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Two reporters, Tracy and Chuck, get a message from a third one who discovered something about "Futureworld" and becomes killed before he could tell anyone about it. They visit Futureworld to find out what he knew.
For more about Futureworld and the Futureworld Blu-ray release, see Futureworld Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 21, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Yul Brynner, John P. Ryan, Stuart Margolin, Arthur Hill
Director: Richard T. Heffron
» See full cast & crew
Futureworld Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 21, 2013
Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld in 1973, and some three years later a Crichton-less sequel called Futureworld appeared. But revisiting either of these films now with 20/20 hindsight one might be tempted to wonder whether Crichton plagiarized himself some two decades later when he came up with Jurassic Park, since both "franchises" (even though the World films probably shouldn't rightfully be thought of as an actual franchise) deal with technology run amok in what is more or less an amusement park. Westworld was Crichton's debut as a film director, and it along with Futureworld were in a strange way also sort of sci-fi siblings to Ira Levin's 1972 novel The Stepford Wives, since all three offerings posited plots that featured something akin to those animatronic robots that became sensations in the sixties when Walt Disney introduced them in such Disneyland attractions as The Hall of Presidents and The Pirates of the Caribbean. If the robots are intentionally submissive in The Stepford Wives, they're anything but in either Westworld or Futureworld, and in fact are as unpredictable as a charging Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park. Crichton was often fascinated by technology gone awry, whether that was a space probe bringing back an unwelcome "visitor" in The Andromeda Strain, brain engineering in The Terminal Man or the vagaries of time travel in Timeline, not to mention those dastardly dinosaurs in what became one of Crichton's signature pieces. It is manifestly unfair to blame Crichton for much of what ails Futureworld, for in many ways this is sequel construction by rote, regurgitating the basic premise of Westworld with little of the first film's ingenuity or excitement. The film may hold a certain cachet now as it is one of surprisingly few features to star Blythe Danner, who is of course now better known for being Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, not to mention the television pitchwoman for an osteoporosis drug.
There's a weird fascination that people have with the animatronic robot phenomenon, something I personally experienced and which has become a favorite anecdote in my family. Years ago my parents visited me in Portland and wanted to take what amounted to a day trip to the Visitors' Center at Mt. St. Helens, a place which had been built in the wake of the devastating volcanic explosion that occurred there in 1981. We drove for several hours to get there, and then once we arrived, instead of gazing out at the debris strewn field that looked like the remnants of a nuclear holocaust, my father spent a good half hour taking home movies of the animatronic "hostess" who was perched on a pedestal in the main foyer.
Futureworld's good guys are crusading reporters Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner), though the two have a rocky past history since Browning once fired Ballard from a print media position. Ballard has gone on to be a television reporter and brags about having "55 million viewers" tuning into her regularly while Browning can barely muster a few thousand to read his articles. Nonetheless, Browning is credited with having "broken" the Westworld story, leading to the virtual collapse of the Delos Corporation. After a kind of fun opening sequence that offers Allen Ludden hosting a gameshow where the grand prize includes a trip to various Delos resorts, we move on to Delos' corporate headquarters itself and Delos' smarmy director Dr. Duffy (Arthur Hill, who was also in the film version of Crichton's The Andromeda Strain) who is hoping to rehabilitate Delos' image. Delos has crafted a new consortium of "adult resorts" that include various worlds, and they want the press, as well as a slew of visiting dignitaries, to be the first guests to assure the general public that all is well with the formerly recalcitrant robots. Chuck's suspicions have already been raised, however, due to a tip he has gotten from a former Delos employee who is murdered before he can pass along any salient information as to what his concerns are.
