Only three years separate Westworld from its sequel, Futureworld, but the two films are different in a number of ways. Michael Crichton had no involvement with the sequel, it shifted from major studio MGM to b-movie indie American International Pictures and only Yul Brynner returns from the original film (and his appearance here is a one-scene cameo). It’s also different in approach, replacing the sci-fi-tinged action of the first film for more of a slow-burning conspiracy thriller.
Futureworld is fairly entertaining if taken on its own terms. The story in this film finds the Delos resort trying to revive its tarnished reputation by unveiling a new, updated version of the resort. As part of this grand opening, they invite several members of the press to visit the resort as well as some foreign dignitaries. Amongst the reporters are Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda), a cynical newspaper man automatically suspicious of Delos, and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner), a t.v. reporter who is annoyed when she is forced to go with Chuck to Delos.
In true ’70s style, cynical Chuck is quickly proved to be correct in his suspicions about Delos 2.0. With secretive scientist Dr. Schneider (John P. Ryan) at the helm, the operation has upped the level of computer control over the resort – and Delos has sinister motives for inviting its special guests. Chuck manages to elude slick press representative Duffy (Arthur Hill) and begins to win over Tracy to his way of thinking, finding an ally in grizzled technician Harry (Stuart Margolin) – but will he be quick enough to outmaneuver the sinister minds behind this resort’s resurrection?
Futureworld is more fun to watch if you avoid focusing on its sequel status. Scripters Mayo Simon and George Schenck use the basic concept of Delos as the springboard for a story with a lot of familiar sci-fi and thriller hooks, including a mid-point reveal that feels like it walked in from an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. You aren’t likely to find that big reveal very surprising and the film takes its time getting there, saving the real action and thrills for the last fifteen minutes. That said, it hits its marks effectively and weaves in a number of fun throwaway bits, like Harry’s friendship with a salvaged android and a bizarre, artsy dream sequence that Tracy has. They also come up with a pretty nifty suspense coda.
The film also benefits from confident direction by Richard T. Heffron. Like the screenwriters, he was a journeyman who did a lot of t.v. work and he brings a t.v.-style briskness to his work here that makes up for the slow roll-out of the plot. He makes good use of real locations – the space center where a lot of the Futureworld material is shot is pretty impressive – and gets engaging performances from a game cast. Fonda was in his drive-in movie hero prime here and is amusingly sarcastic. Danner matches him step for step with a charismatic, witty performance and reliable character thesps like Hill, Margolin and Ryan hit their marks effectively. It’s also worth noting that the film’s ’70s-style take on futurism has acquired the same kind of period charm that films like Logan’s Run and The Omega Man now have.
In short, Futureworld might be a lesser experience if compared to Westworld but it offers plenty of retro-futurist fun if taken on its own merits. If you have a sweet tooth for the pre-Star Wars sci-fi of the 1970’s, this film is likely to appeal to it.
Blu-Ray Notes:Futureworld has recently gotten a blu-ray release from Shout! Factory that is well worth the investment for fans. The new anamorphic transfer preserves the vintage visual charm of the film while giving it a high-def boost in color and detail. It also features a 2.0 lossless audio track that sounds nice and crisp. In terms of extras, there is a theatrical trailer, a brief image gallery with some promo art and even a few radio spots for the film. All in all, it’s a nice little blu-ray surprise for ’70s sci-fi addicts.