The year 1976 was a busy one for American International Pictures (AIP). With the company releasing their usual output of homegrown drive-in horrors (FOOD OF THE GODS, SQUIRM) or importing them from other regions (THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, THEY CAME FROM WITHIN), their ongoing attempts into mainstream appeal continued with the likes of star-studded war adventures (SHOUT AT THE DEVIL) and musical-fantasies (A MATTER OF TIME). An ambitious undertaking for the company to say the least, 1976’s FUTUREWORLD provided a sequel to the 1973 MGM sci-fi undertaking WESTWORLD, and as usual, the results left AIP with a less-than-appreciative critical reception.
Several years after the accidental tragic deaths at the Delos amusement park, the operators have re-opened (with the troublesome “WesternWorld” unit abandoned) with $1.5 billion in renovations and promised improvements in performance and safety. Newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) had previously written a story about the “problems” concerning Delos, and now when he’s about to encounter a tipster with secret information to reveal, the poor fellow drops dead during said meeting, obviously murdered as to not open his mouth and deliver the dirt. In the meantime, Browning and hip TV news personality Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) are cordially invited to the new Delos for publicity purposes.
Browning and Ballard arrive at the pricey adult resort along with an obnoxious game show winner, a Russian general and a prominent Japanese politician. Escorted by Dr. Duffy (Arthur Hill, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN), the director of the entire operation, the two reporters decide their amusement park of choice will be Futureworld, which boasts a simulated rocket trip to an orbiting space station. All seems fine and dandy, but further snooping results in a lying robot (something that’s not supposed to exist) and the revelation that all or most of Delos’ technicians are mechanical themselves. Browning and Ballard later team up with a friendly loner human worker named Harry (Stuart Margolin), but they soon discover that their invitation to Delos was not as well intentioned as it was proposed to be.
FUTUREWORLD is obviously no match for its predecessor WESTWORLD in terms of ingenuity and entertainment value, but for a sequel which doesn’t benefit from the participation of writer/director Michael Crichton, it’s not all that bad and actually well made, even in the hands of a television director. One of the main flaws here is the lack of action, most of which is saved for the last half of the film. Although some of the elements from the WESTWORLD are present (human-similated robots which could provide amusement, sexual and otherwise) the plot structure diverts from its plot device of mechanical malfunction and concentrates on a “cloning” conspiracy by the evil manipulating minds running the operation.
Although the movie has a lot of 1970s attributes (a loud game show hosted by “Password” legend Allen Ludden, a “liberated” professional woman who initially resists her suitor but is quickly swooned over), the art design and special effects still hold up fairly well and the film should be noted for its early use of 3D computer-generated images. Character actor John P. Ryan (probably best known to readers of this site for his turn in Larry Cohen’s first two IT’S ALIVE flicks) deadpans it as the sinister lab-coated doc overseeing the robots at work, and the film’s best performance is in familiar comic TV actor Margolin (“The Rockford Files”) as a veteran secluded Delos worker who desperately befriends a faceless robot (who is actually given some pathos), playing cards with it and naming it “Clark” after Superman’s alter ego. Fonda (who hadn’t been in anything associated with AIP since 1968’s SPIRITS OF THE DEAD) and Danner have good chemistry together, and they appear to be having fun rather than doing any kind of serious acting. Yul Brynner reprises his role as the memorable glassy-eyed, robotic gunslinger villain, but it’s merely a pointless cameo (part of Danner’s character’s bizarre dream) to remind viewers of the first film. Fred Karlin also returns for the film’s score, and he certainly does it justice.
Previously, MGM debuted FUTUREWORLD on DVD as part of their “Limited Edition Collection” line of MOD discs, but now that Shout! Factory has acquired a number of MGM titles, they've taken things a step further and have now released the film on Blu-ray. Carrying a 1080p High-Definition transfer, the film has been presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, at it looks quite excellent. Colors are solid, detail is extremely sharp and there only minor hints of grain and only a few blemishes to be found in this very clean presentation. Likewise, the mono English audio (DTS HD Master Audio( is also clear and free of any noticeable distortion. The original AIP theatrical trailer is included, as are two radio spots and a still gallery that showcases some original paintings and poster art (we would have loved to have seen the alternate TV footage included, but that seems to be lost). (George R. Reis)
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