Westworld (1973) (NTSC)

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Released 13-May-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 88:54
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By Michael Crichton
Studio
Distributor
Turner
Warner Home Video
Starring Yul Brynner
Richard Benjamin
James Brolin
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Fred Karlin


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I remember seeing Westworld for the first time when I was very young and recall what an impact this movie had on me in effectively introducing science fiction concepts to me. It was a film I enjoyed again when I revisited it on video in the 1980s and then when I graduated to DVD was one of the first films I searched for again, having to be content with the Region 1 version, being the only version available until now. It is great that the film is now finally seeing a release locally, even if it is only a re-badge of the Region 1 product.

    For those who are not familiar, Westworld is a fairly simple story, and one that may at first appear to have been copied from bits of several other movies, until you realise that this film was released way back in 1973 and it is in fact the work that influenced all the other movies in turn. Westworld  is set in the not-too-distant future, where a large corporation called Delos offers holiday-makers "The vacation of the future - today!". Delos offers its customers one of three futuristic holiday settings to visit, being: "Westworld, where you can experience a complete recreation of an American frontier town, relieving the excitement and stress of pioneer life to the fullest; Medievalworld, a reconstruction of 13th century Europe; or Romanworld, a lusty treat for the senses, in the setting of delightful, decadent Pompeii!"  Each of these three holiday resorts offers complete authenticity to enable you to live out your fantasy. The resorts are populated by androids which are indistinguishable in appearance from humans, and there to facilitate a realistic interaction with the holidaymakers in every respect.

    Westworld was the first writer/director project for Michael Crichton, a man who has since gone on to become famous as the author of such bestselling novels as Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Disclosure and Twister (co-writer), as well as the film producer of many of these film adaptations and the TV executive producer of the series E.R. (based on a documentary-style movie concept that Crichton finished, funny enough, way back in 1974 straight after Westworld). As Michael Crichton's very first major project, this story showcases some themes that would go on to feature in many of his well-known later novels, especially the theme of man pitted against the machines (or creatures) of his own making.

    This was a landmark film for its time for a number of reasons. First, the story concepts and style established a whole new genre of films, to be later categorised as the 'futuristic thriller'. Secondly - and this one will get your attention! - this is the very first Hollywood film credited as using computer graphics. By this, I mean the first film to use digitised graphics, as distinct from limited photographical effects possible to that time (for example, as used in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Crichton was forced to develop his own computer graphics techniques himself in order to accomplish what he needed for this film, as most special effects houses of the day either didn't have large enough computers, or the ones that did had only to that point produced single frame digitised images, not several minutes of film as Crichton required. (After developing this technique for Westworld, Michael Crichton went on in true entrepreneurial spirit to develop his own computer graphics company to offer this service to other film-makers.)  Thirdly, recall that this story was written way before the idea of virtual reality was even conceivable with computers, but yet this story was a much earlier conception of the same idea - that is, the concept of offering audiences a 'fantasy holiday', the fantasy of being able to pay to be temporarily removed from their everyday existence. In this way, if you think about it, this story was the precursor to an idea that was to influence and be further developed by many other sci-fi classics, not least of which Total Recall springs to mind. A final reason why this was a landmark film was that it was the first film (certainly to my knowledge) to popularise the treatment in film of robots as lifelike androids, being indistinguishable from everyday people. This broke the mould from the portrayal of robots in previous films as obvious, usually clumsy, metallic creatures. (A notable exception being Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis.)

    If anyone has any doubts at all about how influential this film must have been to James Cameron when he wrote The Terminator (whether he credits it or not), then I would invite you to consider 1) Westworld's storyline of a robot that never gives up, 2) the use of the robot POV (point of view), and 3) the plot of the slow and gradual de-humanisation of the robot, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) as it becomes slowly damaged and malfunctions and then finally is out-witted by its human target. Finally, if all this doesn't convince you, consider (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) the final shock sequence, as the faceless robot makes its final, pitiful, dying lunge at its target. 

    OK, so Westworld was a highly influential film, but does it still hold up today, 30 years later? I would say yes. Sure, there are some aspects that are now quite dated, but these, if anything, only add to the charm of the film. You've just gotta love the early 1970s notions of what 'futuristic' computer technology would look like, particularly the bulky computer terminals and the mock computer displays!  Even funnier still is the made-up technical jargon that serves as the background dialogue in the computer control room! These aspects aside, the plot itself does hold up well after all this time. Anyone who has studied or gained any appreciation of script writing techniques should be suitably impressed with Crichton's skilful employment of various plot devices, his slow and gradual story exposition through the dialogue (rather than stopping the plot for a set 'exposition scene') and his economical and cracking pacing of the plot. This really is an amazing effort for a first time writer/director on a small budget.

