Director: Richard T. Heffron
Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Arthur Hill

Although I haven't got around to actually sit down with a piece of paper and a pen to make it, for the past few years I have been forming in my mind a rough sort of bucket list. A bucket list, in case you don't know, is a list of activities that you would like to engage in before you drop dead and leave this world of ours. Over the years that I have run this web site, I have from time to time revealed some of the activities I would love to do before I pass on. Some I know I will probably never get to do; unless someone builds a time machine, I will never experience visiting grindhouses in New York City during the early 1970s. But there are some things on my bucket list that I know are a lot obtainable. I've said before that I would like to visit the deserts of the United States southwest, and I'd also like to visit Las Vegas and soak up the glitz and glamor. One other dream on my bucket list that I don't think I have mentioned before, however, is to get to visit a major amusement park, such as Disneyland or Six Flags. There is a problem, however, with that particular dream, and for that matter the others on my bucket list. Disneyland is a certain "no" after just a little thought because I hate how greedy and soulless the company has become, as I mentioned in my recent review of The Trumpet Of The Swan. But the biggest problem is that America has become such a violent place that I am a little fearful as to what could happen to me while I'm there. So unless something is put in America's drinking water in order to make people more peaceful, I have to put those dreams on my bucket list on hold. Well, I guess I could visit a major amusement park in Canada, which would be Marineland, located in Niagara Falls in Ontario. But the news reports I heard a few years ago about the alleged mistreatment of animals there give me as much of a queasy feeling as the idea of going to Disneyland or Six Flags.

While I'm on the subject on amusement parks, I would like to talk more about the subject - especially since, as you've probably guessed already, that the movie I am reviewing here concerns an amusement park. The idea of such establishments has certainly evolved and improved on since the basic idea was formed many years ago - insane asylums used to open their doors for the public to come in and laugh and be amused by the unfortunate people who were imprisoned there. Fortunately, amusement parks have become a lot more tasteful since then - and a lot more advanced in many different ways. With that in mind, it's interesting to think of what amusement parks will be like in the future. Other people have seized on this idea before, possibly the most famous examples coming from author and filmmaker Michael Crichton. As you probably know, he seized upon two kinds of idea of futuristic amusement parks. The more recent example comes from his books Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World, both of which were not only turned into movies that were box office smashes, but were continued with two additional movies without Crichton's input. But years before the whole idea of amusement parks containing dinosaurs entered Crichton's mind, Crichton came up with another work concerning futuristic amusement parks. It was a movie called Westworld, which Crichton both wrote and directed. That movie concerned visitors to an amusement park where they would interact in a themed world (such as a Wild West area) with human-like robots that were programmed to obey the wishes of the human visitors.

I first saw Westworld as a teenager from taping it off late night television in the 1980s, and while I certainly thought it was entertaining enough to recommend, all the same I had some issues with it. One issue was the fact that in the Wild West world of the theme park, the human visitors were allowed to not only have real guns with real bullets, but had Futureworldcompletely free opportunity to use them. Uh, couldn't humans be caught in the crossfire between humans and robots? Another problem was the robots that were programmed to have sex with humans. Ugh - to me, that's about as erotic and romantic as putting your manhood in the tail pipe of a car. But despite issues like those, the movie was a box office hit. A sequel was inevitable, but some interesting changes happened along the way. Crichton wasn't involved this time around, and the movie was not made by MGM like the first movie, but was made instead by American-International Pictures. The most interesting change, however, was that the sequel wasn't, like most sequels, just a simple reworking of the original. To illustrate that, here's the plot: A few years after the robots at the Delos amusement park went berserk and started killing the human patrons who were there at the time, the Delos organization has refurbished the park and the robots and is set to reopen the park to the public. Naturally, there is still the ugly tragedy hanging over their heads, so they invite the press to come in and inspect the park in the hopes they will report that all is well. Two of the reporters that are invited are Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda, Fighting Mad) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner, Little Fockers), and they are shown around the park by Delos spokesman Duffy (Arthur Hill, Owen Marshall). Although Dr. Duffy puts on a good show, Browning and Ballard earlier got word from a Delos employee - who was promptly assassinated afterwards - that the Delos corporation is up to no good. What exactly they are up to is unclear, but it may have some connection to the politicians and assorted VIPs that are being invited to visit the park.

