A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Westworld is an early entry in what is now a popular man-vs.-the-machine franchise. Set in a modern-day, fabricated Old West resort populated by male vacationers, the film satirizes macho values when its two "tenderfoot" heroes attempt to fit in with the brawling, gun-slinging faux cowboys of long ago. Given a PG rating when it was released in 1973 before the MPAA's PG-13 was established, Westworld includes much more graphic violence than is standard for the current PG tag. Throughout the movie, with a larger-than-life, often-comic tone, both human and robotic characters are stalked, threatened, shot, stabbed, burned, and, in one instance, melted from acid thrown in the face. Blood flows freely. Suspense is high. The only females in the cast are either prostitutes or love objects. Drinking and smoking occur in numerous scenes as part of the fantasized culture.
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What's the story?
For only $1,000 per day (a major investment by 1973 standards), a thrill-seeking vacationer can stay at one of three fabulous "Delos" resorts -- Medieval World, Roman World, or WESTWORLD -- and immerse him or herself in the fantasy of living in times past. Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blake (James Brolin), unattached and free-spirited friends, have chosen Westworld, where they can participate in an array of fabulous adventures, including a saloon shoot-out, a standoff with a lethal snake, and an old-time bank robbery, and they can even avail themselves of sexual favors from two pretty ladies of the evening. The fact that it's almost impossible to tell the true-life players from "so-real-looking-it's-uncanny" robotic participants at the resort makes it even more fun. The scientists and robot operators aren't having a good time, however. Unanticipated events in which robots begin to show signs of having minds of their own are unsettling. What if ... ? But nothing could have prepared them for the all-out uprising of epic proportions that soon threatens to destroy every living creature in all three of the fantasy lands. It isn't long before only Peter, an ill-prepared rookie cowboy, is left to stop the attack. With only his wits and a few remnants of scientific invention on hand, Peter must face off against the deadliest robot enemy of all: the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner).
Is it any good?
Still surprisingly effective given the primitive nature of the visual effects, Westworld is a clever hybrid of sci-fi and old-time Western. This film's impact, with its fledgling robotics and simple story, relies upon humor, surprise, and some startlingly bloody visuals of death and destruction. It's best for older kids who are familiar with exaggerated (perhaps intentionally laughable) point-blank kills by gunfire, blood-spurting swordplay, and life-and-death suspense. The movie is the offspring of Frankenstein and the forerunner of many other films that show a genius creator threatened by his creation. Notably, writer-director Michael Crichton followed this movie with Jurassic Park -- first a book, then a classic movie in which an ambitious industrialist creates another manufactured resort ... with dinosaurs. Westworld was a box office winner in 1973 and has retained a strong fan base ever since.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how special effects and robotics have changed since this movie was made. Did the outdated techniques lessen your enjoyment of the film? Given their limitations, how did the filmmakers manage to surprise you and engage you in the story?
A "cautionary tale" is a story told to warn about a possible danger. What is the danger to which Westworld is alerting the audience? How do you feel about science as a risk-taking venture?
Think about Peter as a hero in this story. What made him heroic? Did the fact that he was totally untrained and unprepared for his fight contribute to your appreciation of his actions?
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