The original Westworld film from 1973 was written and directed by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton, proving to be a big hit with the critics and financial success at the box office. It imagines a futuristic “Old West”-themed amusement park populated by ultra-lifelike robots.
The cast will most likely be unknown to you, but you may turn up your ears at names like Yul Brynner and James Brolin. Yes, that’s a young James Brolin, father of Josh Brolin – who bears a striking resemblance to Christian Bale.
The film is the first to use 2D computer animation in a significant manner. The point of view of Yul Brynner’s gunslinger was achieved with raster graphics (at 2:30 mark in the clip above). Crichton originally went to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but after learning that two minutes of animation would take nine months and cost $200,000, he later went to Information International. Working day and night, they were able to complete the animation both faster and much more cheaply.
The idea was to make the Gunslinger android’s point of view pixilated. The computer processing itself took about eight hours per ten-second sequence. The end result was approximately 2 minutes and 31 seconds worth of cinegraphic block portraiture. Accomplished by color-separating (three basic color separations plus black mask) each frame of source 70 mm film images, scanning each of these elements to convert into rectangular blocks, then adding basic color according to the tone values developed.
John Carpenter, director of the 1978 horror classic, “Halloween,” has cited Mr. Brynner’s performance as an inspiration for the masked killer Michael Myers in his movie. And traces of the “Westworld” gunslinger character linger in the time-traveling cyborg assassin Arnold Schwarzenegger plays in the 1984 film “The Terminator”. Schwarzenegger actually attached to star in a “Westworld” remake before he became governor of California.
Unlike the digital effects of today’s films, which routinely use effects to try to reproduce reality, or fantasy-reality, Westworld from 1973 was ground-breaking stuff, and today’s CG space battles and green screens galore owe a lot to Westworld and Crichton’s vision.
Michael Crichton’s directorial debut also laid a formative foundation for sci-fi and the beloved HBO series.