For Hicksflicks.com, June 28, 2013

Sequels to hit movies, especially those in the realm of fantasy, are more often than not merely pale retreads of the original. But every once in awhile, one lives up to its potential, and that's the case with the 1976 sequel "Futureworld," which followed "Westworld" (1973), Michael Crichton's first feature film as writer/director.

Crichton's PG-rated "Westworld" is a sci-fi thriller that employs elements of several genres in its witty story of the Delos theme park, in which guests choose to participate in one of three "worlds," — the Old West, medieval Europe or ancient Rome. Costumed for the period, patrons interact with androids programmed to serve their every desire, including realistic conflicts as customers outdraw or out-battle robot antagonists that are designed to let them win. But mechanical malfunctions eventually cause the "bots to run amok as they begin slaughtering guests. And in a protracted and suspenseful climax, a gunslinger from Westworld (Yul Brynner dressed as his character from "The Magnificent Seven") relentlessly pursues guest Richard Benjamin in a way that might make you think of "The Terminator" (though this film preceded that one by more than a decade).

"Futureworld," without Crichton's involvement, goes in a different direction as more of a paranoia thriller. Two years after the debacle of "Westworld," Delos reopens with safety measures in place to ensure nothing like that reoccurs. And with Westworld shuttered, a new "world" has taken its place, Futureworld.

Reporters Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner are invited to tour the facility as it reopens, but eventually they discover that androids are being created to take over the planet from weak, fallible, self-destructive human beings, with a sort of robot-cloning process intended to replace the leaders and tycoons that run the world.

"Futureworld" doesn't have quite the level of visceral thrills served up by "Westworld," but with its more intellectual, deadpan, satirical approach there are still some chills, as well as a few unexpected twists and turns. Fonda and Danner are great together, Stuart Margolin is amusing as a blue-collar worker who tries to help them, and Arthur Hiller excels as the kind of deluded, smooth-talking villain he often played.

Although "Westworld" has long been available on DVD and came to Blu-ray earlier this year, "Futureworld" has not been so easy to find. Though a manufacture-on-demand DVD-R was made available a couple of years ago on the MGM Limited Edition label, a new "Futureworld" Blu-ray offers a remastered edition for the first time, and this is the best it's ever looked on home video (Shout! Factory, PG, $19.97, trailer, radio spots, photo gallery).