Futureworld (Shout! Factory Blu-ray)
Director - Richard T. Heffron
Cast - Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Yul Brynner
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 1
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
Date - 04/07/13
The Film: 3/5
Three years ago the corporation Delos experienced a public relations nightmare when the lifelike robots at their high-tech fantasy theme parks, including Westworld, malfunctioned and started murdering guests and park staff. Investigative reporter Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) made his career when he broke the story. One day he receives a call from a man named Frenchy DuPorte (Ed Geldard) who claims to have the inside track on another major story. Chuck agrees to meet the man at a nearby hotel but he arrives at the rendezvous to find Frenchy mortally wounded. Before dying he tells Chuck one word: "Delos." Meanwhile the corporation announces that their park is reopening to the public after a $1.5 billion security renovation and is inviting an international selection of dignitaries, renowned scientists, and media figures including Chuck and his former flame, famed television personality Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner), for an exclusive sneak preview. Guests have their choice of Medieval World, Roman World, Spa World, and the real attraction - Future World, where you can travel to the stars and explore mysterious planets. Represented by the charming Dr. Duffy (Arthur Hill) and the enigmatic Dr. Schneider (John Ryan), Delos prides itself on the improved quality of its robots, but not long after their arrival Chuck begins to notice that things are obviously not what they seem. This time around Delos has something very sinister in store for their distinguished guests and only Chuck and Tracy, with the help of seasoned park technician Harry Croft (Stuart Margolin), can expose the truth about the monolithic corporation's plans before the most important people in the world fall prey to their electronic evil.
I have fleeting memories of Westworld, the 1973 sci-fi thriller written and directed by famed author Michael Crichton. I saw it once a few years ago on a Chicago-based cable channel and thought it was a cool and fun flick. Ultimately I had more of an appreciation for the ideas it presented that Crichton would come to revisit in his own novels over the years, culminating in the book Jurassic Park and the Steven Spielberg-directed summer blockbuster that would become a cultural phenomenon in 1993. Westworld was a major success for the studio MGM, which at the time was going through the worst period of financial turmoil and executive upheaval in its storied history. As the studio recovered from it self-imposed damage a sequel to Westworld was put into development, but execs decided to move forward on their long-gestating adaptation of Logan’s Run, which would become the last of the great Hollywood sci-fi epics to see have any impact before Star Wars came along the following and not only demolished the competition and became one of the era’s defining films but also helped to shift the paradigm in how movies of its type were produced, marketed, and released. The rights to the Westworld sequel were purchased by B-movie giant Samuel Z. Arkoff and his American-International Pictures and Futureworld finally saw release a month after Logan’s Run in the summer of 1976. For the sequel an entirely new cast of characters was created, which makes perfect sense seeing as how Richard Benjamin’s character was the only one left alive at the end of Westworld. Scenes from the original are worked into Futureworld as archive footage and Yul Brynner reprises his role as the murderous robotic Gunslinger but only in a brief dream sequence that has absolutely no bearing on the plot.
It would have been easier for Futureworld to merely recycle the plot of the original, only on a grander scale with the outer space park setting providing an interesting locale for more empty-headed thrills. But under the direction of made-for-television veteran Richard T. Heffron, working from a screenplay by Mayo Simon (Saul Bass’ underrated thriller Phase IV) and George Schenck (NCIS), the sequel takes on the tone of the conspiracy thrillers that were heavily in vogue during the 1970’s, but with a sci-fi twist. This time around it’s clear that Delos is on everything and has grand plans for world domination (because how can plans for world domination be anything but grand?) from the very beginning of the story. The filmmakers realized that they couldn’t simply redo Westworld this time, though that formula has been applied to countless franchise sequels made in the decades since. While our heroes in the original were common tourists looking for a good time, Futureworld presents us with inquisitive reporters who don’t wait for the shit to go down before getting into the game. Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner don’t have the most sparkling chemistry ever seen in motion picture history but they make for a fine pair of combative former lovers who are both equally charming, intelligent, and stubborn as good reporters should be. Stuart Margolin is both light-hearted and sympathetic as the longtime Delos technician torn between staying loyal to his powerful employers and doing the right thing, and his relationship with his faceless robot servant and friend Clark is the most developed and heartfelt in the movie. Arthur Hill and John Ryan, both great character actors, play their one-note corporate villain roles with quiet relish.
The effects work and cinematography are both fine if unexceptional. Being financed by a company that made its bones with beach party comedies in the 60’s, it is not surprising that Futureworld bears the mark of cut corners in the budget department. The sets from Westworld are even recycled in a few sequences for no reason other than to remind the viewers of the far superior original. Brynner’s contractually obligated cameo could have been deleted from the film and the narrative wouldn’t have been affected in the least. His scenes positively reek of being shoehorned in as they make absolutely no sense in the larger context of the story. Without spoiling the plot I will say that Delos’ ultimate plan to take over the world seems poorly thought out when you take time to consider it. Their entire billion dollar operation hinges on whether or not the people they use in their scheme are influential or irreplaceable enough to impact public opinion regarding the corporation. Delos could have used all of that time and money to build a giant orbiting laser cannon or volcano bases. The kind of dough they spend, they could buy their own country and bribe their way into the United Nations. Futureworld does have some visually inventive moments like when Chuck and Tracy play a game of chess with holographic living pieces and then engage in a boxing match where they fight with life-size robot players like a flesh and blood Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
Futureworld comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory and is presented in a high-definition 1080p widescreen transfer in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The movie was filmed in the Spherical cinematographic process in the Academy standard ratio of 1.37:1 and was condensed when printed on 35mm film. The quality of Shout's transfer is solid but doesn't appear to be anything but a slightly upgraded port of a DVD presentation. The picture is clean with fine, soft colors and little noticeable print damage but the grain content is a bit too high at times. The print used for this Blu-ray was likely sourced from an HD copy prepared by current rights holder MGM. Futureworld's dated fashions, sets, and technology do look mighty sharp on a standard television set. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 audio track sounds just nice. The blaring, overdramatic score by Fred Karlin is given plenty of room to compliment the on-screen action and the dialogue comes through mostly clear. English subtitles are also included.
Extras are slim. We get a scratchy three-minute theatrical trailer, a pair of radio spots, and a small still gallery featuring some impressive conceptual and promotional artwork.
I once saw an episode of Family Guy where one of the throwaway gags spoofed dark and depressing 1970’s sci-fi. Parts of that little skit reminded me of Futureworld. It’s a fun but forgettable sequel to a much better original but offers up its own set of virtues to make worth at least one watch for fans of the decade and genre.