Two decades prior to the big screen version of his novel Jurassic Park Michael Crichton brought terror to another group of theme park patrons, this time at the mercy of malfunctioning robots rather than genetically engineered dinosaurs, in Westworld. With the success of the film a sequel was proposed, and in 1976 Futureworld was released, with Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner.
Three years have passed since the murderous events at the Delos theme park and a grand reopening is planned. In order to garner some positive publicity a private tour has been arranged for a select few. Two journalists, Chuck Browning (Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Danner), are among the guests, but prior to their arrival Chuck is given a dying mans clue regarding something suspicious going on, and just why have so many important and influential world figures been invited?
It is obvious from the start that the filmmakers were not content to merely rehash elements from the first film, this is a brave move and could have led to a rather innovative and exciting sequel. But unfortunately this would be thriller with the rather formulaic journalists-uncovering-a-dangerous-conspiracy plot just isn’t good enough. Its first act is intriguing but the script quickly runs out of steam, not helped by the rather staid direction of Richard T. Heffron. There is no great sense of urgency or developing tension to the plot and the finale is rather lacklustre. There are a few glimpses of new attractions in this amusement park for the super rich, such as an holographic chess game with the pieces battling each other and a boxing game in which players control the movements of two mechanical pugilists, but for the most part the film focuses on the reporters sneaking around pipe filled corridors. It comes across more like a TV movie than a big screen experience.
The acting from all is passable with both Fonda and Danner engaging enough, with an obvious romance underpinning their relationship. But crucially they don’t really make the audience care about their safety, something that is essential for a film of this type. The film also has some rather unexplained and out of place moments, in one scene three samurai robots literally appear out of thin air to give chase to our heroes. But, most bizarrely of all, Danner has a go on a dream machine that Delos just happen to have. The sole purpose being to give Yul Brynner a weird cameo appearance as a dreamy love interest! For some reason Danners sexual fantasy involves running around in a billowing dress and finally succumbing to the metallic charms of Brynner, all in soft focus! It’s not all bad news; there are a couple of brief but interesting scenes depicting a friendship between two characters that Chuck comes across in the lower levels of the complex. One a lowly repairman, the other a damaged robot, two redundant individuals consigned to the depths of the high tech world of Delos.
Despite the efforts to take the robot theme park premise in a different direction Futureworld is a rather unexceptional piece of celluloid. There were a plethora of government/big business conspiracy movies made during the seventies, many hold up today but this is not one of them. Those expecting an action packed film similar to Westworld will be disappointed whilst fans of conspiracy thrillers will, at best, be mildly entertained.