In 1973, Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a sci-fi classic that went on to influence The Terminator, Crichton’s own Jurassic Park and one of the best episodes of The Simpsons. A few years later TV creators Richard T. Heffron, Mayo Simon, and George Schenck made a sequel that remains mostly forgotten.
Futureworld does attempt to take the Westworld concept in an interesting direction. Had it worked, it’s not hard to envision a world in which the Westworld saga became a series of increasingly bizarre chapters ala Planet of the Apes. The ingredients are there. Cool robots, counter culture undertones and the awesome camp inherent in 1970s theme park design. Unfortunately, despite some lofty goals, Futureworld is kind of a slog. Hit the jump for our review of Futureworld on Blu-ray.
Two years after Yul Brynner and his robot buddies went awesomely apeshit, the Delos corporation has reopened their park. This time everything is super-100% disaster proof and there is totally no way that robots can run amok again because they replaced the human staff with new, even smarter robots because that is obviously a plan that will work. Surprisingly, it totally does. Ten minutes into the movie, it looks like this is going to be a rehash of Westworld and to Futureworld’s credit, it takes thing in a very different direction. Less to its credit, that direction is super dull and pretty poorly executed.
Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner are reporters who, along with a hand-picked group of world leaders, are invited to preview the now-totally-100%-safe Delos Amusement Park. Fonda, an old school, facts-first newspaperman, stomps around in a cranky, pandering, bored-sounding funk, while Danner’s young, go getter of a TV reporter wears a gentle, accommodating smile. The fact that they used to sleep together is just the tip of Futureworld’s quaint, infuriating gender politics as Fonda take every opportunity to behave like a smarmy, pandering jackass.
There is some fun misdirection at play; one character sneaks a camera into the park, there is some business involving another character’s antique sword and it really feels like they’re setting up round two robot rampage. But these all turn out to be red herrings. Delos is secretly making android copies of its powerful guests, with the intention of sending them out into the world to recommend the park to their powerful friends so that they visit the park and then Delos takes over the world.
There’s a nugget of a fun idea there, with corporate interests literally stealing political power but Futureworld isn’t really interested in fun. It’s almost as if the filmmakers saw The China Syndrome and felt the need to make a similarly serious expose about the dangers of theme-park robot identity theft. There are like ten scenes in the entire movie and each lasts waaaay beyond its expiration date. It feels like half the movie is composed of characters walking slowly past dank pipes.
It amounts to a huge missed opportunity. There are moments that hint at a minor camp classic and I kept hoping that it would devolve into a Zardoz style bit of psychedelic fun. Things seemed especially promising during Yul Brynner’s cameo. He shows up for one scene in which he slow dances and makes love to Blythe Danner in a totally white room. It is both sillier and more awesome in practice than it sounds and those are both adjectives Futureworld could have stood to have more of.
A trailer, some radio ads and still pictures.
With a few exceptions Futureworld eschews the fun of Westworld in favor of bland misogyny, misguided attempts at humor, an over serious tone and one of the dorkiest endings I can think of.
Final Grade: C-