Westworld vs. Westworld


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.

Underground labs and tunnels connect the three sections of the park with robots to guests.
Underground labs manipulate and control the robots. Or do they?

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.  

Special Effects 

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.

HBO “Westworld” 

Ed Harris, as the 2016 ston- faced gunslinger.

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? 

52 thoughts on “Westworld vs. Westworld

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  1. I love the original 1973 movie. Not a great film per se, but like its premise and deliciously black humor. Brynner was fabulous (he was obviously making fun of his role in The Magnificent Seven). Last time I checked, it was a feature with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m not sure what happen to that project. I didn’t know about the TV show. Okay, I’m allergic to Abrams and Nolan, and I’m not a fan of HBO, so I don’t know what to think. Thanks for the update.

  2. We’re pretty close to this reality (?) right now. If not past it. Virtually we can do it already. And we’re certainly well past the moral questions. We’re so close in fact, the boundaries of illusion and realty – killing and not killing – are being crossed every moment.
    As far the movie is concerned you’re right – despite it’s Star Power – pretty well a B grade movie. Though entertaining. Also we must wonder why this exact theme wasn’t re-done already – as it’s definitely not been exploited in what can be said through it. ??
    And I always a bit why Brynner took this role? Was he out of work? Money? *shrug* Maybe he just liked it?

    1. Hi JC, lots of questions 🙂 which is why I love science fiction. As far as Yul goes, probably a little of all the above. I do know his costume in Westworld was almost identical to The Magnificent Seven. Why not enjoy the iconic stature from M7 and bring it forward to Westworld? He was the perfect gunslinger/robot; his typically chiseled, expressionless face was terrifying to watch when his eyes glowed and he changed his green hue. When the face came off–lovely stuff.

    1. I agree. I suspect the special effects will be dazzling albeit CGI magic is less impressive than old-school effects. I think it will feel more realistic — really, it boils down to how good the script is. Crossing genres– science fiction and western is an interesting contrast. I wonder if they will have the Roman and Medieval world.

    1. Hi Ashley, my favorite part was the tunnel chase. I wish the original expounded upon the gunslinger more. It was a chase scene and that’s about it. There were a couple instances when the robot flinched or appeared to be considering his situation. I hope the newer version plays with that perspective in the narrative. I saw that recently in the film ‘Ex Machina’ and liked the robot’s view more than the human. I assume Evan Rachel Wood’s role will be that of a robot who grapples with her existence. She is a sensitive actor who can do the role justice, I believe.

    1. Hi, Ms. Mutant, welcome. I revisited it a couple weeks ago and liked it. — Notice how James Brolin looks just like Christian Bale — A fresh, technological update is in order. I just don’t want it to be CGI laden. Abrams can be melodramatic, and a little is good, but well, it has to have a vision and an overarching plot that’s believable. We shall see!

  3. As a reasonably keen sci-fi fan, I was delighted with the 1973 film. I suspect with a lot of remakes they are just money making exercises, where somebody just looks through a dictionary of the cinema and asks the question “What could we remake this month?”

    1. John, you are a cynical man, today, and your POV is probably correct–the industry is a business after all. And, it will be hard to create something interesting and exciting to watch especially as a television series. Remember when X-files was truly fascinating for the first couple years? I’m wishing this one the same luck.

  4. It really will come down to the script as everything else looks in place. Not sure how they can improve or expand on the original but, if someone can, JJ’s a smart choice.

    And, as a supplement to your description, Yul Brynner is also the first Michael Myers: the methodically walking stalker-killer with a pale face-mask. 😀

    1. Hi Tim, ha ha, yes, I see Michael Myers in that way, too. The contrast between horrific stress connected to a dispassionate killer –wearing a mask– taps into a love of primal fears, yes? I feel that way about mannequins and clowns. They scare the heck out of me.

      1. Clowns – yes I’m with you on them (creepy vile buggers).

        I think the Twilight Zone made me see mannequins differently though. Perhaps in a more sympathetic light.

        And yes, a dispassionate killer might be the scariest kind – like a shark.

