Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Gunslinger from Hell
This is my first of two entries in the Great Villain Blogathon sponsored by Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin and Silver Screenings
A vacation is the greatest thing in the world. A vacation from the real world would seem to be even greater. But technology is always the fly in the ointment. (See Jurassic Park for an excellent case in point, another Michael Crichton story).
Michael Crichton was, in my opinion, the king of taking cutting edge technology and extrapolating it to it's insidious future. The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Timeline, and the aforementioned Jurassic Park are only a few of his prolific output. He got his start in the late 60's, while still a medical student, writing action-adventure novels under the name of John Lange. (All of those have been reprinted by Hard Case Crime and well worth seeking out). At some point after achieving his MD in medicine, however, he decided he liked writing instead, so, while he never practiced medicine, he developed a career as a writer (and sometimes movie director)
As far as movie director, his output was somewhat hit or miss. Looker (from 1981) was a very bad movie. Runaway (from 1984, with Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons, of KISS) is watchable, although it does get a little cheesy at times. The Great Train Robbery (with Sean Connery), however, is fantastic, even if it doesn't have any cutting edge science. And then, of course, there's Westworld. Crichton not only directed, but wrote all of those movies. (He also wrote the screenplay, and directed the movie version of the Robin Cook novel Coma, which is pretty decent)
Vacation: Everybody loves them. You can go to exotic locales or you can just stay near home base. You can go to museums. You can go shopping. Or you can go to theme parks. Most theme parks are like my own local Six Flags Over Texas which has a bunch of thrilling rides, but is also divided into separate periods of Texas history, so that each section gives you a (nominally) authentic feel of that particular period.
But it's nothing like delving deep into the authentic aspects of the historical period. Enter Delos. A company that has developed three separate theme parks, each one dedicated to a particularly enticing period of history. There's Roman World, which gives you the experience of ancient Rome (although apparently a lot cleaner...but that's this history major's input.) There is also Medieval World, where you can experience knights and sword fights in Medieval England. And then there is Westworld. An experience living in the style and times of the Old West of the United States, complete with cowboys, saloons and gunslingers.
Richard Benjamin and James Brolin play two friends who are bound for a trip to Delos' Westworld theme park. John (Brolin) has been there before and acts as an escort to introduce his friend, Peter (Benjamin), to the intricacies of the park. Peter has recently been separated from a bad marital relationship and is looking to just unwind, although he is a bit nervous about the trip, but John assuages his fears.
In Westworld, the two arrive by stage to the town, where they get situated in a hotel. In Delos' theme parks, all of the "employees" are androids, each geared to acquiesce to any and all desires of the paying customers. I don't remember seeing what year this takes place, but wikipedia assures me it is set in 1983, which would have been 10 years in the future at the time the movie came out. The cost per day for this vacation is $1000 per day, a lot of money either in 1973 or 1983. For that money you get the experience of a lifetime however.
The first thing that happens is the pair go to a saloon where Peter is assaulted and insulted by a robot gunslinger (hereafter referred to by his credited name as "the Gunslinger"), played by Yul Brynner. A shootout occurs. The robots have been programmed to be slower on the draw, and the guns the customers use are specifically designed so that they kill androids, but do not fire when pointing at humans, thus making it impossible to kill another paying customer. (This is important since the androids are so intricately designed that it is impossible for one to detect a difference, thus ruining the real feel of the theme park.
The robots that are "killed" are removed at night and repaired so they can appear again the next day. (Obviously it would be cost ineffective if the robots could only be used once and retired...) Thus, the Gunslinger reappears the next day and is once again "killed".
Meanwhile, in the background, technicians are discovering a defect that keeps cropping up. Certain androids are not performing concisely to the prepared program for which they were designed; i.e. a "pleasure" robot turns away from a park customer, rather than succumbing to his or her advances.
The fact that this occurs in both Roman World and Medieval World brings some fears that there may be a computer virus that is spreading among the robots. Typically the higher powers poo-poo this theory, mainly because it would affect their bottom line, and not because they actually don't believe the possibility. The fact that the upper echelon executives don't have any real cares about the safety of their paying customers does not seem to matter.
The error in the robotic system starts to become really evident when, after robbing the bank, John and Peter hide out in the outskirts of town, and a robot snake strikes John. This is not supposed to happen, as he so vehemently complains. Later, he two end up back in town where the Gunslinger reappears. Contrary to what is "supposed" to happen, not only does the Gunslinger outdraw John, he kills John.
All over the Delos theme parks, robots are killing the paying customers, almost like a revolution. Peter begins a long chase sequence with the Gunslinger unopposed chasing Peter with the intent to kill him. And this being a robot, nothing seems to deter it. Plus, since it has super-sensitive hearing and eyesight, it can detect humans though their breathing and their body heat. Acid, burning torches, nothing seems to stop the Gunslinger from its new mission.
The Gunslinger is the ultimate villain. Of course, in the movie world, just when you think the villain has finally been defeated and the movie is over, that's just when you let your guard down, as does the hero in the same position. Be assured that in such movies, it's not over until the final credits roll (and even then it may not quite be over... There was a sequel to this movie, Futureworld, Care to guess whether the Gunslinger made an appearance in it...?)
Well folks, that ends today's villain entry. Come back on Friday and see the ultimate in obsessive revenge with a character called "Khaaaaaaan!"