Westworld (film)

Westworld ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Neal Adams
Directed byMichael Crichton
Produced byPaul N. Lazarus III
Written byMichael Crichton
Music byFred Karlin
CinematographyGene Polito
Edited byDavid Bretherton
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • November 21, 1973 (1973-11-21)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.25 million[1]
Box office$10 million[2]

Westworld is a 1973 American science fiction Western thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. It stars Yul Brynner as an android in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as guests of the park.

The film served as Crichton's feature directorial debut.[3] It was also the first feature film to use digital image processing to pixellate photography to simulate an android point of view.[4] The film was nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Saturn awards.

Westworld was followed by a sequel, Futureworld (1976), and a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld (1980). A new television series based on the film debuted in 2016 on HBO.


In the then-future year of 1983, a high-tech, highly realistic adult amusement park called Delos features three themed "worlds": Western World (the American Old West), Medieval World (medieval Europe), and Roman World (the ancient Roman city of Pompeii). The resort's three "worlds" are populated with lifelike androids that are practically indistinguishable from human beings, each programmed in character for their assigned historical environment. For $1,000 per day, guests may indulge in any adventure with the android population of the park, including sexual encounters and a simulated fight to the death. Delos's tagline in its advertising promises, "Boy, have we got a vacation for you!"

Peter Martin, a first-time Delos visitor, and his friend John Blane, on a repeat visit, go to Westworld. One of the attractions is the Gunslinger, a robot programmed to instigate gunfights. The firearms issued to the park guests have temperature sensors that prevent them from shooting anything with a high body temperature, such as humans, but allow them to 'kill' the cold-blooded androids. The Gunslinger's programming allows guests to draw their guns and kill it, with the robot always returning the next day for another duel.

The technicians running Delos notice problems beginning to spread like an infection among the androids: the robots in Romanworld and Medievalworld begin experiencing an increasing number of breakdowns and systemic failures, which are said to have spread to Westworld. When one of the supervising computer scientists scoffs at the "analogy of an infectious disease," he is told by the chief supervisor, "We aren't dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they've been designed by other computers. We don't know exactly how they work."

The malfunctions become more serious when a robotic rattlesnake bites Blane in Westworld, and, against its programming, an android refuses a guest's advances in Medieval World. The failures escalate until Medieval World's Black Knight robot kills a guest in a swordfight. The resort's supervisors try to regain control by shutting down power to the entire park. However, the shutdown traps them in central control when the doors automatically lock, unable to turn the power back on and escape. Meanwhile, the robots in all three worlds run amok, operating on reserve power.

Martin and Blane, recovering from a drunken bar-room brawl, wake up in Westworld's bordello, unaware of the park's massive breakdown. When the Gunslinger challenges the men to a showdown, Blane treats the confrontation as an amusement until the robot outdraws and shoots, killing him. Martin runs for his life and the robot implacably follows.

Martin flees to the other areas of the park, but finds only dead guests, damaged robots, and a panicked technician attempting to escape Delos who is shortly thereafter shot by the Gunslinger. Martin climbs down through a manhole in Roman World into the underground control complex and discovers that the resort's computer technicians suffocated in the control room when the ventilation system shut down. The Gunslinger stalks him through the underground corridors so he runs away until he enters a robot-repair lab. When the Gunslinger comes into the room, Martin pretends to be a robot, throws acid into its face, and flees, returning to the surface inside the Medieval World castle.

With its optical inputs damaged by the acid, the Gunslinger is unable to track him visually and tries to find Martin using its infrared scanners. Martin stands beneath the flaming torches of the Great Hall to mask his presence from the robot, before setting it on fire with one of the torches. The burned shell of the Gunslinger attacks him on the dungeon steps before succumbing to its damage. Martin sits on the dungeon steps in a state of near-exhaustion and shock, as the irony of Delos's slogan resonates: "Boy, have we got a vacation for you!"




Crichton said he did not wish to make his feature directorial debut (after one TV film) with science fiction but, "That's the only way I could get the studio to let me direct. People think I'm good at it I guess."[2]

Crichton's agent introduced him to producer Paul N. Lazarus III; they became friends and decided to make a film together.[5] The script was written in August 1972. Lazarus says he asked Crichton why he did not tell the story as a book; Crichton said he felt the story was visual, and would not really work as a book.[5]

The script was offered to all the major studios. They all turned down the project except for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, then under head of production Dan Melnick and president James T. Aubrey. Crichton:

MGM had a bad reputation among filmmakers; in recent years, directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Blake Edwards, Stanley Kubrick, Fred Zinneman and Sam Peckinpah had complained bitterly about their treatment there. There were too many stories of unreasonable pressure, arbitrary script changes, inadequate post production, and cavalier recutting of the final film. Nobody who had a choice made a picture at Metro, but then we didn't have a choice. Dan Melnick... assured [us]... that we would not be subjected to the usual MGM treatment. In large part, he made good on that promise.[6]

