Futureworld, Richard T. Heffron's 1976 sequel to Michael Crichton's 1973 hit Westworld, was made for AIP and distributed though MGM. It now finds new life on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory, who are bringing it to high definition in North America for the first time following MGM's own MOD version which came out in 2011 on DVD-R.
Set in the future of 1985, the movie takes place a few years after the events of Westworld where we learn that Delos has spent 1.2 billion dollars to take care of the problems that occurred in the first movie (nutshell version: the robots ran amuck and killed some people). Though they've left the Westworld portion of their theme park/resort shut down, they've now got a few new variations on that theme ready to go and for the paltry sum of $1200.00 a day, anyone can enjoy Medieval World, Roman World or Futureworld where all of their fantasies can be made reality. With the development and successful launch of some new and more advanced robots (the kind that cannot be distinguished from living, breathing flesh and blood people), Delos is so sure that nothing will go wrong this time that they're open to having the press come and check things out.
Enter Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda), a tough newspaper reporter who wanders into work one day only to get a phone call from a man named Frenchy - he's got a scoop on Delos and will only talk to him about it. They arrange to meet, but just before Chuck arrives, Frenchy is stabbed in the back. Before he dies, he mutters 'Delos' and hands Chuck an envelope full of papers. Chuck heads back to the office where his editor teams him up with successful TV news lady Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danning) and lets them know that they're going to be going off together to check out Delos' new creations. Though Tracy initially wants nothing to do with Chuck, who calls her 'Socks', she's told 'he has an angle' and before you know it they're off to Futureworld. Along for the ride are some camera happy Japanese visitors, a blue collar game show winner who doesn't quite know what to do with his money, and a Russian general and his wife. Chuck and Tracey meet with those in charge and are told they'll have complete access to anything and everything they want, but of course, things are not as they seem. As Chuck and Tracy start snooping around, they come to this realization on their own, and then there's the matter of the familiar Gunslinder (Yul Brynner) who appears in Tracy's dream, and the mysterious Dr. Schneider (John Ryan)...
Futureworld starts off with a really trippy opening sequence in which we watch an eyeball form within the pupil of another eyeball. This gets our attention pretty much immediately and with a fairly quick set up telling us what's been done to correct the mistakes of the past, and we're off. Throw in a mysterious murder early on and you'd think this one is going to really hit the ground running - making it all the more unusual then that once we actually get to Delos, things slow down a bit. Shot partially on location in the Johnson Space Center, and as such we see firsthand a lot of very cool seventies era technology in action. This also lends some authenticity to the scenes that take place behind closed doors at Delos, where the industrial side of the resort is shown. The film also makes excellent use of color and is very nicely photographed, be it Chuck and Tracy competing against one another in a game of holographic chess or the Russian general and his wife travelling back in time to enjoy their younger, more romantic days together.
Part of the problem with the movie, however, is that these little glimpses of future technology and the subplots that go along with them don't always add up to much. Yes, they're creative and cool to see but they don't necessarily compliment the story and instead feel like weird little diversions that end up padding the film a fair bit. Once we do get to the core of the plot and Chuck and Tracy start really seriously looking into the truth behind the robots, things get interesting but it does take some time getting there. The effects are decent, the design work for the infamous faceless robot is reasonably haunting and there are plenty of great ideas strewn about as the movie progresses but the film winds up a case where a lot of what makes the movie interesting doesn't ultimately add up to more than mild superficial thrills. Had the plotting been stronger and the pacing been better we'd have wound up with a film that could possibly have bested its predecessor. That doesn't happen, and while Futureworld is moderately entertaining despite the aforementioned problems, it never quite lives up to its full potential.
Shout! Factory presents Futureworld in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Generally this is a pretty solid presentation. There are some spots where you can't help but notice some minor print damage here and there - scratches and what not - but it's never particularly distracting or irritating. The movie's grain structure doesn't appear to have been tinkered with much so we get a fairly film like presentation here. Detail and depth won't floor you the way some Blu-ray's do but it definitely surpasses what DVD could offer, particularly in close up shots. Skin tones look fairly natural here and black levels are good if not quite reference quality. Color reproduction looks very nice and there are some scenes, such as the holographic chess game, that really do shine in this department. Overall, this is a pretty nice image and fans should be pleased with Shout!'s efforts in this department.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 track - there are no alternate audio options supplied though optional English subtitles are provided. The audio here is perfectly fine: the dialogue is plenty easy to understand, the levels are properly balanced and there are no issues to note with any audible hiss or distortion. The track is clean, clear and has about as much depth to it as you can realistically expect for a movie of this age. The score sounds reasonably robust and the sound effects have some decent punch to them.
Outside of chapter selection and menu screens, we get a trailer for the feature, a couple of radio spots and a still gallery.
Futureworld never manages to hit the heights of tension and suspense as its predecessor but it's an entertaining enough follow up, if not quite a classic. The design work, sets and location work as well as the costumes make for plenty of eye candy and a few twists and turns keep the movie fun, even if it is a bit too long for what it is. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty decent but contains only minimal extras. Recommended for fans of the movie, others may want to rent it first, just to be sure that this is their thing.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.