Monday, 26 May 2014
Westworld unfolds like an airport novella. We get a middle-aged hero upfront and struggling, along with a rhythm and pace that's closer to a sixty minute science-fiction serial than it is cinema. Writer / director Michael Crichton spends an extended amount of time unpacking his idea - in the near future, themed resorts revolve around simulated murder and sexual debauchery. Crichton cycles through various permutations, detailing the central holiday destination from a variety of angles. A simple gunslinger set-up takes centre stage in which Yul Brynner's black hat is vanquished by Richard Benjamin's nebbish attorney. Naturally, this is followed by a visit to the local bordello for the victors.
When Brynner reappears programmed for vengeance it feels like the film's about to kick up several gears, delivering on the computer virus strand a few nervous scientists floated behind the scenes. It doesn't though. Brynner's 'droid is easily blown through a window allowing Benjamin and his pal to indulge in prison breaks and bar brawls. It's a dither, but one that allows an idea of safety to take hold. When the power fantasy is eventually shattered it registers as alarming rather than routine. Aren't we already past this destination point?
With Brynner hot on his heels, Benjamin stumbles through the various other worlds, one designed to resemble ancient Rome, the other medieval Europe. We had got a taste of Medieval World, through a subplot in which a sweaty fifty-something tried to stick his dick in anything that moved, but Crichton held back on Roman World. Our main glimpse of the pre-Christian retreat arriving during the initial malfunction when the robotic slaves threw off their shackles and murdered the middle-class holidaymakers posing as their masters.
By the time Benjamin shows up, both areas are strewn with bodies and deactivated androids, a development emblematic of Westworld's overall approach to conflict. The film is stubbornly anti-action. Benjamin is never asked to battle any other, subordinate threats, and his attempts to thwart Brynner's clockwork heavy are fleeting and imprecise. Benjamin appears genuinely scared, depressingly aware of how little threat he is when the Gunslinger's safety restraints are turned off. In this sense Westworld is exciting for what it doesn't do. It's a relic from a time when films didn't need to have capable leading men. Like Duel, Westworld posits adventure as a state of stress and psychological damage. It's not about baptising a hero, it's about stripping civilised man down to naked, violent aggression.