  5. Well old movies are entertaining. It was a simpler world where people were courteous and the bad guys usually got zapped. The unbelievable things happening in those movies gave people an escape from the realities of life. Now to science fiction, computers and monitors were so obviously dated and unprepared for the scenes presented at that time that in today’s world they’re good for a laugh rather than serious contemplation. Occasionally they got it right as with Dick Tracy’s wrist communication watch but even he didn’t visualize the reality of this day. As for the future? Even Spielberg hasn’t a clue. My 9 year old grandson builds real robots at school so it blows my mind as to what else will come up technology wise in future. That is of course if we have a future with the way the international break down of society and the planet is to be taken note of. 🙂

    1. sorry it took so long to reply to your outstanding comment, my computer has been zapped by lightning and I’m trying to make do in a haphazard fashion. Anyway, you raise great points. I’m impressed your 9 year old grand is making robots. I saw this “predict the future” on Discovery channel, and it seems so foreign and scary to me. What history has taught me is that every civilization experiences the worry about the breakdown of society and if you dive into the pool of cynicism, you can talk yourself into an early grave. I’m not a Pollyanna, just living (great compared to previous generations, with my first world problems) my life trying my best to serve others and hold on to values that seem to have vanished. But they are there. There are good people everywhere doing great things. I gave up thinking years ago humanity would “evolve” we’d learn the lessons of the past, there would be no more war, etc. It’s the same story since the beginning of time, just a different setting. We rise, we fall. We dodge, we get hit. We suffer, we die.
      Okay, enough. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I have to say I’m very intrigued by the trailer for Westworld. I’m normally not into Westerns but Sci-fi Westerns sure sounds intriguing! I love Ed Harris too, so it’s definitely promising!

    1. Hi Ruth! I’m going to give it a go. I don’t have HBO, so will have to maneuver around that obstacle. Stream it somehow. Anyway, I’m curious how they will elongate the story line into a full series.

          1. Oh, he co-wrote the Batman films w/ Chris, so he’s definitely a good writer. I didn’t realize Jonathan Nolan’s involved, now I’m even more intrigued by this.

    1. Hi Keith, have you seen the 1973 film? I think you would like it. I don’t have HBO so usually have to wait a year before I can rent it at the library. The only series I follow is House of Cards which is smart and fascinating. Let me know if you like the Yul Brynner film!

        1. I know you like Crichton and Jurassic Park. Same premise–theme park gone awry. I will be curious to see how today’s technology deals with the futuristic park of Westworld. Did you like Ex Machina? I think it will be rather like that.

  7. I liked the movie enough to see it a few times, but will avoid the series,as i detest television. the cast, as you pointed out, does look appealing though. as for special effects, they always look silly to me. even 2001, when it came out, looked as cheesy as anything i saw in the 1950’s. if there has been any improvement in special effects over the decades, i am blind to them. the dinosaurs in the silent version of the lost world look more real to me than those in jurrasic park.

    1. Hi Bill, not surprised by your answer. I’m glad you like the original well enough. I’m cynical when it comes to television, too. House of Cards is good enough for me. It’s smart. Others I don’t really follow. This one has me curious than usual because I know someone who works on the set, so it personalizes the series. I’m hoping for the prop master the series isn’t a sham.

  8. When I saw the original film, I was 21 years old, and thought it was something fresh and different. The last time I saw it (on TV, about two years ago) it seemed dated, and a little silly at times. Age changes perception, that is undeniable.
    I live in England, so won’t have the chance to see the HBO series. I am not sure that I would watch it if I could, although Ed Harris always appeals to me.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  9. I usually feel updates on movies in remakes at least have newer technology. Sometimes stereotypes are diminished between people, men and women along with cultures. I will look forward to 2016 version, Cindy.

    1. yes, Futureworld is not that good in comparison. It’s a fun watch. Brenner wearing his Magnificient 7 costume and his stony face is priceless. While the 70s was inferred the eroticism, I suspect, and your post confirms, that it will be just shy of pornographic. Sigh. What’s so bad about subtlety?

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