Thursday 18 April 2024

Futureworld (1976)

Westworld had been a major hit in 1973 but the 1976 sequel Futureworld is a less ambitious affair. Rather than being a major studio production Futureworld is an AIP picture and when you see Peter Fonda (at best a second-tier star) getting top billing you know you’re dealing with a fairly low-rent production.

Westworld had been written and directed by Michael Crichton but he was not involved in this sequel.

Westworld is of course a “technology gets out of control and becomes a menace” movie and it also belongs to the evil robot/malevolent computer science fiction sub-genre. It’s also a disaster movie, of sorts.

The idea behind both Westworld and Futureworld is that some corporation has built the ultimate resort, Delos. Guests can live out their wildest fantasies. Those fantasies usually involve sex and violence. Guests can play at being gunslingers shooting lots of people, mediæval knights hacking people up, etc. They can also have sex with very hot very willing sex robots. There are hot female sexbots for male guests and hot male sexbots for female guests. It’s the sex and violence elements that make these movies so very 1970s.

Delos comprises a number of fantasy theme parks for adults. There’s Mediæval World and Roman World, and there’s also a kind of futuristic hippie world which seems to offer extended drug trips. There’s also Futureworld.

In the first film things went badly wrong in one of the theme parks, Westworld. Instead of the bad guy gunslinger robots submitting to getting blown away by the guests the robots started blowing away the guests instead. The subsequent butchery and mass murder damaged the reputation of Delos, as you would expect.

Those problems have all been solved now. Delos is now totally safe. Nothing can go wrong.

Two of the guests who will be sampling the fun of playing at being astronauts in Futureworld are reporters. Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) is a TV reporter. She just wants a gee-whizz story. For a reporter she is remarkably trusting and lacking in curiosity. Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) is a different matter. He’s a sleazy hard-nosed scandal-monger and he smells a story here. He got a tip-off that all was not well in Delos.

And he makes a discovery that is just a little disturbing.

Chuck keeps poking his nose in where it’s not wanted in Delos. He knows there’s something not right about the place. The audience already has a pretty fair idea what’s going on in Delos.

This movie has a lot of problems. Obviously there was no point in just remaking Westworld. Whatever is amiss in Delos this time has to be something different. Unfortunately what’s going on isn’t particularly startling or original.

The pacing is rather slow and when the action scenes finally kick in they’re not terribly impressive. Clearly the budget was rather limited. There wasn’t the money for spectacular action set-pieces. That’s not necessarily a major problem. Prior to Star Wars science fiction films did not rely entirely on spectacular action set-pieces and special effects.

The production design is OK.

But Futureworld just falls a bit flat.

Don’t get too excited about Yul Brynner’s name in the credits. He gets about fifteen seconds of screen time. His star quality is sadly missed.

Peter Fonda isn’t terrible but he lacks the charisma to carry a movie on personality alone. Blythe Danner is OK. Arthur Hill was always good playing characters who are smooth, charming and just ever so slightly sinister.

In the 1970s technology running amok was all fun stuff, the sort of thing that might happen in a distant dystopian future. Since we now live in a dystopian future, a world in which we are being replaced by machines and being trained to do what AIs tell us to do, it has a lot more impact today. We now have a lot more experience of the misuse of technology. The robots in both Westworld and Futureworld are as a consequence creepier today than they were in the 70s.

Sadly Futureworld doesn’t really grapple with the implications of the technological future with which it deals. It is content to offer us a disappointingly conventional story.

Futureworld just doesn’t have enough to offer in terms of either ideas or action. Its a major disappointment.

The Blu-Ray offers a nice transfer with no extras whatsoever.


Tommy said...

Agreed. It's the production designer's movie, sadly upstaging the lead actors. I like what you said about Blythe, she's cute but not very effective as a reporter.

tom j jones said...

About the only thing I remember about this film (apart from the deeply unoriginal plot) is that I saw this on TV before I saw Westworld - as it includes clips from that (much better) film, it gave the game away on some of the best scenes in the earlier movie.

Also, Blythe Danner is a name that is very familiar to me, but checking her credits, I've seen hardly any of her films!

dfordoom said...

tom j jones said...
Blythe Danner is a name that is very familiar to me, but checking her credits, I've seen hardly any of her films!

I don't think I've seen any, apart from this one. Isn't she Gwyneth Paltrow's mother? I'm afraid I've never seen any of Gwyneth Paltrow's movies either.

dfordoom said...

Tommy said...
Agreed. It's the production designer's movie

Yes, that's very much the case here.

tom j jones said...

She is Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, but that wouldn't be why I know the name - probably just confusing her with someone else