Science fiction is a genre that more often than not dates quicker and more severely than any other. Predictions about what technology awaits us are rarely correct, and a lot of the time, the real world surpasses what seemed like the most outlandish technological dreams. The titular guide book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was hilarious in its masses of knowledge and infinite storage space when the book was written in 1979. Now, it would seem pretty lame compared to the smart phones in all of our pickets. But while sci-fi might be quickly and severely dated, sometimes, that leads to a lot of its charm. Which is the case with Westworld.
Set some time in the not so distant future, the most popular holiday destination for adults is Delos, a massive role playing destination where visitors can live in worlds of times gone by. There’s an Old West World, a Medieval World and an Ancient Roman World. But more than just elaborate recreations of architecture and culture, these worlds have been populated with robots so real, they’re barely distinguishable from humans. The beauty of this is, it means guests can do things like have a high noon shoot out, and feel like a hero when they gun down the local bad guy, with none of the guilt of actually killing a man. Or seduce a princess by banging a roll playing robot instead of banging a role playing whore.
Peter (Richard Benjamin) is about to visit the old west for the first time, and he’s as giddy as a child with the prospect of playing cowboy. While his friend John (James Brolin) has been before, and is a little more cool, calm and collected about the whole thing. Day one, Peter lives his dream, gunning down the local Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), and John convinces him to celebrate with an animatronic whore. Then next day, John is attacked by a robotic snake that goes beyond its programming in its aggression. At Delos HQ, the technicians behind the scenes start to notice robots being overly aggressive in all three worlds. By the time they realise they’re guests are in danger, the violence inducing virus has spread to every robot there.
I knew the general gist of Westworld going in (mostly thanks to The Simpsons episode Itchy and Scratchy Land), but that never stopped me from really enjoying it. From the opening scene depicting adults excited about the idea of their childhood fantasies becoming a reality, to seeing Peter and John live those fantasies out, there’s something so infectious about this holiday resort for role playing with robots. Grown ass adults wanting to dress up and play cowboys, or knights, or centurions should seem goofy and immature. But seeing the fun they have when the park is running smoothly, I’ll be buggered if I didn’t want to do it too.
The only downside to this movie was the lack of Yul Brynner. I guess he’s technically the main bad guy, but his screen time is minimal as we see all hell breaking loose in all three worlds, not just the old west. But when he is on screen, he gives the kind of steely, robotic performance that is so obviously the inspiration for things like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator movies.
Forty years after its release, Westworld is extremely dated. It’s predictions about technology and the future are way off the mark. And even its ideas about artificial intelligence run amuck, which does seem like more and more of a possibility in the real world these days, seem quaint and overly basic. And all of that stuff just adds to the charm. Watching Westworld in 2015, it succeeds because of those things. Not despite them.