Growing up in the 70s, we were usually limited to six channels (well, seven if you count PBS, but very few of us did). We got two versions each of ABC, CBS, and NBC, but, if the weather was in our favor, and we turned our rooftop antenna just so, we could occasionally tune in a just barely viewable signal from one of the UHF channels out of Boston. That was it. No HBO, no MTV, no Food Network or ESPN; just network television and a couple of fringe independent stations. The thing is, despite the limited amount of options, I don’t remember there ever being a problem finding something to watch. Unlike today, where I can literally scroll through 150 channels and still end up throwing in a DVD because “there’s nothing on”, back in those days it seemed like there was always something on. Whether it be repeats of classic 60s television shows or a seemingly bountiful amount of genre films, TV in the 70s was just…well…awesome! I’m sure it’s nostalgia at play, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
One of my favorite memories of that period was seeing the movie Westworld for the first time. My father, a die-hard western fan, was lured in by the title, but, once it became clear that Michael Crichton’s film was actually sci-fi, he wandered off to his den to watch whatever random sporting event he could find, leaving me to bask in the sheer awesome of Crichton’s cautionary tale of the dangers of artificial intelligence. Westworld would be one of those “on rotation” movies that always seemed to be on, but I never tired of it, and, when the 1976 sequel, Futureworld, made its television debut as part of the once-popular Saturday Night Movies at 9:00 PM on ABC, I begged my folks to let me stay up to watch the film in its entirety, despite it ending well over an hour after my assigned bedtime.
Futureworld takes place two years after the massacre at the Delos resort in which the disarmingly human looking robot attractions malfunctioned and began killing off the wealthy visitors they were created to serve and entertain. Now, promising that the “technical difficulties” have been addressed and that new, more effective safety protocols have been put into place, Delos is reopening, and, as a sign of their confidence, the Delos Corporation has invited reporters Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) to cover its re-launch. Browning, however, has his doubts about Delos, and, when he’s contacted by an employee of the corporation who claims to have disturbing information about the resort, Browning arranges a meeting. Just as the two men meet, however, Browning’s source is shot in the back, but not before he hands over an envelope to the reporter. As Browning and Ballard dig deeper into Delos’ they uncover a nefarious plot involving everything from cloning to world domination, and soon find themselves targeted by both their mercenary hosts and their robotic creations.
I have to admit that, way back in the late 70s, I was really letdown by Futureworld as, from a ten year old’s perspective, it was a much darker and more downbeat film than its predecessor, but, as I revisited the film over the years, I learned to appreciate it for the entertaining-yet-flawed sci-fi spectacle it is. It’s not a patch on Crichton’s Westworld, and the cloning plot is quite the stretch from the author’s original concept, but it’s still a fun flick, and Fonda and Danner are quite charming as the bickering heroes, lending the film a flare beyond that provided by their 70s polyester trousers. We also get an extended cameo by Yul Brynner, reprising his role in a brief dream sequence, which helps to bridge the conceptual gap between the films (if only a little).
Futureworld comes to Blu-ray courtesy of the fine folks at Shout! Factory, and is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and features a very attractive new HD transfer. Futureworld is a very colorful film, with lots of artificially lit set pieces that run the gamut from hot red to ice blue, and the transfer replicates them beautifully. The image is very crisp, with fairly abundant detail, and an omnipresent sheen of cinematic grain. The accompanying 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio track boasts rich bass, organic dialogue, and impressive sound separation given that it’s “only” a stereo mix.
Extras are, sadly, limited to the film’s theatrical trailer, a few radio spots, and a stills gallery.
While Futureworld doesn’t live up to the standards set by its classic predecessor, it’s an entertaining expansion on Crichton’s original concept. Solid performances and assured direction by Richard T. Heffron elevate the film above its mostly absurd premise, and Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray presentation – lack of substantial extras not withstanding – is top notch. If you’re already a fan, then consider this one a must-buy! Others should consider renting first!