You like your boxed set tv viewing? It's nervous times for the originator of the boxed set tv era, HBO, as it's current premium product, Game of Thrones, heads towards it's ending and an avalanche of excellent material appears from it's competitors at Netflix, Amazon and AMC.
HBO has delighted in being edgy going right back to The Sopranos and it's great hope for 2016 is a remake of a morally compromising precursor to Jurassic Park. Apparently Warner Brothers have been trying to remake Micheal Crichton's Westworld (1973) for decades before HBO's pitch arrived backed by Jonathan Noland and produced JJ Abrams.
For those unfamiliar with it, Westworld opens with tourists arriving at the futuristic resort of Delos*, which allows then to 'interact' with three fantasy settings, Romanworld, Medievalworld and Westworld. Tourists of both sexes are seen almost salivating at the prospect of living out their fantasies with the lifelike robots which populate these environments. Their fun doesn't last long. A virus (which must have sounded very novel at the time) is running through the machines which is causing them to revolt, principally the nightmarish, unstoppable robot gunslinger played memorably by Yul Brynner.
Third time I've seen it, last time was at least a decade ago.
This is one of the few classic properties from the last 40 years who memory has not been ruined by a crap remake.
The influence of the last 1/3 on The Terminator is glaringly obvious, as is the influence of the first 2/3 on Jurassic Park (which was at least taken from a later Micheal Crichton novel)
Micheal Crichton, who sadly died in 2008. is mainly known as a writer rather than director, but some of Westworld shows real style. In the opening the mirrored glasses of the pilot anticipates the machine malevolence which is to come. The aircraft the visitors arrive in is some kind of futuristic ground effect jet aircraft shown only in glimpses until a brief surprisingly convincing landing shot.
Crichton gets some fantastic performances from his small cast in quite a short movie by modern standards. Richard Benjamin blindsides us with a comedy sidekick performance until he suddenly finds himself the centre of the action. James Brolin only has to be stoic and remind us of the Western clichés all around.
But, blowing away the rest of the cast, Yul Brynner is exceptional in what must be a career highlight. Dressed in identically to his heroic character in the Magnificent Seven, Brynner is obviously having a ball playing it the other way, taking a rogue machine performance some way towards demonic.
His slow drawl order "D R A W" to the horrified tourists who suddenly find themselves in a real gunfight is spine tingling.
I was looking forward to Ed Harris version of this character, I now realise he has a virtually impossible job surpassing Brynner's villain. Hopefully HBO's writer Jonathan Nolan (fresh off dystopic AI drama Person of Interest) will make The Gunslinger a different character in HBO's version.
I was surprised by the soundtrack which shows elements of the same discordant electronica heard in Jerry Goldsmith's classic Planet of the Apes score.
The 'shock' ending might have looked fresher in the 1970s before it was used endlessly throughout the following decade.
We don't see much of Romanworld, obviously the budget was stretched there, even a briefly seen Matte painting looks cheap.
Medieval World would really benefit from some Game of Thrones cameos, perhaps allowing a level of comment on vicarious thrills of sex and violence.
Which leads me to the moral corruption element to Westworld, which is one of the reasons HBOs version is so anticipated and which they so obviously get - seen most obviously in the now infamous casting call for Westworld from last year.
There is some old saying that staying in hotels or any length of time is morally corrupting. Delos, in that sense, is the ultimate hotel, a place which allows the tourists the chance to murder and rape in a series of fantasy settings. It is an interesting moment when a female robot in Medievalworld refuses to be raped, immediately prompting sympathy for the machine, and at the same time implanting a sense of dread that the robots are just not going to take this anymore.
This is tackled more directly in a recent direct rip off of Westworld, Vice (2015), which is surprisingly watchable despite being obviously derivative. It is assumed HBOs take on this will be considerably more considered and thought provoking.
Vice isn't the first rip off of Westworld. I've been trying to catch up with Welcome to Blood Creek for years, which I'm willing to bet is more fun than the official sequel to Westworld, FutureWorld and the short lived tv series Beyond Westworld. I saw all three episodes of Beyond Westworld at the time. It seemed watchable when I was 12 (but then so was Martian Chronicles tv series).
Be prepared for Mrs Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barret, running the brothel.
Final thought - I've heard some rumours that the beloved HBO Western series Deadwood may be revived - could they do it as part of Westworld?
* at least Delos tourists didn't book with Thomas Cook