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Westworld

Year: 1973
Studio: MGM
Director: Michael Crichton
Writer: Michael Crichton
Cast: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Dick Van Patten

It's when you see (or remember) that Yul Brynner's role as the Gunslinger called for almost no acting talent whatsoever you realise Westworld is the natural antecedent for The Terminator – a mechanised killer who never breaks a sweat and (to paraphrase) can't be bargained with or reasoned with. It's even said Carpenter based Michael Myers from Halloween on him.

The fact that Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a remake of the original, True Lies was an American James Bond and Avatar was another Dances With Wolves belongs in another story altogether about how original James Cameron is, but Michael Crichton's sci-fi shares DNA with a lot of subsequent films.

It contains the reverent science of all his work, and even today we can imagine an adult theme park/playground of invented worlds populated by robots being like this. The postage stamp-sized plot is as simple as it is sweeping – after building this incredible world, Crichton has it all go wrong when the robotic characters malfunction in the deadliest possible way.

In Delos' Roman World, a model designed for sex rebuffs the advances of a sleazy client. In Westworld, a robot rattlesnake strikes at a guest. In Medieval World, the Black Night does the unthinkable and kills a guest in a duel. The technicians who run Delos try to shut everything down in desperation but only succeed in trapping themselves while the robots start hunting down the guests.

After friends Peter (Benjamin) and John (Brolin) have defeated the infamous Gunslinger (Brynner) in a duel, been in a bar fight and passed out drunk, they're surprised when he comes back to them with an altogether darker purpose. Even though he's programmed never to outdraw a human guest, he shoots Peter dead. After John escapes the gunslinger implacably stalks him through all three worlds, hands hooked in his belt loops, never breaking into a run but never stopping.

As much as Cricthon loves science and technology, he's as fascinated by what happens when it goes wrong. It's a theme he'd revisit everywhere from The Andromeda Strain, when a satellite brings a killer virus back from low orbit, to Jurassic Park, when human greed brings down the fences that hold an island full of cloned dinosaurs in check.

Like every book and film he's been involved with (even the bad ones, like the irascible Twister), he's an entertainer first and foremost, resting thrills on a solid bedrock of scientific knowledge.

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