    Apart from the numerous other futuristic thriller and sci-fi movies Westworld was to inspire in its wake, it also spawned a poor sequel movie called Futureworld (1976). Note however that whilst this sequel did star Yul Brynner, reprising his role as the Gunslinger, Michael Crichton did not direct, co-write or have any involvement in this sequel, and it shows.

    Footnote:  I noted with trepidation a reference on the Internet to some unconfirmed rumours last year of a proposed re-make of Westworld, originally planned to go into production this year. The re-make was slated to be produced by Joel Silver and Arnold Schwarzenegger and star Arnie as the Gunslinger, possibly pitted against Bruce Willis as his main adversary and also with (wait for it) Sylvester Stallone to appear in a cameo role. There is still no director identified as being associated with this re-make, however. The bad news included rumours implying a re-working of the original story treatment by Schwarzenegger, to feature new areas of Westworld such as Aquaworld, Lunarworld and Jurassicworld - now I don't know what Mr Crichton has to say about all this!  It gets even more nauseating however, as there was a further rumour circulating that this Westworld re-make may even be set on the moon! So now we have an amalgam of just about every type of futuristic resort movie ever inspired by the original, plus with a setting reference reminiscent of Total Recall thrown in for extra insult! Gimme a break! The good news is that these rumours were from last year and nothing more has been heard since Joel Silver moved to debunk the news last October, saying "No, I wouldn't do that kind of thing". At least he has some sense. Let's just hope and pray this project never gets off the ground. Someone ought to have a quiet word to Arnie and tell him to please just leave well enough alone! 

   

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is of acceptable quality for a 30 year-old film, but has been mastered from a theatrical release film print, and it shows.

    The aspect ratio of this transfer is 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. This is a very small compromise from the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Note that this an NTSC transfer, being a re-badge of the previous Region 1 release, so if your TV is not NTSC compatible then you will not be able to enjoy this DVD.

    The transfer is not overly sharp and most images do evidence a softness in resolution, mainly associated with the quality/age of the film print but also due to the budget of the original production (the total budget for the movie was only US$1m, so it was not shot with the highest quality film stock of the day). The main problem with the sharpness in this transfer is the level of grain in the print, and this hampers both foreground and background resolution on occasion, with the night time scenes faring the worst (see chapter 9). However, the vast majority of the action takes place in daylight and/or is well lit, so the level of grain settles into the background after watching for a while and it becomes quite an acceptable viewing experience.

    Colouration is variable and somewhat inconsistent in the transfer, but overall comes off well enough (again, taking into account the age of the print). The director and cinematographer aimed for a bold and stylistic use of colour in this film. Much of this film employs a fairly drab brown colour palette for the Westworld township, intended to convey the bleak and dusty landscape, but this is also juxtaposed extremely effectively against the very bright costumes and interiors of Medievalworld (see for the best example chapter 16). There are also some deliberately striking colour contrasts within scenes and many of these do come off quite well in this transfer - see for example the blacks of the Gunslinger costume shot against the stark reds in the Westworld town and also the whites in the underground laboratory (among other places). However, some other intended stylistic contrasts end up losing their impact in the transfer too - check out the intended use of blues against reds in the night-time scene in chapter 9, here hampered by grain and noise in the print. Skin tones do not fare well; they usually come off either too red or just imbalanced in many scenes.

    MPEG artefacts are not really an issue. Film-to-video artefacts are also very minor, being restricted to the odd unobjectionable instance of aliasing (like on the computer monitors at 33:11) and also a few instances of telecine wobble or slippage (very brief image slippages noted at 9:47, 11:57, 21:57, 23:04 and 39:45 - numerous but all very minor).

