WestworldIn need of some distraction, this evening I watched Michael Crichton’s 1973 science-fiction-meets-Wild-West thriller, Westworld. Though now forty years old, it is surprisingly undated. Only the smoking in public places, tiny television screens and massive computers with tapes and reels give it away. It is also, in retrospect, remarkably similar, in terms of its basic theme, to Crichton’s major hit, Jurassic Park. Both are, arguably, takes on Mary Shelley’s original idea in Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus. Man makes monster, monster gets out of control, monster develops mind of its own, monster resentfully turns on creator. In both Crichton books/films power (electricity) plays a crucial role in the plot, with differentiated circuiting conveniently being overlooked. Power has to be turned completely off, but when it is all defences are down, allowing the monsters to rampage on. And Yul Brinner’s gun-slinging rogue android is every bit as implacably ruthless as John Hammond’s velociraptors. Though Richard Benjamin, as the android’s defiant and ultimately triumphant prey, and Josh Brolin, as the android’s victim, turn in strong performances, this is/was Yul Brinner’s film. His sinister robotic reprise of his Chris Adams role in The Magnificent Seven is entirely believable. Three aspects of the film caught my eye. The first is the wry, tacit observation that you don’t have to teach American/western tourists how to pretend to be Wild West cowboys because the whole Hollywood mythology is so deeply ingrained in popular culture (everybody knows almost instinctively how to draw a gun, pull back the hammer, spin the gun on their finger, push their hat back, duck behind a bar under a shattering mirror or fall across a card table or break a chair over somebody’s back in a bar/bordello brawl, etc). We have seen such scenes hundreds, if not thousands, of times. The second is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice observation that when man delegates robot construction to computers (that is, when machines create machines) he wittingly or unwittingly foregoes  an important and possibly essential element of control. (If you don’t know how something works, how can you modify the way it works?) The third is the idea of machine diseases and epidemics. In effect, Crichton’s Delos theme park spirals out of control because of a computer bug that goes viral. Like the apprentice’s brooms in Goethe’s poem, if you don’t know how it started, you can’t know how to stop it. In Crichton’s films the increasingly desperate scientists are ultimately revealed to be impotent and are either gobbled up or axphyxiated, thus no doubt conveniently limiting appearance fees.