Viking Night: Westworld
By Bruce Hall
August 17, 2016
Westworld harkens back to a time when a movie could get away with looking like a television show, as long as the story scratched the right itch.
Maybe that sounds unfair, but I can remember seeing Westworld on television for the first time and not having any idea that what I was watching had ever been released in a theater. I sure didn’t have any idea who Yul Brynner was. I just thought the killer cowboy was cool. I remember mentioning to friends how much he reminded me of the Terminator, and getting shouted down because one is technically a “cyborg” while the other is a “robot.”
Coincidentally, this was also one of my first encounters with the sort of myopic trolls that now inhabit most of the internet.
Still, one was indeed reminiscent of the other, and it would be far from the only time that Michael Crichton would serve as someone’s inspiration. What do I mean by that? Here’s a test. When I die, I have no idea what’s going to happen to all the books on my Kindle. But when I was a kid, if someone died, and they had a bunch of books in your attic, sometimes a kid like me got a free box of books. If you’re old enough to remember things like that, then you’ve probably read some Michael Crichton. For those of you who aren’t, he’s the guy who invented Jurassic Park.
Better? Good. Because if you liked Jurassic Park, or the more recent Jurassic World, you might want to check out Westworld, because all three are pretty much the same story. The difference is that in Westworld there are no kids, precocious or otherwise, and there are robots instead of dinosaurs. And you can replace Chris Pratt with a running gag about sexual abuse, so there’s also that.
Westworld begins with an awkwardly period appropriate promotional reel for a thousand dollar a day, adult themed amusement park called Delos. The park is split into three sections. Roman World, Medieval World, and Westworld. Each area is designed to be as authentic a period recreation as possible. All three are populated with lifelike robots, nearly indistinguishable from humans and programmed to make your stay as fun and exciting as possible. The reel ends with the Delos slogan “Boy have we got a vacation for you!”
Obviously that’s meant to be prophetic but it’s also what happens when you let interns write your advertising copy.
So, there’s your setup. Westworld is a decadent playground for bored, rich people who want to experience what it’s like to get their Grand Theft Auto on in real life, but with none of the risk and all of the reward. So what kind of shallow twit would want something like that? I’m glad you asked. Let’s meet the rather generically named John Blane (James Brolin) and Pete Martin (Richard Benjamin). John is the square jawed adventurous type, and Pete is a successful lawyer with an appalling mustache and all the adventurous spirit of a middle aged house cat. The moment they arrive, Pete starts complaining because the 19th century beds are uncomfortable and there’s no place to get a good martini.