I wonder how closely the 2016 HBO series, Westworld, advertised as an hour-long, dark odyssey, will follow the Michael Crichton 1973 classic starring Yul Brynner and James Brolin? In Crichton’s film, robots flood the park and guests sin with no consequences. Within the complex theme park visited by the wealthy who choose to indulge their fantasies either in a toga lounging in Roman gardens; as a knight or lady cavorting in a medieval castle; or as a root’n – toot’n cowboy in the Old West, murder is permissible.
White-coat scientists and technicians monitor and repair the robots programmed with one command–to serve the guests who live out their fantasies without moral or legal ramifications. To those who can afford the $7,000 a day price tag, they buy the freedom to indulge in the seven deadly sins with no worries. If this sounds like a quasi-Disney World/Las Vegas hedonistic theme park to you, you wouldn’t be far off. The low-budget, 1973 Westworld plays out this science fiction scenario without the gore–just great special effects. With a PG rating, the techno-horror story builds suspense by the creepy performance of Yul Brynner, the first terminator, the A.I. gunslinger who stalks guests John Blane (James Brolin) and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin). Michael Crichton will replay this theme supplanting robots with dinosaurs in his 1990 masterpiece, Jurassic Park.
Pixelization in film began over forty years ago with a two-minute perspective of the robot in Crichton’s Westworld. I enjoyed the story behind the birth of digital effects in David Price’s article, “How Michael Crichton’s Westworld Pioneered Modern Special Effects” in THE NEW YORKER.
It can be difficult for some to watch science fiction in television and film created decades ago. Delivering the future is problematic; most old films representing a hi-tech world look silly through today’s lens. The future is now, and it is easy to pick apart inaccurate predictions and label the production design as juvenile. I avoid this by considering the ethical issues presented. In this case, “What is real and what rights will A.I. have?” It’s a popular theme in science fiction, no doubt because we’re on the brink of the A.I. breakthrough.
What do we imagine our world will be like forty years from now? Most likely, today’s technology will seem quaint. Perspective is everything.
Ed Harris, as the 2016 stone-faced gunslinger.
Here’s a trailer tease of season one:
It’s almost 2016, and the story has a new life in the medium of television. HBO television. I doubt it will carry a PG rating this time. I imagine this version will be a hybrid with a dystopian feel like The Walking Dead combined with the sexiness of Game of Thrones. The principle cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, and James Marsden. Chris Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, serves as executive producer/writer/director. I haven’t seen his crime drama, Person of Interest, so I can’t comment on his abilities. With J. J. Abrams‘s stamp on the project, I suspect audiences will love it or hate it. I like the looks of the setting, the cast–love Evan Rachel Wood–so, I will check it out, and see if it sticks with me. In fact, Jim’s brother is prop-master on the show; maybe I’ll get lucky and get to visit the set.
What are your thoughts about the 1973 version and next year’s series?