Set in the future (of 1983!), Richard Benjamin and his more adventurous pal James Brolin are among the visitors to the title theme park where you can live out your wild west fantasies and interact with realistic-looking robot characters. Part of a resort named Delos, there are other theme parks like Medieval World and Roman World on the same complex. Although at Western World almost everyone carries a firearm, humans can’t be hurt or killed at any of Delos’ themed worlds. At least that’s what they say. You see, things are starting to break down, the robots (particularly a surly robot gunslinger played by Yul Brynner) aren’t behaving according to their design. And shit’s about to get real.
Debuting writer-director Michael Crichton (“Coma”, “Looker”) gives us a pre-cursor to his “Jurassic Park” novel with this 1973 sci-fi movie, at least in its ‘theme park gone amok’ premise (“Total Recall” also springs to mind). It’s a pretty irresistible B-movie with a solid cast and it’s a very easy watch. Hell, it’s twice as good as “Jurassic Park” or “Jurassic World”, and certainly vastly superior to his 80s robots-run-amok stinker “Runaway”. Personally I think the subsequent TV series remake is dull and over-complicated, and while this version is a tad too streamlined that it leaves you wanting a bit more it’s still preferable.
They’re not terribly great actors, but Richard Benjamin and especially James Brolin (in one of his best performances) are really well-cast here as our protagonists, one who easily fits in to the title theme resort, the other who absolutely doesn’t. A nerdy Dick Van Patten is a frequent scene-stealer as another client who seems to be having a whale of a time asserting himself. His every scene is genuinely hilarious.
The film is far from flawless. I actually thought Ed Harris was the one good thing about the TV series, and here Yul Brynner (who has the purdiest horse ever in this) is mostly just OK in the part. Dressed in his “Magnificent Seven” costume, he’s been much better elsewhere. I didn’t like that he clearly looked and acted like a stereotypical robot, when none of the other robots in the film did. That seemed a bit silly to me, making him stand out for all the wrong reasons. I also think the scenes of the park maintenance team with all their science-y gobbledygook is all outdated nonsense ‘science speak’. They’re just throwing out random scientific terms like ‘gyro’ and whatnot (Someone might’ve even talked about a ‘Johnson rod’ at one point and we all know that’s BS speak).
You do kind of wish we got more glimpses of the other theme parks, but this is simple fun and the streamlined approach as I said, is certainly preferable to the overly complex TV series (and it’s hard not to compare the two, though I’ll admit I tuned out after several episodes). I did wish the Medieval World scenes weren’t so corny though, you can tell an American wrote it because it’s all very basic and corny Medieval clichés that Crichton probably stole from a trip to the Medieval Times restaurant or something. Things get really fun (and Brynner loosens up) at the closing stages when the robots go nuts and shit gets farked up. Interesting, offbeat music score by Fred Karlin (“The Stalking Moon”), too.
A fun little film, but one that could’ve been even better. It’s a bit thin and full of padding, some interesting, some not. The climax is terrific, however and it’s one of the better Crichton films for sure. I still prefer Itchy & Scratchy Land, though.