Starring: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin

Director: Michael Crichton
Released: 1973

Mood: If nobody is listening to you about the dangers of AI technology and you’re super grumpy so you want to watch a Sci-Fi Western that proves you are 100% correct.

“Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”

Let me get this upfront: My problem with Westworld is that I saw the TV series first, so my expectations as a modern viewer were too high – and influenced by what I already know of Westerns, Yul Brynner, and the Westworld universe.


I thought I would instantly enjoy this movie, because I like Sci-Fi Westerns and I LOVED season one of Westworld (the HBO series). Originals are always better than sequels and reboots, right?


While I think the Westworld movie is incredible for its time as far as subject matter and cinematography, and that it’s hauntingly relevant in this year of AI mania… it was just a little too slow and lacking in character development to fully grab me.


  • Fun Fact #1: Michael Crichton re-edited Westworld because he felt his original cut was too long and boring, plus budget restraints hurt the dramatic impact of some scenes. But upon its release he still felt the audience reaction was all wrong, so he took a five-year break from Sci-Fi.

Gene Siskel called the first half of the movie “exciting and provocative,” but said in his Chicago Tribune review that the second half was an “illogical and meandering chase story. It is difficult to believe the same man wrote both halves of the film.”


I fully agree that the two halves are out of sync. But I actually found the second half to be the exciting one, while the first half was too damn nice. Am I on crazy pills? Let’s dig in.


photo of the Westworld DVD against a background of dark gravel


For those who haven’t already seen Westworld (the TV series), here’s a quick explainer on the enthralling premise that originated with the 1973 movie.


Westworld is set a whole 10 years into the ‘future’ – in 1983. A corporation has created a massive luxury theme park with three enticing worlds: Medieval World, Roman World, and Western World. Rich people pay mad money to visit, and live out their wildest fantasies with lifelike robots.


It’s literally every diehard Western fan’s dream. SOMEONE BUILD ME A WESTWORLD, GODDAMMIT! Now here’s the movie plot.


Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blaine (James Brolin) choose Western World for their vacay, traveling back a century to visit the 1880s. It’s Martin’s first time, while Blaine is somehow rich enough to be a repeat visitor. It takes Martin awhile to get into the vibe, but once he does, he enjoys fighting and shooting and boinking French hooker robots just as much as his friend.


But danger’s afoot! Roman World robots are malfunctioning – and their condition starts affecting robots in Medieval World. The computer scientists and stakeholders have heated discussions, but ultimately decide it would be bad for their brand reputation to shut down the parks. Plus, they agree there’s no way computers could get a ‘virus’.


All hell breaks loose. The Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) goes to town.


illustration of a moustache that is curled at the ends


Yul Brynner is splashed all over the Westworld movie poster and gets top billing, but unfortunately for us he’s barely in the first half of this movie.


Benjamin and Brolin are good, but Brynner is GREAT – sidelining him is a mistake, and we can only blame Michael Crichton because he wrote his own script. The Gunslinger is supposed to be the park’s major villain, but his lack of screentime and how easily he’s dispatched by greenhorns make him about as intimidating as vanilla pudding.


  • Not-So-Fun Fact: Yul Brynner was broke in the ‘70s, due to renouncing his dual US citizenship to avoid bankruptcy when the IRS came after him for overstaying his welcome (and concurrent tax-exemption claims for his movies). That’s why he took the role of the Gunslinger in Westworld for $75,000 – under $500K in today’s market.

The black-hat robot character Brynner plays was based off his character in The Magnificent Seven, even wearing the same clothes. That’s the second mistake.


I totally get that the Western World robots are based on popular characters and tropes. They’re meant to be cheesy, so the tourists get that romanticized experience. And we needed to care a little bit about those tourists, so I also understand why we had to take side-trips into the other theme parks.


But Brynner’s character in The Magnificent Seven is LIKABLE. He also played a charming antihero in Catlow. So when I see Brynner as a robot gunslinger at a bar in Western World, I don’t get villain at all. I just want to want to belly up to the bar and drink with him.


  • Fun Fact #2: Writer-director Michael Crichton took his inspo for Westworld from the animatronics on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland. He later wrote Jurassic Park about another luxury theme park gone wrong.

Brynner makes his movements subtly robotic, like one of those older models at Disneyland that we all know is likely to break down at any point during the ride, but we always forgive them because they’re trying so hard to entertain us.


In his first scene, Brynner is giving us almost the same performance as Michael Wincott as the janky original robot in HBO’s Westworld – the one that has been shelved for newer models but has a special place in the heart of deranged Anthony Hopkins. So again, as a modern viewer, you feel the wrong feels for Brynner’s Gunslinger.


And then BAM! The second half is like a whole other movie. Brynner is suddenly fantastically sinister, which is what the first half needed in spades. The Gunslinger becomes a killing machine that stalks a man across multiple worlds, unphased by bullets and acid and fire.


  • Fun Fact #3: If that sounded familiar, that’s because the Gunslinger directly inspired decades of indestructible movie baddies like Michael Myers and the Terminator.

illustration of a moustache that is curled at the ends


Westworld has a strong plot that holds up extremely well – and even gets better with time. Michael Crichton seems to be gifted with the ability to predict how the foibles of rich people will next destroy the world.


I just wanted MORE. I wanted to feel like I was watching a harrowing warning about the inevitable robot uprising. I wanted the production to be darker, sexier, and more violent. Not saying Westworld needed to be Deadwood, but for me it felt too tame and undercooked. There’s also zero representation here.


The scariest part is when one of the scientists says that some of the robots were built by other robots so the humans don’t actually know how they work. That’s exactly what’s happening right now!


  • Fun Fact #4: The name of the fictional theme park that houses the three ‘worlds’ is Delos. The Greek island of Delos was at various times a magical place created by gods, a religious pilgrimage destination, and the Mediterranean’s largest slave market. The robots are slaves to the human tourists. Clever work, Michael Crichton.

Compared to other Sci-Fi movies of its time, Westworld is remarkable. But if you’ve seen the HBO series, the movie feels more like it’s the one that’s a made-for-TV reboot. It’s worth a watch, but first you’d better lower those expectations.