There are simply some ideas that look better on paper than they do on film. The impending JJ Abrams' HBO reboot of the 1973 creepy science fiction masterpiece Westworld - a tale written and directed by author Michael Crichton, wherein an adult theme park with eerily human-like robots goes to Hell when the androids begin to act out in a most inefficient (read: deadly) manner - certainly seems like one to me. After all, once the circuits hit the fan in the show, where can you possibly go without any hope of things becoming a bit redundant and silly? Well, one only need take a peek at the 1980 CBS television series Beyond Westworld to get a pretty good idea of what might happen. And no amount of lens flares imagery will help you then, Mr. Abrams! (Heck, Crichton himself knew Westworld wouldn't work in even novel form - and deliberately turned it into a movie.)
Then again, AMC's The Walking Dead has somehow managed to survive for several seasons now, so perhaps the public craves shows that are a bit redundant and silly. And if that's the case, then Beyond Westworld was most assuredly ahead of its time. Because this one's pretty darn silly, kids.
Though the series is set between the events of Westworld and the critically-panned Futureworld, it virtually ignores the entire ending of the original iconic film. Thus, the fate of Richard Benjamin's character here - and probably even that of James Brolin's, for that matter (if you think about it) - are left undetermined in this weird, unannounced alternate reality. Beyond Westworld begins with some hilariously mismatched footage of Delos Corporation security chief John Moore (Jim McMullan) arriving at Delos headquarters in the rain (no wait, it's just an optical effec-- AARAGH, it's raining again - this time against an arguably noticeable canvassed backdrop!) only to learn by chick-in-charge Laura Garvey (Judith Chapman) that Westworld has been destroyed.
Well, sort of. Actually, things look pretty good there. In fact, the gunslinger - or "the gunfighter", as he's known here, possibly to avoid any confusion since he's dressed exactly the same (though is portrayed by an as-far-away-from-Yul-Brynner-as-you-can-get guy named Alex Kubik) is still intact and rarin' to scratch his itchy trigger finger.
But destroyed they say it is, so it must undoubtedly be. Who am I to argue with the braintrust that is the Delos Corporation? Especially once you observe that high-profile Delos technician Joseph Oppenheimer (William Jordan, whose character apparently pays respect to the chief technician of the original '73 film, as played by actor Alan Oppenheimer) sports not one, but both styles of US one-sheet theatrical posters for Westworld on his wall. Wait, what? I'm guessing these are supposed to be advertisements for the now-failed and shamelessly-disgraced theme park he helped to design, wherein multiple innocent vacationers were tortured and slaughtered by a race of murderous mechanical beings. Yeah, I could see why he'd keep those up on his wall after that - especially since one of the posters, which bore the classic tagline "...Where nothing can possibly go worng!" [sic], bears the likenesses of (presumably real life in this alternate reality) actors Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. (Look, you figure it out!)
But once we get past that - or beyond Westworld, if you will [ta-dum] - this short-lived series shows its hand: and while it's obvious from frame one that the people who made this series weren't playing with a full deck, you can rest assured that they also bluffed their way into losing a relatively small pot to boot. The pilot episode quickly introduces us to our heroes as well as our main villain, played here by the vastly underrated James Wainwright, who quite often literally phones it in as articulately as possible as bad guy Simon Quaid. As we soon learn in a grand display of exposition, Quaid is the actual inventor of the androids, and basically turned to evil once his creations were put to use as playthings by Delos. He's a brilliant antagonist hellbent on revenge - and the only thing that will make him feel better is world domination. And what better way to do that than with a secret army of mechanical minions who just happen to have omnipotent cameras and the added bonus of a big-breasted 'bot (Ann McCurry aka Nancy Harewood, a distant cousin of President Obama)? Now that I can understand.
OK, I think I may be losing track of which reality I myself am presently based in, to be perfectly frank.
