Review: Futureworld (1976)

Futureworld - where you can't tell the mortals from the machines - even when you look in the mirror!

Futureworld – where you can’t tell the mortals from the machines – even when you look in the mirror!

FUTUREWORLD (1976)
Rated PG / Color / 108 minutes
Directed by Richard T. Heffron
Also Known As: Delosworld
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

WESTWORLD is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi films. The tale of an adult playland filled with super-realistic automatons to interact with, etched itself into my mind at a young age. The idea of being a gunslinger, or a gladiator, or even a king for a weekend is highly appealing. Yes, it’s all highly expensive fun and games… until something goes terribly wrong!

A virus invades the park’s infrastructure, and soon all of the obedient machines go rogue. No one is safe, especially any humans that cross paths with Yul Brenner’s merciless gunslinger character. But after a huge loss of profits and human lives, the Delos Corporation wouldn’t be foolish enough to give it a second try, would they?

Beginning several years after the rampage of a murderous Yul Brenner-bot, FUTUREWORLD follows two reporters, Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner). They have been invited to Delos’ newly rechristened theme park in hopes that they give it the OK and provide a some positive media coverage.

Tracy thinks it’s grand, but Chuck, ever the suspicious reporter, believes that there is more going on than meets the eye. After spending a bit of time in Futureworld (an outer space-themed addition to Delos’ park), the two reporters begin to poke around and discover that something diabolical is going on behind the scenes, involving murder, villainous doppelgangers, and one of the most insane attempts at controlling the press I have ever seen!

FUTUREWORLD is a rather dull followup to the totally awesome WESTWORLD but still does enough right to be a worthy sequel. Instead of being a retread of the previous film’s events, this movie smartly goes in another direction while staying firmly rooted in the world the first film created. Instead of having robots going insane and murdering Delos’ clientele, there’s a mystery afoot involving the giant tech company, and a secret worth killing for.

The secret of perfectly laundered and starched clothing!

The secret of perfectly laundered and starched clothing!

While this is an interesting spin, the movie waits too long to deliver the big twist, which you’ll easily figure out way before it happens. FUTUREWORLD plods along at a lethargic pace, but has some really cool moments: Yul Brenner makes a cameo as “The Gunslinger” within Tracy Ballard’s odd and none-too-erotic dream sequence.

While it’s admittedly cool to see Brenner reprise his role, I was really hoping he’d pop up in the abandoned ruins of Westworld to give our characters a fright! Instead, the only robotic character we get is Clark, a rebuilt automaton without a face, that emotes better than the majority of the cast. Oddly enough, this background character, who has no lines and only a few brief scenes, proves to be a captivating, and sadly tragic figure. Clark’s reaction to the departure of his human friend Harry (a rebellious maintenance worker at the resort) is heartbreaking.

Then there’s the final act of the movie, where it becomes a race against time for Chuck and Tracy to escape with their lives! It’s like someone shot a huge dose of caffeine into the seemingly sedated film, and we get nothing less than an old-fashioned wild west showdown, and an acrobatic battle around the outside of a space shuttle launch platform!

And after all is said and done, after the bad guys think they’ve pulled off a big win for their (not clearly defined) evil machinations, this happens:

YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE FONDA, BITCHES!

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE FONDA, BITCHES!

FUTUREWORLD is slow paced, and is a bit dull at times, but hang in there if you watch it because it all builds up to a worthwhile conclusion! And while it may be a far cry from the fantastic WESTWORLD, FUTUREWORLD boasts a great cast, an awesome soundtrack by Fred Karlin (listen to some of it here), and does something different while continuing to build upon the mythology created by its predecessor. And for that alone, I think this sequel is worthy of:

BLU-RAY REVIEW

The Packaging: Nothing special here folks. The disc comes in a standard Blu-ray case, with a yellow-tinted version of the original theatrical poster art.

Audio & Video: FUTUREWORLD is showcased in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD! Though I haven’t seen it prior to its Blu-ray release, I’m sure it is safe to say that this is the best the movie has looked in a long time. The film comes with only one audio option: DTS HD Master Audio 2.0. Fred Karlin’s score, the dialogue, and sound effects all come through nice and clearly. There’s really nothing to complain about here!

The Extras: This is where the disc totally strikes out. We get a theatrical trailer (featured in 1080i), two short radio spots (together they make up approx. one minute of audio), and a minute-long still gallery that features concept art from the film, as well as domestic and foreign poster designs.

Final Ruling: Though I was hoping for more extras, overall I can’t really complain about this release. It is rather inexpensive, and the movie looks and sounds great! Plus the cover art actually complements that of the Warner Bros. WESTWORLD blu-ray! It’s a serviceable disc for an often overlooked sci-fi classic, and I hereby give it a rating of: