By: Daniel Reynolds
We all know the story by now. Hollywood is remaking and re-purposing everything; no property is safe. Even a once benign board game will be re-purposed and resold if it guarantees a big opening (lesson learned, it does not). Now, we’ve read the various complaints, we’ve gotten wise to the studios’ ways, and yet allow me to submit a modest proposal: let’s help them out.
Wait, wait, come back. Hear me out. We’re on the same side here, I’ve long been weary of Hollywood’s terror of the new, the bold, the… un-franchised. So let’s call this my helpful desire to steer into the the swerve. If you’ll indulge me, each month (roughly), I’ll tackle a movie of the past (or maybe a comic book, computer game; if really desperate, a board game or toy) and make the case for its renewal. I mean, if the Monopoly board game can be optioned and a perfectly sleek film like Robocop has to get remade, surely I can give the suits a few good ideas? Pure folly? Let’s find out.
At the root of it, you need to just take a step back and realize that Hollywood producers, along with being generally risk averse (and tremendously nervous sounding, if we’re being honest) are just fulfilling that elemental need within ourselves; the need to experience the past, grab onto nostalgia and live forever in escapist fantasy. So then, for our first subject, I must ask: why is there still no remake of Westworld?
Westworld, made in 1973, was written AND directed by famed, deceased, author Michael Crichton. Yes, believe it or not he was responsible for more than just Jurassic Park (though he was involved in this and whatever this is). It came out at a time, pre-Star Wars but post-Star Trek TV (an important distinction!), when the term ‘Blockbuster Sci-Fi Action movie’ didn’t quite exist. Now, who will you recognize in it? Well, it’s got Barbara Striesands’ husband, James Brolin, and the charismatic stylings of one, Richard Benjamin. Oh, and a wildly underrated precursor to Schwarzenegger’s Terminator performance: Yul Brynner as a relentless cowboy robot.
The plot is simple, operating as a cross between a less vicious (and less televised) version of the Running Man, a dash of Total Recall, with a twist of The Truman Show. Rich white people (I think there is one black guy in the entire movie and he’s a scientist) pay one thousand dollars a day to live in a recreation of a different time. There is Romeworld, Medievalworld and of course, Westworld. Our heroes are introduced to us in some comically broad strokes. Brolin’s Blane has been to Westworld before and Benjamin’s Martin has not. Martin is also trying to get over a woman, but whatever, am I right? The movie gradually establishes the rules of the world (you can’t accidentally shoot another guest, behind-the-scenes tech guys are running the show, and sex with robots is A-OK) and then of course, everything goes to shit.
In doing some research for this piece, I discovered that Crichton actually directed more movies than I realized, but this one is his first and it shows. Unlike other sci-fi classics of the era (e.g. Soylent Green, one of my favourites), Westworld’s direction could best be described as turgid. While guys like Kubrick and Roddenberry were crafting sci-fi Wagnerian operas and slick (for the time!) social commentaries, respectively, Crichton appears to have made his entire movie on a grey sound stage and the desert next to the MGM parking lot. But this isn’t a review and the obvious fabrication of it, well, again, maybe that’s the point.
You see, what Westworld loses in craftsmanship it makes up for in ideas. Sure, the whole thing feels fake and stilted. We’re watching people run around a manufactured landscape, pretending to be people that they aren’t. Run that idea back and it starts to sound a bit familiar, too. It starts to sound like the collision of video games, reality TV, and the endless rerunning of ideas. Could it be that Crichton’s dated, stillborn movie is actually far more prescient than we realize? If that is the case, and the entertainment industry will keep turning back to old entertainments for inspiration, Westworld posits a logical endpoint for all these risk averse, nostalgic designs. Someone, somewhere, is looking back even further, digging even deeper, to formulate the perfect source of immersive distractions. Pretty heady stuff right?
I admit maybe the Westworld thing ran its course. There was actually a sequel, the on-the-nose titled Futureworld, back when throwing ‘Future’ into a title meant something distant and unknowable (and amazingly kitsch). It even starred some legit actors (Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner). But it went all wonky with the premise, it introduced the press, and built in a complicated conspiracy that is as unnecessary as it is ridiculous.
Which just means it is ripe for the remake harvest! Bring in some director from the wilderness like Alex Proyas. Plump up the sparse via-THX 1138 production design, and of course, cast a hell of a menacing robot cowboy villain and voila: a hit.
And anyway, what’s the worst that could happen?