Blu-ray Review: Shout Factory’s FUTUREWORLD

BC reviews the WESTWORLD sequel's Blu from Shout Factory.

I always look at a film's IMDB/Wiki after I finish to read up on the trivia and such, but I somehow never noticed that Westworld had a sequel after I watched it a few years ago (and quite enjoyed it), only hearing about it for the first time when Shout Factory announced that they were putting it on Blu-ray. Titled Futureworld, it's pretty much an entirely new cast and crew - the only holdovers of note are producer Paul Lazarus III and Yul Brynner, briefly reprising his role as The Gunslinger - but they do pick up where the original left off and continue the story of the futuristic theme park called Delos.

As we learn in a boardroom scene that functions as a recap (featuring clips from Westworld presented as surveillance footage! I want to meet the dedicated Delos employee who apparently tracked a haywire Brynner as he charged down a corridor), over a hundred people died in the disaster, and the PR nightmare is only now beginning to subside - folks are returning to the new and improved park, and nothing is going wrong, but they're simply not getting the attendance numbers they need. So they have assembled a group of dignitaries from around the globe, a couple of civilians and even a pair of reporters to check the place out, in hopes that they will give the park their endorsement and assure those that are worried that nothing is wrong. It's ironically similar to the idea behind bringing Alan Grant and the others to Jurassic Park, though Westworld (and Jurassic) creator Michael Crichton had nothing to do with this movie.

The two reporters are played by Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner, who don't get along and constantly take jabs at each other so you know they'll end up sleeping together eventually. Fonda's character is the newspaper reporter that wrote about the original disaster, so they really need his endorsement this time - but he's got his own agenda. Early on, a source tells him that he has some incriminating info on Delos and is prepared to sell it to Fonda when he is gunned down in a public place, which tells us right off the bat that Delos is up to no good. It's a dumb move, if you ask me - the admittedly slow film takes a long time before "revealing" that they are indeed planning something nefarious, so without this opening bit it might have worked better, as we could be wondering if they were innocent and if the park was simply going to go haywire again like in the first film. The writers and director Richard T. Heffron seem to be taking their cues from '70s paranoia thrillers like The Conversation and Three Days of the Condor, but Fonda's not paranoid! They killed a guy for trying to talk to him!

But on the other hand, I do like that it's not a rehash of the original - the robots do what they're supposed to throughout the film, and the head honchos even replace their technicians and control room nerds with other robots, believing that since they will not be susceptible to human error, there won't be any error. Thus, apart from Westworld, the other parks we saw in the first film (plus Futureworld itself, which simulates a space shuttle launch and lets you go to Mars) are still operating and running smoothly, offering us a chance to see exactly why people would pay to come here (something we didn't really get in the original, as things started going wrong almost instantly). There's a red herring about a smuggled camera that you think will cause problems, but it's dropped - honestly if not for Fonda and Danner's meddling there wouldn't be any issues at all. For what it's worth, they did it! The park is technically safe!

So how does the film have any action? Well there isn't a lot of it, but basically (SPOILER AHEAD) Fonda and Danner discover what they're really up to - bringing powerful guests to the park, cloning them, and sending their clones back in their place while disposing of the originals. Not only will the clones (which aren't robotic) go back and promote the park to their other powerful friends, they'll also do Delos' bidding, allowing them to eventually take over the world. Very Bondian! This stuff is actually just in the third act and is thus kind of spoiler-y, but the trailer shows all of it (including Fonda fighting his own clone), so I guess they didn't seem to think it was worth hiding. So that's where the action comes in: the two of them dodging would-be assassins, running through tunnels, that sort of thing. And there are some fun ideas here, like the fact that their clones carry over their flaws as well - Fonda and Fonda 2.0 are engaged in a shootout when the clone explains that it will go on forever since "We're both bad shots!"

I also enjoyed all the goofy "THE FUTURE!" touches, like holographic chess where the knights are actual knights fighting actual bishops or whatever (predating Battlechess!), or a full bodied Rock Em Sock Em Robots type game where Fonda and Danner use video controlled boxing gloves to make two full sized robots beat the piss out of each other. Some of it is just plain ridiculous - "Skiing on Mars!" is just some stock footage of people skiing with a red filter over it - but I've always been amused by older movies that take place in a "future" that has since passed (in this case, 1985). When the movie came out in 1976, I bet some audience members were stoked to think that in just under a decade they could pay a thousand bucks a day to have Samurai sword battles with humanoids and make love to sex robots, but alas, we're still a long way off from perfecting that technology (that said, two more years until the hoverboard is officially late). There's also a pretty touching (if silly) subplot about a guy (one of the few humans that work in the park, it seems) and his companion robot, who he has to leave behind at one point. There's a slight hint that they're more than friends, but even if you ignore the subtext you can still appreciate that some of these things had more use to humans than a cheap thrill - he genuinely loves the damn thing.

If it had a little more action and maybe a slightly less obvious "reveal" that the big corporation was indeed evil, I think this would have a better reputation. Sure, it's not as exciting as the original, but coming from a horror world where 90% of sequels are closer to remakes, I really appreciated that they went in a different direction yet still offered a direct sequel. And Fonda's pretty delightful in it, so even when there's not much action you can appreciate his unique brand of heroism. Shout Factory has also done a fine job on the Blu-ray; they didn't go overboard on DNR like some studios do for older titles, and the HD 2.0 mix is perfectly clear. The only extras are that spoiler-ific trailer and some other promotional stuff, so perhaps rent to see for yourself. But if you're a fan it will make you happy, especially as the title has only been previously available on DVD via that terrible MGM "on demand manufacturing" service, where the discs don't even work on all players and are of dubious quality to boot.

P.S. This also launched a TV spinoff where each week our heroes would track down a different Delos robot that was impersonating someone in the real world! It only lasted three episodes, however. I say they bring it back, sounds awesome.