In 1973, Yul Brynner created one of the great movie villains. If you’ve not seen it, his turn as The Gunslinger in Westworld is a perfect example of how less can mean so very much more. It’s a performance that has lived with me now since I first saw it as a teenager. Menacing. Threatening. Beguiling.
Alarming then, that in just four minutes halfway though the film’s sequel, Futureworld, he manages to spectacularly piss all over it – in a dream sequence, no less. As the film’s heroine, Tracy Ballard, (played very well by the beautiful Blythe Danner) is introduced to a machine that can record dreams, we see her erotic fantasy in which she ends up being chased, then saved by Brynner (as The Gunslinger) in what amounts to a frankly bizarre, completely off-kilter four-minute sequence blatantly placed in the film to ensure Brynner’s name would appear on the credits, and the main image on posters and DVD covers.
Worst of all is when The Gunslinger wraps a cloth around Ballard with one of the least manly throws imaginable. For a tough, emotionless robotic killing machine, he sure does throw like a big girl. Then he dances round and round with her, smiling into her eyes as he does so. Thank the Lord that Ballard wakes up soon after this, subjecting viewers to no more of this sacrilege. This was Brynner’s final movie performance and I can think of no worse way to bow out for the great man.
The oddest thing about the dream sequence is that away from those four minutes, Futureworld is actually a pretty straightforward sequel. The bods behind the Delos resort, where robots can make all your wildest fantasies come true on a holiday you won’t forget, are at it again, this time having reopened the resort several years after the first film’s disastrous closure. Westworld has gone, bearing the brunt of all the bad publicity, but Romanworld and Medievalworld are still going, alongside the brand new Futureworld.
Reporter Chuck Browning (played by Peter Fonda) was one of the original resort’s staunchest critics and, along with fellow reporter and one-time lover Ballard, he returns to Delos, at the owners’ request. However, before leaving to hang out with some sex pleasure robots (of which there are many) an informant dies in his arms, uttering the word ‘Delos’. Clearly, something’s afoot and Browning’s determined to find out what.
Without giving anything away, Browning is indeed correct as something isn’t quite right at the resort, but the film takes an age to get to the big reveal. Whereas Westworld is a taught, action-packed thriller, with a closing twenty or so minutes that lifts it into my top three films of all time, Futureworld is a lumbering, often boring, movie. At 105 minutes, it’s at least 20 too long and this shows worst of all in the film’s middle portion as Browning tries to discover the secrets behind Delos’ real plans. The temptation to fast forward as he goes down corridor after corridor got the better of me on a couple of occasions.
It’s by no means all bad. The performances themselves are excellent, particularly a sparky turn from Danner, and once the action kicks in in the final 15 minutes or so, it’s gripping stuff. However, it does highlight that there is precious little to speak of until that point.
Then there are the fantastic characters of Harry and Clark, the former a resort technician, the latter his robotic pal. Harry’s role in helping the pair uncover the resort’s evil plans is pivotal to the film and Stuart Margolin gives a cracking performance. Clark, on the other hand, is a loveable old robot that provides a bit of comic relief to proceedings. During a card game, we discover how advanced the robots of Delos are as he cheats his way to winning.
However, these positives can’t paper over the cracks and there are plenty of those, particularly for fans of Westworld.
Most crucially, Futureworld appears to be set in the present day. Browning is a newspaper reporter, seen operating in a typical office and walking around a typical print room. If that’s the case, it strips the film of any authenticity as Westworld was clearly set in the future – it had to be to make us believe that these robotic advancements could exist in the first place. It was effective in doing so by including no video footage of the ‘real world’ and by utilising the power of suggestion in lieu of special effects. The opening shot of Westworld is a perfect example. We assume that the holidaymakers are travelling to Delos across a vast open plain via some form of futuristic hovercraft, but we never actually see the craft in question. We only catch a glimpse of the surroundings via the driver’s futuristic glasses, giving the impression that this is a time way ahead of now.
By contrast, in Futureworld the guests arrive via plane and then take trains to their chosen ‘worlds’. It’s like they’ve just arrived at Disneyworld and it’s this lack of science fiction-thinking that badly lets the film down time after time. If we’re to believe that the film is set in the not-too-distant future, then the advancements in robotics and A.I. are too much to swallow. If, alternatively, we are to believe that this is set way in the future, then the lack of budget employed on the film has left several gaping holes that the film just can’t fix up.
I’ve watched Futureworld several times over the years as I really want to like it, but, alas,I fear it’s never going to happen. It’s forgivable that the film doesn’t reach the heights of Westworld, unforgivable that it falls so far short.
Extras None whatsoever.