    No, the main problem here is the film artefacts, which are fairly persistent, owing to the source. The DVD has been transferred from a theatrical release film print, i.e. a later generation print than the interpositive from which nearly all movies are mastered in preference. The only reason why one would choose to master from a theatrical print is if the source interpositive is not available, so perhaps it may have been lost or destroyed in this instance and the theatrical print was the best generation source available. The tell-tale giveaway for it being a theatrical print rather than an interpositive is the presence of reel change markings in the top right-hand corner of the frame. The first markings occur at 17:41 and 17:48, and then again about every twenty minutes thereafter. (Note that the appearance of these markings as half cut-off semi-circles at the edge of our 2.35:1 frame also confirms that the original theatrical ratio was in fact slightly wider - it was in fact 2.39:1.)  Film artefacts are not unexpected from a later generation film print and they are here in the form of numerous and persistent little film flecks and film artefacts, both positive and negative (see examples at 21:00, 48:29 and 48:49, to name a few). Having pointed out all these issues, I should say that, on the whole, I found this print to have been remarkably clean and well preserved for such an old theatrical film print.

    Two subtitle streams are available on this disc; English and French. I sampled the English ones for a good portion of the film and found them to be accurate, missing out only odd words.

    This disc is single-layered so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The quality of the audio transfer is quite good and in tune with the original theatrical audio. The audio is a default Dolby Digital 2.0 mix (at 192 Kb/s), mainly just stereo, but with a small and effective sprinkling of surround encoding, and a French Dolby Digital 1.0 mix (also at 192 Kb/s). I reviewed the default track.

    The mix employs some nice stereo separation and panning effects throughout. The rears remain largely dormant as may be expected for a film of this age, but they do spring to life effectively and rather startlingly with the music in chapters 22, 24 and 31. The use of the surrounds in these chapters is most effective, as it accentuates the deliberately discordant music score at these points and has the desired effect of keeping you on edge.

    Dialogue quality is perfectly fine throughout, with no lines muffled or lost. Audio sync, however, was a bit problematic on my player, with it being noticeable from early on in the movie that the audio was arriving just a beat too late behind the video, and this remaining the case for the length of the feature. It shouldn't become a big problem unless you are conscious of it, but does become a bit more obvious in some of the facial close-ups.

    The score for this movie is credited to Fred Karlin and I think it is extremely effective. The score covers much ground successfully, from being reminiscent of old westerns as the characters settle into the town, to being quite eerie and evocative for the scene where the workers clear the robots in the dead of night, to becoming gradually more quirky as things start to go awry and then finally to some great discordant pieces accompanying the chase sequences. I also love the recurring robot-sound motif used for the Gunslinger (also heard over the main menu).

    There is next to no subwoofer use in this audio transfer, which is a real shame but simply reflective of the age of the movie. There simply wasn't any real LFE in these early 1970s films - just have a listen to how tacky and ineffectual the sound effect is when the Gunslinger crashes through the first floor window and onto the ground at 36:33.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Extras on this disc consist of a trailer, and...that's all folks.

Menu

    All menus are in an appropriate aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and are 16x9 enhanced. All menus are static, with the main menu only having audio underscore. The only options from the main menu are a very basic scene selection screen and the Trailer.

Theatrical Trailer (3:09)

    This is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, and with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. The video quality is not good, as this is an old trailer and has not been cleaned up at all. It is consequently grainy, fuzzy and lacks definition, but hey, at least it has been included as an extra on the disc.

    It is funny to note how long theatrical trailers ran for back in these days. This trailer is over 3 minutes long, and by the time I got to the end of it I kind of felt like I'd seen the entire movie already and didn't need to bother!  Another interesting thing to note is that this trailer is cut from footage telling the story in exact chronological sequence from the film, unlike nearly all modern trailers that are edited as a series of quick cuts from all over the movie out of order. I found the editing of this trailer in this way rather lazy and it contributed to my feeling that it gave away too much of the story.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is simply a re-badge of the Region 1 NTSC product, so our release is identical to Region 1 in all respects. Well, except for the fact that the Region 1 disc also includes a pan and scan version of the film on the reverse side of the disc, but as this is simply a cut down/edited version of what we have, I do not class this as an additional feature and will call both versions equal.

    It is indeed a pity that we couldn't receive a new PAL transfer for Region 4, but judging by the fact that the original interpositive appears to have been lost or destroyed - and who knows if the lesser generation theatrical print is still around - there may be good reason why a new transfer was not possible. In any event, it is simply great to see a local release of this important film rather than nothing at all.

   

Summary

    Westworld is a seminal sci-fi and futuristic thriller, dated in some respects but still holding up remarkably well. It is an important and highly influential piece of cinema. If you haven't seen it at all, then it is highly recommended. If you have seen it, but a long time ago, then it is definitely worthwhile revisiting.

    The quality of the DVD transfer is very much limited by the source material available, but is overall presented here to the best degree possible, with creditable video and audio transfers. I'm glad they got to this film to preserve it when they did.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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