Crichton said pre-production was difficult. MGM demanded script changes up to the first day of shooting and the leads were not signed until 48 hours before shooting began. Crichton said he had no control over casting[2] and MGM originally would only make the film for under a million dollars but later increased this amount by $250,000.[1] Crichton said that $250,000 of the budget was paid to the cast, $400,000 to the crew and the remainder on everything else (including $75,000 for sets).[7]

Principal photography

Westworld was filmed in several locations, including the Mojave Desert, the gardens of the Harold Lloyd Estate, several MGM sound stages and on the MGM backlot, one of the final films to be shot there.[3] It was filmed with Panavision anamorphic lenses by Gene Polito, A.S.C.

Richard Benjamin later said he loved making the film:

It probably was the only way I was ever going to get into a Western, and certainly into a science-fiction Western. It's that old thing when actors come out here from New York. They say, "Can you ride a horse?" And you say, "Oh, sure," and then they've got to go out quick and learn how to ride a horse. But I did know how to ride a horse! So you get to do stuff that's like you're 12 years old. All of the reasons you went to the movies in the first place. You're out there firing a six-shooter, riding a horse, being chased by a gunman, and all of that. It's the best! [Laughs.][8]

The Gunslinger's appearance is based on Chris Adams, Brynner's character from The Magnificent Seven. The two characters' costumes are nearly identical.[9] According to Lazarus, Yul Brynner agreed to play the role for only $75,000 because he needed the money.[5]

In the scene when Richard Benjamin's character splashes the Gunslinger in the face with acid, Brynner's face was covered with an oil-based makeup mixed with ground Alka-Seltzer. A splash of water then produced the fizzing effect.

The score for Westworld was composed by American composer Fred Karlin. It combines ersatz western scoring, source cues, and electronic music.[10]

Crichton later wrote that since "most of the situations in the film are cliches; they are incidents out of hundreds of old movies" that the scenes "should be shot as cliches. This dictated a conventional treatment in the choice of lenses and the staging."[11]

The movie was shot in thirty days. In order to save time, Crichton tried to shoot only what was needed.[12]

The original script and original ending of the movie ended in a fight between Martin and the gunslinger which resulted in the gunslinger being torn apart by a rack. Crichton said he "had liked the idea of a complex machine being destroyed by a simple machine" but when attempting it, "it seemed stagey and foolish" so the idea was dropped.[13] He also wanted to open the film with shots of a hovercraft travelling over the desert, but was unable to get the effect he wanted so this was dropped as well.[13]


In the novelization, Crichton explained how he re-edited the first cut of the movie because he was depressed by how long and boring it was. Scenes which were deleted from rough cut include a bank robbery and sales room sequences; an opening with a hovercraft flying above the desert; additional and longer dialogue scenes; more scenes with robots attacking and killing guests, including a scene where one guest is tied down to a rack and is killed when his arms are pulled out; a longer chase scene with the Gunslinger chasing Peter; and one where the Gunslinger cleans his face with water after Peter throws acid on him. Crichton's assembly cut featured a different ending which included a fight between Gunslinger and Peter, and an alternate death scene in which the Gunslinger was killed on a rack.[14]

A Yul Brynner biography mentions that 10 minutes of "adult material" was cut because of the censors (probably for PG rating), but no details about footage that was cut for rating issues were mentioned in Brynner's biography or anywhere else.

Once the film was completed, MGM authorized the shooting of some extra footage. A TV commercial to open the film was added; because there was a writers' strike in Hollywood at the time, this was written by Steven Frankfurt, a New York advertising executive.[15]

Digital image processing

Westworld was the first feature film to use digital image processing. Crichton originally went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but after learning that two minutes of animation would take nine months and cost $200,000, he contacted John Whitney Sr., who in turn recommended his son John Whitney Jr. The latter went to Information International, Inc., where they could work at night and complete the animation both faster and much more cheaply.[16] John Whitney, Jr. digitally processed motion picture photography at Information International, Inc. to appear pixelized in order to portray the Gunslinger android's point of view.[4] The approximately 2 minutes and 31 seconds worth of cinegraphic block portraiture was accomplished by color-separating (three basic color separations plus black mask) each frame of source 70 mm film images, scanning each of these elements to convert into rectangular blocks, then adding basic color according to the tone values developed.[17] The resulting coarse pixel matrix was output back to film.[18] The process was covered in the American Cinematographer article "Behind the scenes of Westworld"[19] and in a 2013 New Yorker online article.[20]


