Monday, May 22, 2017

FUTUREWORLD (1976) - **



Rated PG
Running time: 108 min.
Release date: August 13, 1976


When you visit a theme park, like Disneyworld for instance, you expect to have fun and excitement on many levels. A theme park where you get to explore space, or have women in togas wait on you hand and foot, sound pretty cool and exciting, don't they? Futureworld is the sequel to 1973's Westworld, which was a pretty fun and exciting film on its own, so you could conceivably believe that a second film connected with that world introduced in the first film might just hold some similar excitement. Have you noticed that I have used some iteration of the word "exciting" several times in this paragraph? It's to make up for the fact that this film contains none of that.

The story takes place two years after the tragic events that unfolded in the first film, where the Délos Corporation has spent BILLIONS revamping their theme parks and their safety features. To generate some positive buzz, Délos has invited reporters Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) to tour the facilities and offer a good review in return. We get some tension between Chuck and Tracy as they argue over who deserves the scoop more. In this film from 1976, TV reporter Nancy states to print report Chuck "Nobody reads anymore!" Sadly, this is the only on-point statement made in the film. Meanwhile, Chuck is contacted by a man who says that he has some dirt on Délos and would like to meet him. However, the man is killed before he can spill the beans, and Chuck's nose-for-news crinkles. Much like in the first film, Délos' theme park is made up of separate worlds for the consumer to choose from: Spaworld, Medieval World, Romanworld and the new Futureworld. The reporters are guided through the tour by the slick and sophisticated Dr. Duffy (Arthur Hill), who shows them that all their problems have been solved because all the staff and technicians are robots, eliminating human error from the process. We get a truly awkward scene where Tracy attempts to flirt with a technician before she realizes he is a robot, one of many awkward scenes involving Tracy. The most memorable scene involved a dream sequence with The Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) from the first film. Surely, Brynner was brought into the cast to generate some interest, but the scene between he and Danner is one of pure camp and unintentional hilarity. Eventually, finding some sort of scoop wins out for Chuck and Tracy, as we find them swiftly walking through underground hallways, through various rooms with lots of electrical equipment, through broom closets, through ventilation systems, through locked doors.....you get the idea. There are way too many scenes of reporters snooping around and not enough of anything else really happening. Finally, twenty minutes before the movie ends, the main characters find out what's going on after the audience has already put the pieces together. So while we sit on our thumbs, having already figured it out, we have to wait on Chuck and Tracy to slowly make their way around the basement, running from various robots, some of who are not even chasing them.

Richard T. Heffron directed Futureworld and it has a definitive made-for-TV feel to it, which isn't a surprise, since Heffron was noted for making made-for-TV films around this time. Heffron's style is more suited for the small screen, as on the big screen here it just falls flat and uninspired. The pacing of the movie is very dull, with a lot of talking and scenes of people sneaking around corners, trying to explore unseen. The score is also uninspired, which only adds to the made-for-TV feel. The screenplay is filled with corny dialogue between Fonda and Danner, and is so preoccupied with trying to build suspense toward a big reveal. The problem is we already know what the big reveal is because they show us an hour into the film, with the main characters being drugged and taken into a laboratory. Later on, they wake up and act as if nothing happened and continue snooping around, while the audience wants the story to hurry up and show the reporters what the hell is going on. Another issue lacking about the screenplay is the fact that we're not sure when Délos went from the theme park business to the evil business, and the motivations of the main villain are never truly revealed.

There really isn't much depth to the characters in Futureworld. Chuck Browning is a reporter who believes he's onto a story and insists on going off on his own looking for the scoop. That's pretty much all there is to him. Peter Fonda isn't given much to work with and the performance suffers because of that. The same can be said for Blythe Danner as Tracy, although she is given a little fire in the beginning. Eventually, that peters out and we're left with an empty character here as well. There is little to no chemistry between the two leads and when faced with their eventual robotic clones (SPOILER ALERT), we have trouble deciding which is which, and not in the way the story intended. One bright spot was Stuart Margolin as one of the lone human Délos staff. His relationship with a faceless robot named Clark was one of the more touching aspects of the story and it's unfortunate that it wasn't explored further.

Despite the criticism, Futureworld is not a horrible film but it is not remotely remarkable either. It is dull and plodding, and there isn't much action until the final fifteen minutes when our heroes attempt to make their way out of the facility. It is a small-screen film given the big-screen treatment and a lot is lost in the transition. The characters are not particularly deep and the motivations of the antagonists are not explored to any level of depth, leaving the audience bored and full of questions (if they were even paying attention). Aside from the bizarre and campy dream scene with Yul Brynner, Futureworld has no energy and isn't very fun.

One of the final images of Futureworld. Can't find a good ending to your film? FLIP THE BIRD! Problem solved.

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