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The end of Westworld is a great time to revisit Michael Crichton's 1973 film

It’s a reminder of what makes amusement-park dystopias so scary.

Yul Brynner in Westworld (1973)
Yul Brynner in Westworld (1973)

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for December 3 through December 10 is Westworld (1973), which is available to digitally rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes.

The first season of HBO’s Westworld concluded last Sunday night, which means the better part of pop culture chatter early in the week was all about that finale, an episode titled “The Bicameral Mind.” Was it good? Was it stupid? Was it somewhere in between? Did the fan theories help or hurt? (Our own Todd Vanderwerff liked the finale a lot; I was less convinced.)

The second season of Westworld won’t air until 2018, but in the meantime there’s a stopgap: the Michael Crichton film the series was based on, also titled Westworld.

The Westworld movie is a glorious mashup of genres, like the show: Western, sci-fi, thriller. This movie makes explicit what the finale hinted at: Westworld is one of three theme parks (the other two are Medieval World and Roman World) in a big amusement park called Delos. It’s set in the future, which for a film released in 1973 is 1983.

In this version, which stars Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin, many of the pieces familiar to the HBO show’s fans are there, but rearranged and directed toward a different sort of end. It’s more of a straight-ahead dystopia than a meditation on consciousness and memory. Let’s just say that the androids (in the show, “Hosts”) malfunction, and there’s a lot of gunslinging and destruction.

The film was Crichton’s directorial debut, and he turned it into a novel later. Seventeen years after Westworld’s release, Crichton wrote another novel about an amusement park experiment gone very badly, but this time with dinosaurs.

Why do Crichton’s stories keep getting remade? Probably because they’re set in theme parks — places designed for fun, to escape the real world — but are stealthily dystopian, giving a glimpse of a future that could be prevented but probably won’t be, in which we destroy ourselves in the pursuit of leisure. In the case of both Westworld and Jurassic Park, those dystopias arrive when people are desperate to experience the past, whether it’s the Wild West or the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

In an era when nostalgia threatens to take us over through both endless reboot culture and political campaign slogans, it’s worth pausing to consider Crichton’s warning.

Watch the trailer for Westworld:

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