Anyhow, after only one episode, show literally begins to follow the same formula: star McMullan and co-star Connie Sellecca (of The Greatest American Hero fame, who takes over for Judith Chapman after the pilot) are called in to check out the latest of Wainwright's attempts to take over the world - be it through nukes, oil, rock bands, or plain ol' politics; they have to figure out who the impostor android is a lineup of suspects in whatever kind of similar scenario they may be in; and the bad guy always drives away from the scene in his limo piloted by none other than Severn Darden (who takes over for Stephen Moss in the pilot), his next diabolical plot already hatching in the back of his nefarious (and probably very underpaid) mind. In fact, so formulaic is Beyond Westworld - even before you reach the conclusion of the pilot - that you can plainly see why only five hour-long episodes were ever completed.
And therein lies one of the show's potential for a little awesome bits of useless trivia. Originally initiated as a midseason replacement, the goofy and delightfully cheesy series was axed after only three of said five episodes had a chance to air in March of 1980. Reportedly, MGM shut down production during the filming of another chapter in this bizarre alternate reality once word got 'round from CBS, and later regretted that decision when the show was picked up for syndication in Australia and Japan (because they're like that over there - and God bless 'em for it!), as with six episodes under their belt, they could have brought in a little lost revenue for the disaster from overseas distribution. [Mind you, this is all according to information I read on the Interwebs people, so I can't say for certain.] In fact, when you take note of that fiasco and weigh in the sheer awfulness (but enjoyably so) of the series, you might slap a tagline on it reading "Where everything went worng!"
Notable guest stars for this abandoned theme park include a number of (sometimes only somewhat) famous faces, including Christopher Connelly (shortly before he entered his Italian B movie phase, which he is probably best-known for today), big guy Denny Miller, Rene Auberjonois (it just wouldn't be an official sci-fi franchise without him, you know) as a rock star (what, really?), Otis Day (yes, really), and cult film figure Michael Pataki. Gilligan's Island's own Russell Johnson joins the last two episodes as an associate of Wainwright (who is probably the nicest villain in television history, actually), and the one and only George Takei (OK, it really isn't an official sci-fi franchise without him!) has a brief bit as an evil robot doctor in the last of the previously-unaired episodes - which also features another cult icon (though of a lesser scale), the great Robert (The Hideous Sun Demon) Clarke as a reporter.
Other guest performers range from a few familiar bit players to some bizarrely they-must-have-known-someone-working-behind-the-scenes-somewhere complete unknown non-actors, which of course ups the ante of enjoyability. One such name in particular is Canadian TV/B movie actor extraordinaire Jeff Cooper, who not only sports quite the white guy 'fro/mullet hairdo(n't), but who can't even back out of frame in a car convincingly. (Cooper actually wound up playing the lead in a short-lived series of Spanish-language films based on Mexican comic book hero Kalimán). Ted Post (The Baby, Beneath the Planet of the Apes) is among the list of directors - which also includes Rod Holcomb (Wonder Woman, Battlestar Galactica, The Six-Million Dollar Man) Jack Starrett (thus effectively connecting Beyond Westworld to Blazing Saddles in addition to everything else under the cinematic sun), and the very prolific Don Weis.
With a lot of hot buzz over JJ Abrams' future Westworld reboot about, and a high demand for the series after the inclusion of the pilot on the Blu-ray release of Westworld, the folks at the Warner Archive Collection have graciously presented this long-lost cult TV show on DVD only a few short days after announcing it at the recent San Diego Comic-Con. The two-disc set presents all five hour-long episodes (I also read on the 'Net that the pilot was originally a two-hour feature, though I am just as uncertain of that over the other trivia I reported here earlier) in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality is quite nice throughout, and shows off the retro Radio Shack props and special effects - as well as the bizarre usage of canvassed backdrops during cutaway shots - in an all-new Better-than-Standard Definition light. Likewise, the English mono audio is as crisp and clear as can be (for a cheapo 1980 CBS sci-fi TV show, that is).
There are no extras for this release (as you probably expected), though the very fact that this one has finally been made available to vintage cheesy TV fans like myself - and I really, honestly do like Beyond Westworld, despite my heavy [good-natured] critiquing of it - is reason enough to add it to your collection.
And it is here that I finally pass the words "Highly recommended" onto you. Enjoy, good people of the west world. (I know I most certainly loved it!)