11/16/10

Instant Terror Tuesday: Futureworld (1976) It's Epcot Center Meets The Manchurian Candidate

It’s Tuesday so you know what that means. It’s time once again for Instant Terror Tuesday, and today I might be stretching the definition of terror just a tad. The 1973 Michael Crichton film Westworld was several things, a hit, an action movie, and well received. Three years later the fine people at American International made the sequel, Futureworld, and it didn’t share any of the qualities of the original. Instead of gunfights and robots running amok (seemingly lead by Yul Brenner’s Gunslinger), the plot of the sequel centers on paranoia and international conspiracy by hijacking a “body snatchers” type style. Futureworld didn’t fare that well with the public, but I had only watched it once years ago and couldn’t remember what it was like at all. So I thought why not take a step back from the hardcore horror films I’d been watching lately and check out this ill remembered sci-fi thriller.




With almost none of the cast from the first film returning, this story of the Delos resort picks up with journalist Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda), the reporter who got the scoop on the tragedy in Westworld, and television anchor Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) being invited to the grand reopening of the resort. This time in addition to Romanworld, Westworld, and Medieval world, vacationers can choose to go to walk in space and ski on Mars with a visit to the new Futureworld. That’s not all that’s new either. From top to bottom the resort has been retrofitted with new robots and new safety features that would prevent anything from ever going wrong. However Chuck and Tracy eventually uncover a plot to replace all the world’s leaders and tastemakers with organically grown duplicates.

Where Westworld was a Man vs. Machine film that got a boost from great action and Yul Brenner’s creepy cowboy, Futureworld was taking much more a cue from the popularity of the 1975 film The Stepford Wives and expanding it to international politics. At the same time Peter Fonda seems to be doing his best to channel Robert Redford in All the President’s Men. Adding all this up with a script by Mayo Simon (Phase IV) and George Schenck (Escape 2000) made for a film with a decidedly different tone from the original. The only returning cast member was Yul Brenner who appears here in his last performance before succumbing to cancer. Strangely, while he appears as The Gunslinger, instead of going crazy, he is the object of Blythe Danner’s sexual fantasy. It was a strange turn for the cold blooded android killer, but it just goes to show that the director, Richard T. Heffron (V: The Final Battle, North and South) and the folks at American International were to keep their rather tenuous connection to the original film.

Danner and Fonda do their best with the weak material they are given, but there is next to nothing for them to do. Even when they break into the bowels of the Delos complex, all they get up to is chatting with one of the last humans still on staff. Does it serve to move the plot forward? It sure does, but what it didn’t move forward  was my interest. What did spark my interest is a little bit of trivia I dug up about the film. While none of the robot effects were anything special, I did wonder about the short moments of CGI graphics, and I came to find out that this marked the first use of them in a feature film. Not only that, but the scan of a hand featured in the film belongs to future Pixar president Ed Catmull. If for no other reason, that early leap forward in film technology is enough to make Futureworld worth a watch even if the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to much.

With the specter of Westworld hanging over Futureworld, the film never lifts off much less gets into orbit, but the beauty of Instant Watch is that I don’t feel I’m out anything beyond the 100 minutes it took to watch the film. There was a good idea at the core of Futureworld, but the execution didn’t deliver. Even little things that should have paid off like the faceless robot helper that Fonda’s man on the inside played cards with. How the hell did that never turn out to be The Gunslinger? It was telegraphed throughout the film yet never resolved. How could Blythe Danner’s double read her mind while Fonda’s seems to be easily tricked? What the hell did they mean by it being an organic android? The questions could go on and on, but what it really boils down to is that Futureworld didn’t take the time to ask them and viewers will find themselves both bored and frustrated by the end of the flick.

Bugg Rating


7 comments:

  1. jervaise brooke hamsterNovember 16, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    When she was in her prime i think Blythe Danner was even more gorgeous than her daughter.

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  2. Thanks for a great review. Sounds like an interesting little film. Westworld's definitely a classic but this seems like it creates its own unique tone and atmosphere. I'll have to check it out.

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  3. Both these films make me incredibly angry. Westworld doesn't know what to do with its great premise, and this may be blasphemy, but I'm all for a remake. Futureworld is just a baffling waste of time and, once again, a good idea. Poo.

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  4. First off Paltrow, bleh.

    Stephen, thanks for the comment. Futureworld is a letdown from the first film, but as an oddity worth a watch.

    Emily, I can't believe you don't like Westworld. It's up there with Logan's Run for me. I don't know that a remake would do that script any favors. Futureworld I don't know if there was that much of a good idea to begin with.

    Wish I had known about this at HHW, we would have had to have a heated debate about Westworld. It's got James Brolin, James Brolin!

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  5. nice post. thanks.

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  6. See, I LOVE the possibilities of Westworld. I dislike the execution.

    They tease us with Roman and Medieval Worlds and give us about 10 seconds in both. We see NONE of the actual robot freakouts. Yes, Brynner is awesome, but that doesn't mean the entire ending needs to be him chasing our blah hero.

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  7. Ahh I think I see where we have an impasse. I like Brolin better, but I've always liked something in Martin's performance. Something about how utterly milquetoast he comes off.

    I admit that it leaves you wanting more, but a remake would mean somehow Avatar-ing Westworld. I just can't get behind that.

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