Blu Review: Futureworld (1976)

futureworld blu-ray I realized while watching the copy of Futureworld on Blu-ray that Shout Factory sent me for review that I’ve actually seen this sequel to Westworld more times in the past few years than the original Yul Brynner robot film. As I said when I briefly reviewed Westworld back in 2008 (can’t believe I’ve been blogging that long!) the original film has a special place in my heart because I remember my dad getting really excited about renting it when I was younger and it being a crazy cool movie.

The follow-up doesn’t necessarily have that same emotional resonance with me, but I’ve got to admit, I really enjoyed this film as well. Taking place after the events of the first film, this movie features reporters Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner going back to the re-opened theme park Davos and trying to figure out if they’ve worked out all the bugs or the place and its robots still hold a danger for humanity. You might expect the movie to get back into “killer robot” territory like WestWorld, but it actually goes a really interesting route by using their technology in an effort to make robotic copies of world leaders and other important people in an effort to secure the company’s interests. I thought it was a clever way to go about the story that didn’t feel like just a rehash of the original (in fact, the dream sequence where Brynner returns feels really odd and a little shoe-horned), but I guess viewers and critics weren’t interested in that and the film is only considered a cult classic which is too bad because I thought it was well done.

An aspect of this movie that I really fell in love with — and one I find myself falling for in a lot of well made movies from this time period like At The Earth’s Core which came out the same year — is how cleverly some of the special effects-heavy ideas were cleverly portrayed. This film has holographic chess which cuts between a board of static figures and people dressed up like said figures on a giant board game fighting one another. There’s also a whole bit about skiing in space where they simply shot people skiing in space suits and tinted the whole thing red! These are pretty simple ways of getting around ideas that modern filmmakers might use CGI for or simply excise from the script for an easier shoot. I appreciate that level of skill and ingenuity being put into a film. I’ve said it plenty of times, but I’d rather see a practical effect that doesn’t look so great 20 years later instead of a bad CGI one that never looked good.

Which brings me around to the look fo the film. I’m still fairly new to this whole Blu-ray thing and have a basic understanding that modern movies shot digitally look best on BR, but am not quite sure what to make of older movies presented in the format. I know some companies go through and remaster everything to utilize Blu-ray’s better visuals and Shout is definitely one of those companies as this movie looks fantastic. I don’t remember having any complaints when I watched the DVD version I got through Netlflix when I saw the movie the first time, but everything looks so crisp and bright that you can tell they really put a lot of effort into updating these movies. It helps, of course, that the original film was well shot by director Richard T. Heffron and company. I’ve seen a few Blu-rays that look really bad when there’s a lot of black on screen, but they’re mostly 80s horror movies that probably didn’t start their lives on the best of terms. There’s a few instances of graininess, but I don’t really know how much that can be avoided from a technical standpoint. The general brightness of the film takes over pretty quickly in most of those cases.

I will also note that Shout didn’t go into full-on special features mode with this disc. It’s pretty bare bones in that regard, featuring only the trailer, some radio spots and a still gallery. At the same time, the MSRP is around $20 — $16.98 if you want to buy directly from Shout in time for the March 26th release — so it’s not like you’re paying what you would for one of their more robust offerings.

I’m giving Shout Factory’s Blu-ray presentation of Futureworld a big old double thumbs up not only for unearthing a classic film and cleaning it up, but also for presenting it in such a way that doesn’t feel like it will break the bank to check out.

All Out Action: Westworld (1973) & Hard Rain (1998)

2008-12-30
8:44:15 pm

Like I said recently, I’ve been trying to watch as many movies as I possibly can with the Netflix on XBox option, but I’ve also had a few Netflix DVDs sitting around (though the Broken Arrow DVD was completely cracked down the center, so that’s one less to worry about for now). So, here we go with the reviews.

WESTWORLD (1973)

I distinctly remember watching Westworld with my dad when I was younger, but I apparently didn’t remember much but the very basics from the movie. I lucked out and got Em to watch it along with me and it seemed like she liked it well enough (she didn’t make fun of me like she did after watching The Warriors so that’s a plus). Anyway, I also really dug the movie, probably even moreso because I didn’t remember every little part of it.

The basic plot is that there’s this resort populated with robots where you can go and live like you’re in another time period (Roman Empire, Medieval England or the Wild Wild West). You can basically do whatever you want there (including shooting and having sex with the robots, though, presumably different ones). Our story focuses on two visitors, one played by James Brolin, the other by a guy named Richard Benjamin who looked familiar, but nothing on his IMDb rang any bells. Yul Brenner also starts as the robot Gunslinger who keeps coming after Benjamin. Well, the vacation doesn’t go quite as planned as the robots start revolting and SPOILER the Gunslinger kills James Brolin (Em and I both thought he’d be the hero, oh well), sending Benjamin running from the relentless cowboy killer robot.

There’s a lot of cool special effects and writer and director Michael Crichton (I had no idea he directed movies) does a great job of selling the story. According the IMDb trivia he got the idea for the story after visiting Disneyland, which was pretty funny to me because it seems pretty familiar to The Stepford Wives, which I read, watched and reviewed recently. The trivia also said that The Gunslinger also inspired John Carpenter to create the greatest slasher in movie history Michael Myers. So, if you’re a fan of either of those other movies or just cool sci-fi robot stories starring Jame Brolin and Yul Brenner, then you should definitely check this one out.

HARD RAIN (1998)

I’m not even sure why I put Hard Rain on my queue. It was probably one of those suggested movies that Netlifx does when you add a movie to your queue. Anyway, I wasn’t all too excited to watch it when the DVD came in, but I’m really glad I did as this is a fantastic action movie with one of the coolest and best handled natural disaster plots I’ve seen in a while. Plus, it’s got Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Ed Asner, Betty White and Minnie Driver sporting a pretty bad American accent.

Plotwise you’ve got Morgan Freeman leading a band of robbers trying to get their hands on the money in Slater and Asner’s bank truck in a town in danger of flooding. Meanwhile Quaid and his fellow police officers try to save the townspeople like Driver and White. As the water rises (and boy, does it get up there) so does the tension and a great “anything can happen” feeling. It does get a little crazy at the very end with all kinds of allegiances changing and crosses being doubled, but all that water makes it okay in my book. You’ve got everything from a boat being driven through a church window to a wave runner chase scene in a high school. It really is just a fun movie that offers up plenty of “how are they going to get out of THIS” situations. I highly HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who like fun movies who don’t let things like science get in the way of enjoying a movie (in this world, a gun can fire no matter how long it’s been under water, so just deal with it okay?).