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Thursday, February 20, 2014


The sequel to Westworld (’73), Futureworld (FW) tried to be more ambitious in scope. FW is somewhere between a Type 1 and Type 2 Sequel, in that it continues the timeline from the first film, but almost amounts to a remake of the original concept. Almost, but not quite. Michael Crichton, writer of the first film, did not create the screenplay for FW. It was written by Mayo Simon and George Schenck. The only character to continue the story is Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger, but this is only in a dream sequence. In reality, it’s an all-new cast. Peter Fonda stars as Chuck Browning, newspaper reporter. He wasn’t in the first film, but is said to be the reporter that broke the WW story. Blythe Danner co-stars as a television reporter and former fling of Chuck’s. Samuel Z. Arkoff is more known for his low-budget work, but FW is a fairly lavish production for an AIP film.

Quick Movie Synopsis
A man named Ron wins a vacation at Delos on a game show. Newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Fonda) and television reporter Tracy Ballard (Danner) are invited by Delos management to thoroughly check out Delos to prove that all is well. Chuck, however, gets an anonymous tip that something is wrong. They arrive at Delos, with the insufferable hick, Ron (who is obsessed with having sex with robots). Chuck notices that many of the guests are important people in the world. Chuck, Tracy and the insufferable Ron all go to Futureworld. Through various views, it is hinted that the Delos staff are collecting data on the various notables. Chuck and Tracy sneak out at night to snoop. They inadvertently activate a materializer (?) that creates four samurai. These chase Chuck and Terry, but eventually, all four are “killed”. They find Harry (Stuart Margolin) in the wet basements where robots are not allowed. They ask Harry about Frenchy and the secrets, but Dr. Schneider (head Delos scientist) and a security team interrupt. The next day, Duffy (Arthur Hill) shows Chuck and Terry the Delos mind reader/recorder device. They hook up Tracy. She dreams about the Gunslinger pursuing her, saving her from a sinister surgical crew, then much kissing. Later than night, Chuck and Tracy sneak back to Harry, who offers to take them to a secret lab. In that lab, they see their own clones being uploaded all their mental content. The three agree to flee Delos immediately. Duffy tries to stop Chuck, but Tracy shoots him. Duffy was a robot. Harry is killed by Chuck’s clone. Tracy comes face to face with her own clone. One of them is killed. Chuck is chased by his clone. After a protracted struggle, one of the Chuck’s falls from a high catwalk. The two meet later, embrace and kiss. Crossfade to the departure concourse. Chuck and Tracy are asked by a skeptical Dr. Schneider if they had a good visit. Both talk flatteringly of Delos, so are allowed to leave. Just as they get to the doors, the evil clone Tracy drags her bloody self up to Dr. Schneider. Chuck flips off the doctor and the two get happily aboard their plane to freedom. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The trope of takeovers is a classic in sci-fi, so it is fun to see it in action again. The plot has less fast-action than WW, but it has more subtexts to muse over.

Cultural Connection
70s Angst Soup — The 70s were rife with technophobia. The 70s were also a time of rising distrust in authority. Technophobia is as old as the Luddites, of course, but the rise of massive computers tended to strike the public (generally) and maybe not such a good thing. Kubrick’s Hal 9000 and Forbin’s Colossus are prime examples of worries about too-smart machines taking over (or at least trying to). The public was coming to see their government as perhaps more villain than savior. Films like Andromeda Strain (’71) and Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (’71) and others, catered to that angst that freedom was illusory, as actual control is by some sinister powerful group (government if you’re on the right, big corporations, if you’re on the left). FW combines these very-70s angsts.

Technophobia -- FW continued the technophobic theme of the first film, complete with foolishly-trusting public who are too eager to embrace (literally) the technology. There is a social commentary in this. The ignorant public can be too willing to accept a massive technology if it promises them something they want. Nevermind anything noble like food to feed the poor, or robots to take over the menial work. Sex. That's what the public want. With that bait on the hook, the public willingly bite. The robots (in this case, the staff of Delos) go about replacing humans.

Dangers of Cloning -- Where even the advanced model robots, "the 700s" were still electro-mechanical, the real breakthrough was bio-engineering. The duplicates were crafted from biological material, fashioned to look and sound just like their human model. They even got their human model's mind contents uploaded via the brain scanner (dream machine). They are identical, except for the independent free will (to rebel against their master, Dr. Schneider.) This subtext is closely akin to the classic angst in Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56) -- personable free humans being replaced by look-alike drones.

R.U.R. Revisited -- The biologically manufactured humans is a trope that goes back to 1920. That was when Karel Capek wrote his play: "R.U.R. Rossum's Universal Robots". This, by the way, is where the world got the word "robot." Capek's manufactured worker drones were made of synthetic organic material -- not electro-mechanical men. With the Delos plan to replace humans with the bio-copies, there is even a bit of Capek's story thread -- that humans eventually dwindle away, replaced with the bio-bots.

Pointless Materializing? -- There is an odd plot jump half way through the film. When Chuck and Tracy are snooping around, they manage to turn on a machine which makes four samurai robots (the mechanical kind) materialize inside a chamber. This was all very Star Trek-like, but a strange non sequetur. Everywhere else, the robots are being assembled and/or repaired by hand. Wires, transistors, screws, panels. Why bother, if the robots can just be "beamed" into existence so quickly? Perhaps the instant 3D printing method was still in R&D and did not have the kinks worked out yet. After all, the samurai were mindless killing machines. Not good for the guests.

Love Knows -- As with so many humans-being-replaced movies, it is assumed that only the REAL human can show love. This, the writers and audiences like to think, is the one essence of real humanity that cannot be replicated. Somehow, with their big kiss after disptaching their clones, Chuck and Tracy were able to "feel" whatever spark of love from the other as visceral proof that the other was not their clone.

TechnoLonely -- In the Harry Croft character, there is a glimpse of the future of mankind under the reign of the robots. He is a model of the "last man on earth" trope. The world above belongs to the robots. His only companion is a mute 400 Series robot Harry named Clark, which he only has because he salvaged him from a scrap bin and fixed him up -- most of the way. Harry talks to Clark just like he was a human companion, and even feels sad leaving him -- a bit like Tom Hanks lamenting the loss of Wilson.

Bottom line? FW is an "okay" sequel. It is not as simple and action-based as Crichton's original story. The additional subtexts (while interesting), tend to dilute the experience into more of a muddle. There is also very little tension or surprise (we all know the Delos experience will go bad). Only the twist at the end has some power. Who died, the clones or the humans? FW is a passable enough film on its own. It just had a hard time living up to the first film.

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