Box office

The film was a financial success, earning $4 million in rentals in the US and Canada by the end of 1973[21] becoming MGM's biggest box office success of that year.[2] After a re-release by 1976 it earned $7,365,000.[22]

Book tie-in

Crichton's original screenplay was released as a mass-market paperback in conjunction with the film.[23]

Critical reception

Variety magazine described the film as excellent, saying that it "combines solid entertainment, chilling topicality, and superbly intelligent serio-comic story values".[24]Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that Crichton had made "a creditable debut as a film director," but "Crichton the director seems to have had more fun with the film than Crichton the writer, whose screenplay can offer us no better explanation for the sudden, bloody robot rebellion than an epidemic of 'central mechanism psychosis.'"[25]Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four, calling the first half "exciting and provocative" but thinking much less of the second half which he thought deteriorated into a "illogical and meandering chase story. It is difficult to believe the same man wrote both halves of the film."[26]Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a clever sci-fi fantasy ... with enough ingenuity and conviction to make it a successful diversion for those seeking novel rather than sophisticated entertainment."[27] Jean M. White of The Washington Post wrote that "Crichton spends too much time establishing his robot world and short-circuits suspense with long, arid stretches of Grade B Western."[28]

The film has a rating of 86% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 36 reviews.[29] Reviewing the DVD release in September 2008, The Daily Telegraph reviewer Philip Horne described the film as a "richly suggestive, bleakly terrifying fable--and Brynner's performance is chillingly pitch-perfect."[30]

American Film Institute lists

After making the film, Crichton took a year off. "I was intensely fatigued by Westworld," he said later. "I was pleased but intimidated by the audience reaction. ... The laughs are in the wrong places. There was extreme tension where I hadn't planned it. I felt the reaction, and maybe the picture, was out of control."[2] He believed that the film had been misunderstood as warning of the dangers of technology: "Everyone remembers the scene in Westworld where Yul Brynner is a robot that runs amok. But there is a very specific scene where people discuss whether or not to shut down the resort. I think the movie was as much about that decision as anything. They just didn't really think it was really going to happen."[34] His real intention was to warn against corporate greed.[35]

For him the picture marked the end of "about five years of science fiction/monster pictures for me".[2] He took a break from the genre and wrote The Great Train Robbery.

Crichton did not make a film for another five years. He did try, and had one set up "but I insisted on a certain way of doing it and as a result it was never made."[36]

Network TV airings

Westworld was first aired on NBC television on February 28, 1976.[37] The network aired a slightly longer version of the film than was shown in theaters or subsequently released on home video. Some of the extra scenes that were added for the US TV version are:[]

  • Brief fly-by exterior shot of the hovercraft zooming just a few feet above the desert floor. In the theatrical version, all scenes involving the hovercraft were interior shots only.
  • The scenes with the scientists having a meeting in the underground complex was much longer, giving more insight into their "virus" problem with the robots.
  • A scene of technicians talking in the locker room about the work load of each robot world.
  • There was a longer discussion between Peter and the sheriff after his arrest when he shot the Gunslinger.
  • A scene in Medieval World in which a guest is tortured on the rack, which appears in the theatrical version only as a still image, was restored.
  • Gunslinger's chase of Peter through the worlds was also extended.


A sequel, Futureworld, was filmed in 1976, and released by American International Pictures, rather than MGM. Only Brynner returned from the original cast to reprise his Gunslinger character though it did provide details regarding the carnage: more than 50 guests killed and 95 staff members killed or wounded.

Four years later, in 1980, the CBS television network aired a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld, "which took the Futureworld concept of android doppelgangers but ignored the movie itself, harking back to Westworld"[38] with new characters. Its poor ratings caused it to be canceled after only three of the five episodes aired.

Crichton used similar plot elements - a high-tech amusement park running amok and a central control paralyzed by a power failure - in his bestselling novel Jurassic Park.

Westworld contains one of the earliest references to a computer virus and the first mention of the concept of a computer virus in a movie. The analogy is made by the Chief Supervisor in a staff meeting where the spread of malfunctions across the park is discussed.[39]

Beginning in 2002, trade publications reported that a Westworld remake starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was in production, and would be written by Terminator 3 screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Bracanto.[40][41][42]Tarsem Singh was originally slated to direct, but has since left the project. Quentin Tarantino was approached, but turned it down.[43] On January 19, 2011, Warner Bros announced that plans for the remake were still active.[44]

In August 2013, it was announced that HBO had ordered a pilot for a Westworld TV series to be produced by J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nolan, and Jerry Weintraub. Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy were set to write and executive produce the series, with Nolan directing the pilot episode.[45] Production began in Summer 2014 in Los Angeles.[46][47] The new series premiered October 2, 2016. On May 1, 2018, the series was renewed for a third season.