Once Chuck and Tracy arrive at Futureworld, they quickly become alarmed by a variety of strange goings-on, and they soon become aware that there is a whole nefarious reason that they as well as so many heads of state have been invited to the theme parks. This conceit (which won't be totally spoiled here, though it's probably easy to guess) is one of the most direct parallels to Levin's The Stepford Wives and involves robots replacing their human counterparts, something that was at least hinted at in some of the advertising art for the film, where Peter Fonda's face was "removed" to reveal robotic innards. (There's another salient connection between both Westworld and Futureworld and The Stepford Wives, namely what might be termed the "pleasure unit" status of some of the robots, something that's a major plot point in the Levin tome and which pops up in both of the World films in one way or another.)
Futureworld is surprisingly lethargic a lot of the time, and while Fonda and Danner try hard (Danner especially seems to be channeling Lois Lane, hand on hip and leaning in to her editor's desk no less), there's a rather unexpected lack of tension in vast swaths of the film. Things do perk up reasonably well in the last act, once the real motive behind Delos' machinations become clear, though even then things are not as visceral as one might hope. Part of this may be due to the kind of "low rent" atmosphere that inhabits the film, something that may be attributed at least in part to its American International roots (you'll note lo-fi maestro Samuel Z. Arkoff listed as producer, as well as the "smiling cobra" himself, former CBS honcho James T. Aubrey). As such, Futureworld seems to fall squarely into the A-I tradition of entertaining but unspectacular fare that was perfect programming for drive-ins, where much of the audience probably wasn't paying rapt attention to the screen in the first place.
Futureworld Blu-ray, Video Quality
Futureworld is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. This was a fairly low budget affair to begin with and was never a huge hit, so has probably not been curated especially carefully over the years, and this high definition transfer can only do so much with some problematic elements. There's occasional damage sprinkled throughout, with quite a few specks (both white and black) dotting the premises, as well as some minor scratches and the like. The color here seems to have faded appreciably, with skin tones verging perilously close to brown territory quite a bit of the time (Metrocolor has this tendency to begin with quite a bit of the time). The overall image is fairly soft looking, and actually gets toward the fuzzy end of things in midrange and wide shots. Those who fear DNR need not worry, as even if there has been some digital scrubbing applied (which is doubtful), there is still quite visible grain apparent, especially in the many optical effects included in the film, where it's understandably and expectedly magnified.
Futureworld Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Futureworld features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that has withstood the vagaries of time much better than the image quality. Fidelity remains very good, if not spectacularly brilliant, with dialogue, effects and score cleanly presented and well prioritized. There's not a huge amount of stereo separation here, and in fact a lot of the time the dialogue sounds like it's pumping out of both channels simultaneously, but even without an overly wide splaying of effects, this mix has a reasonably fulsome sound and certainly nothing like the damage issues of the video elements.
Futureworld Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Futureworld Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Westworld was a fun throwback to the kind of fairly low rent sci-fi fare that used to populate drive-ins in the late fifties, albeit gussied up in a lot of techno-speak and proto-futuristic trappings. Ironically, Futureworld hasn't aged half as well as Westworld has, looking decidedly dowdy and old fashioned, perhaps due to its relatively meager budget and American-International production roots. Performances here are okay, though one gets the distinct impression most of the major players were wishing they were in some other world, like an A-list film, when they were shooting this escapade. This Blu-ray has some fairly problematic video, though the audio is quite good. Fans of Danner, who never really got her due as a leading actress in films, may want to check this out one way or the other. But for Crichton fans who are aching for a film about technology running amok in an amusement facility, the much better bet would of course be Jurassic Park.
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Futureworld Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Futureworld Blu-ray Detailed - February 15, 2013
U.S. distributors Shout Factory have officially announced and detailed their upcoming Blu-ray release of Richard T. Heffron's Futureworld (1976), starring Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, and Arthur Hill. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores ...
• Two More Catalog Titles Coming Up From Shout Factory - December 7, 2012
Independent distributors Shout Factory have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray William Dear's Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982), starring Fred Ward, Belinda Bauer and Peter Coyote, and Richard T. Heffron's Futureworld (1976), starring ...
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