As you can see, the core story of Futureworld, while taking place in the same theme park location as the first movie, and also repeating the idea of the first movie that concerned humans mingling with robots that at first glance are indistinguishable from humans, is this time around more of a conspiracy thriller. This was a twist that I felt could have moved this follow-up into some interesting directions, but despite the great potential, the scripting pretty much botches things up. The conspiracy part of the movie was the biggest disappointment. I don't want to spoil what the conspiracy turns out what to be, but when in the first few minutes of the movie it is revealed that a bunch of important politicians and other worldly big shots are coming to the park... well, you probably guessed right then as I did as to what the conspiracy was. The execution of the conspiracy furthers the problem, but before getting into that, I want to talk about other things first, such as other script problems. For one thing, I was severely disappointed that the movie doesn't seem to have very many original ideas to explore. It is revealed that the robots in the park are actually monitored and maintained by other robots, but once that is revealed, the movie doesn't seem willing to expand on that idea any further. Later in the movie, a device that can videotape dreams for people who are hooked up to it is introduced, but all the movie can seem to do with this device is to have one of the characters have a wacky and unintentionally funny dream where Yul Brynner's robot character from the original movie shows up in a cameo. One the dream is over, this device is promptly forgotten about and never shows up again. Those two ideas are just about the only fresh touches to be found in the movie. Any additional ideas that Futureworld manages to bring up are ideas that were already discussed in the first movie, such as humans having sex with robots (ugh again), with absolutely no fresh angles.

The lack of freshness for Futureworld also extends to the characters for the most part, both with their writing and with the performances by the cast. It certainly doesn't come as no surprise that the Delos spokesman Duffy turns out to be a bad guy, but what really makes this character unmemorable is that he doesn't show up for much of the movie, instead just making a few brief appearances. As a result, actor Arthur Hill doesn't have enough material to make his character the least bit threatening or cunning. Still, he comes off better than the two main protagonists and their actors. The character of reporter Browning is written to come across as a kind of smartass with barely veiled contempt for the various people in his life, a feeling that is only strengthened by the lazy and stiff performance by Peter Fonda in the role. He seems only out for a good story, and while that may be the attitude that many real reporters have, it did not endear me to him, and often I cringed a little when he was up center on the screen. What's worse is that in his scenes where she is paired up with actress Danner, it's the drama equivalent of an 80s action hero dragging a helpless woman behind him while the bullets are flying. As you may have guessed by this, Danner's character is pretty useless, only here seemingly so that characters with her have an excuse to make comments that explain any plot mysteries. It's no wonder that all Danner can do with such an underwritten role is to whine and show frustration. The only character in the movie that has any kind of spark is a human park maintenance character played by Stuart Margolin (The Big Bus). Now, Margolin is not fabulous in the role, but you do sense that he has some idea of how his character should act, and does manage to generate a significant amount of sympathy and life despite his character not being written to show that much depth.

I looked forward to Margolin's scenes, because each of them temporarily lifted Futureworld from it being hopelessly bogged down in a storyline that was, quite frankly, very boring. Getting back to the conspiracy angle of the movie, once the movie hints of a conspiracy in the first few minutes, aside from one short scene where Fonda's character asks a robot bartender for some information, there is essentially no further investigation into the conspiracy by Fonda and Danner for the next hour or so of the running time. Director Richard T. Heffron (I, The Jury) for all of this time executes things at an excruciatingly slow pace scene after scene during this time that just hammers home that nothing significant is happening, and it's obvious padding. When the conspiracy is eventually uncovered very late in the movie, there is some action, but the chases and fights are too little and too late, being very low key and utterly routine. As for the visual side of the movie, the results are extremely mixed. Heffron was able to shoot much of the movie on "real" locations such as the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and some of these locations do add some serious"oomph" that visually impress. But there are also some moments obviously shot on soundstages that look pretty cheap and tacky. The special effects are a mixed bag as well, sometimes looking quite advanced for the time (such as some instances of early computer graphics), but at other times being pretty obvious even by 1976 standards (you'll probably laugh at the "hologram" chess board.) As you can see, there is not enough merit in Futureworld to make it worth searching out for now or in your future, even for fans of the original movie. If you do decide to watch it, more likely than not you'll want to quickly stop this world because you'll want to get off.

(Posted December 30, 2022)

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See also: Deathsport, Fighting Mad, The Prize Of Peril