Thursday 27 August 2009

Futureworld (1976)

Director: Richard T Heffron
Stars: Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner

Two years after the events of Westworld, the Delos executives have apparently fixed all the problems that caused the robot population of the futuristic theme park to start killing its customers. They've funnelled a billion and a half dollars into the new improved version, replacing everything and the newly reopened Delos is three times the size of the old one. They're so keen to get over their previous aberration that they're setting up an all expenses paid trip to the resort as a game show prize on The Big Bundle, hosted by Allen Ludden, who in real life hosted Password on American TV. Response has been good but not good enough and the Delos executives really want to mitigate the reaction of the press, so they invite a TV journalist along for the positive publicity she can provide too.

Old fashioned print journalist Chuck Browning remembers the troubles at Westworld well as he wrote an important story on it. Now he's wondering if there's a new story beyond the publicity job, given that a man called Frenchy LaPorte wants to tell him things about it but is killed before he can. His last word? 'Delos.' So Browning gets himself added to the publicity trip, along with the TV journalist who he knows well, Tracy Ballard. Perhaps the folks who run Delos haven't quite fixed everything that they think they'd fixed when they replaced everything. After all, they've kept the utterly ludicrous closing line for their presentations, 'Nothing can go wrong,' and they've even added Pompeii as an attraction. Look how well that one turned out in real life!

As the title of the film suggests, we have new worlds to play in, including FutureWorld, which begins with a rocket launch and includes such delights as spacewalks and skiing on Mars, not to mention the cool futuristic games like holographic chess and a great surrogate boxing match. It also looks really good given that they shot portions of it at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. The futuristic outlook extends to the cast as the Delos executives apparently thought the best thing they could do to avoid robot failure is to have more robots and less humans, so now the techs are all robots too. I guess that means that less actual people die when things go horribly and inevitably wrong.

We also have a thoroughly international cast of characters, all of which are apparently also thoroughly important, except for Ron Thurlow who's just an everyday Joe who won a game show. Russian General Karnovsky and his wife are here to experience the illusion of youth in SpaWorld. Japanese businessman Mr Takaguchi and his aide are there to cross swords with the best of MedievalWorld. Of course how they're attracting such important clients when response to the reopening hasn't been that good doesn't make a lot of sense, but this is a B movie after all, made by American International Pictures, and the plot would be meaningless without them.

At least they're adding some of the things into the mix that should have been there in the original, like the conspiracy theory angle, though it's done with a highly derivative edge and it plays well to me, it wasn't popular at the time. This takes a lot from The Stepford Wives, made a year earlier, and throws it all into the concept of The Manchurian Candidate. The only thing left from Westworld itself is the theme park, which is hardly used, and the return of Yul Brynner in a fantasy dream sequence as a romantic version of his gunfighter character. Sadly, especially as this is Brynner's final film role, with the exception of the narration he did for a short film called Lost to the Revolution in 1980, he has precisely nothing to do except be the sole cast link to the original film.

Peter Fonda fits the story well as Chuck Browning and Blythe Danner does a good job as Tracy Ballard, though at points she becomes the damsel into distress a little too easily. I thought women had burned their bras before 1976. Best of the supporting actors is Stuart Margolin as a Delos tech named Harry who helps them out, Margolin being best known for his recurring supporting slot as Angel on The Rockford Files. I felt George Schenck and Mayo Simon wrote a more interesting story than Michael Crichton did in the first film, though it's one that feels like it was forced onto the Westworld concept rather than written to fit inside it.

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