  1. ^ a b Crichton p x
  2. ^ a b c d e f Author of 'Terminal Man' Building Nonterminal Career: CRICHTON; GELMIS, JOSEPH. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] January 4, 1974: d12.
  3. ^ a b "Westworld". tcm.com. TCM. Retrieved 2012.
  4. ^ a b A Brief, Early History of Computer Graphics in Film Archived July 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., Larry Yaeger, August 16, 2002 (last update). Retrieved March 24, 2010
  5. ^ a b c "Legends of Film: Paul Lazarus" (Podcast). December 27, 2004.
  6. ^ Crichton p ix
  7. ^ Crichton p x-xi
  8. ^ "Richard Benjamin on Peter O'Toole, celebrity treasure hunts, and Woody Allen" By Nathan Rabin AC Club Nov 15, 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2014
  9. ^ Friedman, Lester D. (2007). American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations. Camden: Rutgers University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-8135-4023-2.
  10. ^ "Film Score Monthly CD: Coma/Westworld/The Carey Treatment". Filmscoremonthly.com. Retrieved 2012.
  11. ^ Crichton p xiii
  12. ^ Crichton p xvi
  13. ^ a b Crichton p xix
  14. ^ "Shooting Westworld".
  15. ^ Crichton p xvii
  16. ^ "The Whitney Family: Pioneers in Computer Animation". Tested.com.
  17. ^ "Ed Manning BlocPix". Atariarchives.org. Retrieved 2014.
  18. ^ "Chapter 4: A HISTORY OF COMPUTER ANIMATION 3/20/92 (note that this article is in error about the year the film was made)" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on April 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008.
  19. ^ American Cinematographer 54(11):1394-1397, 1420-1421, 1436-1437. November 1973.
  20. ^ "How Michael Crichton's 'Westworld' Pioneered Modern Special Effects", David A. Price, The New Yorker, May 16, 2013
  21. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, January 9, 1974 p19
  22. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, January 7, 1976 p 44
  23. ^ Michael Crichton (Author). "Amazon Listing for Westworld". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014.
  24. ^ "Westworld". Variety. January 1, 1973. Retrieved 2013.
  25. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 22, 1973). "The Screen: 'Westworld'". The New York Times. 51.
  26. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 17, 1973). "'Westworld': Is it a look at tomorrow?" Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 1.
  27. ^ Thomas, Kevin (October 24, 1973). "Acting Out Fantasy in 'Westworld". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 11.
  28. ^ White, Jean M. (September 26, 1973). "Robots Run Amok". The Washington Post. D8.
  29. ^ "Westworld (1973)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010.
  30. ^ Horne, Philip (September 20, 2008). "Westworld: DVD of the week review". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010.
  31. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). afi.com. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2014.
  32. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees" (PDF). afi.com. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2014.
  33. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot" (PDF). afi.com. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2014.
  34. ^ Yakai, Kathy (February 1985). "Michael Crichton / Reflections of a New Designer". Compute!. pp. 44-45. Retrieved 2016.
  35. ^ Tallerico, Brian (September 30, 2016). "The Long, Weird History of the Westworld Franchise". Vulture. Retrieved 2016.
  36. ^ "Director Michael Crichton Films a Favorite Novelist" by Michael Owen. The New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] January 28, 1979: D17.
  37. ^ "TV Tango Saturday Night Movies Broadcast Date for Westworld". Retrieved 2014.
  38. ^ Sherman, Fraser A. (2010) Screen Enemies of the American Way McFarland pg 155
  39. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070909/synopsis: IMDB synopsis of Westworld. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  40. ^ "Westworld Headed Back To Screen". Empire. August 12, 2005. Retrieved 2010.
  41. ^ Fleming, Michael (March 13, 2002). "Arnold back for 'Westworld,' 'Conan' redos". Variety. Retrieved 2010.
  42. ^ "Scifiwire". Scifi.com. Archived from the original on 2007-11-15.
  43. ^ Hostel: Part II DVD commentary track.
  44. ^ Kit, Borys. "EXCLUSIVE: 'Lethal Weapon,' 'Wild Bunch' Reboots Revived After Warner Bros. Exec Shuffle". The Hollywood Reporter.
  45. ^ Hertzfeld, Laura (August 30, 2013). "HBO orders 'Westworld' adaptation from J.J. Abrams". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2013.
  46. ^ Fienberg, David. "Press Tour: July 2014 HBO Executive Session Live-Blog". Retrieved 2014.
  47. ^ Laratonda, Ryanne. "LOS ANGELES FILM & TV PRODUCTION LISTINGS". Retrieved 2014.

External links

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