Review: Yul Brynner Did Sci-Fi?
August 27, 2009 § 3 Comments
It’s a sad thing that Yul Brynner’s final film appearance was merely a cameo of a murderous android cowboy. That sounds better than it actually is. In 1973, Brynner signed up to play “Gunslinger”, as he is billed in the credits, a tough-guy cowboy android in an amusement park where guests can live out fantasies in the distant future. The film is called Westworld, and while it’s a vaguely interesting Michael Crichton film, it’s not up to snuff with the Oscar-winning Brynner’s previous works. The plot consists of these two men arriving at Delos, to fullfill their fantasies of living in a western-style town, there they can partake in bar fights, duels (where they can’t get shot, but can shoot the true-to-life androids) and sexual pleasure with saloon android hookers. Predictably, things begin to malfunction. In neighbouring fantasy towns, Medieval World and Roman World, people get killed by androids even after their power has been shut off. Yul Brynner begins a hunt for one of the men, which lasts most of the film. He speaks fewer than 5 lines of western film clichés, and mostly stalks with steely eyes. Brynner’s role was to play the unemotional “Gunslinger” and while it’s convincing, it’s hardly of note when compared to The King and I! The film itself is pretty alright, keeping at a tidy hour and a half, we get to see the “behind-the-scenes” work of the employees, inter-spliced with the main story of the two men, and the mishaps in the other fantasy worlds. I found it particularly interesting that in a sci-fi film, most of the movie takes place on a consciously fake western set, making sure not to rely too heavily on fancy computers as being convincing devices for sci-fi credibility. It’s not a deep film; we never find out why things went wrong. It’s another example of the utopian vision going wrong, but it does it fairly well in typical 70s style.
Brynner’s last role was a small cameo during a dream sequence of Westworld‘s sequel, Futureworld (1976). While Westworld had a fairly solid, if not predictable plot, Futureworld is a strange film that tries to forge a sequel out of a film that really didn’t call for one. A few years after the massacre of renegade androids, the company Delos decides to put 1 billion dollars into revamping with added safety features and redesigning the androids for a better fantasy experience. Chuck, played by Peter Fonda, is a newspaper reporter of the standard cinematic fare (determined and rough-edged); about to meet a man with a tip for a story, but upon his arrival the man dies saying only “Delos” before croaking. Chuck decides to investigate and finds out the company is reopening and he and a love interest/anchor woman are invited for exclusive news reports. This time, in addition to the old timey worlds featured in Westwords, there’s Future World, filled with outer space simulations. Soon it becomes clear that something is awry, and the special guests invited are political leaders from various companies, whom get drugged and eventually have android replicas made, programmed to act in Delos best interests. Chuck and the love interest, hot on the tail attempt to foil the plan. Yul Brynner’s lone and final scene is during a dream sequence, playing the “Gunslinger” from Westworld–what a strange way to bow out.
Anyway, what Futureworld is missing is the already interesting topic of androids themselves, not the fiendish plans of corporate America to take over the world. The Uncanny Valley is worth investigating in such films with androids, not some corporate pig’s elaborate scheme to use them to dominate, because you don’t need androids in order to make a film like that; it’d be far more frightening with humans that act like androids, than the reverse. The point here being, Westworld focused on the creepiness and dangers of entrusting computers with your life, and hinted at the selfish drives of humanity to enslave for its own carnal pleasures, while Futureworld was more centralized around cheesy ploys to use androids in order to say the corporations can’t be trusted. To bring this up to date with some validity for discussion today: for some reason Japan and Korea, especially, keep working away at making androids and they’re damned creepy. Meanwhile, a remake of Westworld has been in the mix since 2007.