Films

Before you watch HBO’s Westworld, here’s why you should check out the original

First things first: if you've seen Jurassic Park, you've pretty much seen the original Westworld. They're both the exact same story, and were created by the same man - Michael Crichton, the late writer, climate-change sceptic, and huge fan of consistency. In both films, deadly attractions at an amusement park turn on their guests - in one, dinosaurs, and in the other, robots recreating characters from the Old West, Medieval Europe and the Roman Empire.

Since everybody and their velociraptor has seen Jurassic Park, and you ready yourself to feast on HBO's souped-up reboot of Westworld, you may wonder if the original is worth your time?

In short: we've checked the records, and yes, the original 1973 Westworld is more than just a solid concept ripe for some deep pockets to revisit. Sure, it holds an underappreciated place in history, creating or refining a number of tropes that would soon become science fiction standards, but it also works as a lean, surprisingly-mean robot-uprising flick - and there's a killer performance from Yul Brynner as the murderous Gunslinger, a robot programmed to start shootouts with whoever it comes across.

That said, the Skynet stuff comes surprisingly late in the film - Crichton is more interested in exploring how two guys (Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) actually spend their time in Westworld. Naturally, they gleefully get into staged gunfights (the Gunslinger initially follows its programming to let the humans win) and having sex with as many machines in as possible in the park's bionic bordello - something that's actually pretty feasible. It's the Seventies, so our 'heroes' are allowed to be pretty damn grey, and when the robots' malfunction finally comes, it's hard not to feel like they deserve Brynner's attentions.

And what attentions they are - Brynner, always an underrated actor, is genuinely chilling as a robot cowboy, something that sounds goofy on paper. Long before Arnold in The Terminator, he sets the template for the implacable and remorseless killer android - he was always an unusual-looking dude, and his every move, combined with that stentorian voice, makes him ever more threatening and alien. There's a reason why his image is iconic of the film, even though he's not in it that much - and Crichton's canny decision to dress him almost identically to how he appears in The Magnificent Seven only adds to the shock factor.

Though it might not have become a mainstream classic, the pixelated shots of Brynner's point of view were the first ever computer-augmented imagery in a film - you can geek out over it here, but all you really need to know is that the film practically pioneered the use of computer based effects which are so commonly used in blockbusters of today.

Westworld's presentation of the company running the show was also ahead of its time - Kennedy-era optimism wasn't that far in the rear-view mirror, and the presentation of corporate indifference to the human cost of their screw-up was one of science fiction film's first evil companies. Sure, it was in the air as Nixon's gang lurched to disaster, but Westworld got there long before Alien. Watching it now, whether it's from the familiar feel caused by its narrative proximity to its Jurassic successor, or the repeated introduction of ideas that before long became commonplace, you know you're seeing an underappreciated classic.

Some more facts, you ask? The western set on the film was later used for Blazing Saddles, and, apropos of nothing, how much does James Brolin look like Christian Bale?

HBO's Westworld begins on Sky Atlantic on 4 October at 9pm. You can watch the original in all its glory on Amazon Prime now