressed by how long and boring the movie was re-edited the first cut of the movie. Deleted scenes include bank robbery and sales room sequences, hovercraft with passengers flying above desert in the beginning, additional and longer dialogue scenes, more scenes with robots going crazy and killing guests including a scene where one guest is tied down to a rack and is killed when his arms are pulled out, longer chase scene with Gunslinger chasing Peter, and a scene with the Gunslinger cleaning his face with water after Peter throws acid on him. 10 minutes of ‘adult material’ was cut as well, most likely for the PG rating. Once the film was completed, MGM authorized the shooting of some extra footage. A TV commercial to open the film was added and, because there was a writers strike in Hollywood at the time, it was written by Steven Frankfurt, a New York advertising executive.
Despite production issues, the actors, especially Richard Benjamin seemed to enjoy working on the film. “It probably was the only way I was ever going to get into a Western, and certainly into a science-fiction Western. It’s that old thing when actors come out here from New York. They say, “Can you ride a horse?” And you say, “Oh, sure,” and then they’ve got to go out quick and learn how to ride a horse. But I did know how to ride a horse! So you get to do stuff that’s like you’re 12 years old. All of the reasons you went to the movies in the first place. You’re out there firing a six-shooter, riding a horse, being chased by a gunman, and all of that. It’s the best!”
Westworld is notable for it’s special effects and was the first feature film to use digital image processing. American animator, composer, and inventor John Whitney, Jr., now widely considered to be one of the fathers of computer animation, digitally processed motion picture photography to appear pixelized in order to portray the Gunslinger android’s point of view. After the process was finally developed enough to produce satisfactory results, it took a mere eight hours to produce each ten seconds of the 2 ½ minutes of Gunslinger POV animation. The appearance of Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger character is actually based on Brynner’s character from the Magnificent Seven (1960) and the costumes are nearly identical. In the scene when Richard Benjamin’s character splashes the Gunslinger in the face with acid, Brynner’s face was covered with an oil-based makeup mixed with ground Alka-Seltzer. A splash of water then produced the fizzing effect.
After making Westworld, Crichton took a year off, later saying “I was intensely fatigued by Westworld. I was pleased but intimidated by the audience reaction… The laughs are in the wrong places. There was extreme tension where I hadn’t planned it. I felt the reaction, and maybe the picture, was out of control.” For him the picture marked the end of “about five years of science fiction/monster pictures for me”. He took a break from the genre and wrote The Great Train Robbery, a novel based on the Great Gold Robbery, which took place during a train and sea journey from London to Paris in 1855. The Great Train Robbery would eventually be adapted into a film starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland in 1978 and Crichton would direct.
Westworld smashes a dizzying number of genres together. The only thing left out is perhaps romantic comedy and musical. It shifts rapidly from western action-adventure land to conspiracy thriller town with little breathing room between and turns up the horror as it moves forward. Quirky, amusing, but nevertheless memorable, Westworld is a sci-fi cult film that demands to be referenced. Director John Carpenter based the “indestructible” nature of his killer Michael Myers in Halloween on Yul Brynner’s character in Westworld, the Simpson’s parodied the concept for the film in the episode “Itchy and Scratchy Land,” Crichton would later reuse some of his ideas about a theme park turned deathtrap when writing Jurassic Park, and it even spawned a poorly received sequel called Futureworld and a mediocre TV series called Beyond Westworld, which Crichton wrote for. Even now, over 30 years later, rumors continue to circulate about remakes starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or directed by Quentin Tarantino. In August of 2013 it was announced that HBO had ordered a polot for a Westworld TV series produced by J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nola, and Jerry Weintraub. The IMDB page lists Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden, and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as actors. Talk about a concept with staying power!
The original Westworld was a box office hit raking in $10 million from a budget of $1.25 million, earning $4 million in rentals alone in the US and Canada by the end on 1973, and becoming MGM’s biggest success of that year. It has a 7.1 on IMDB and an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and we’re about to watch it right now…what could possibly go wrong??
There’s no way to get hurt in here, just enjoy yourself…
The Supercultshow is proud to present, Westworld!