When HBO premiered its new series “Westworld,” based off of the 70’s Crichton film of the same name, the online reviews came pouring in with nothing but praise. I was told by several of my sci-fi loving friends to watch this show NOW.
So of course, as a busy university student with next to no free time, I began watching. I had not yet seen the original film, and I am glad that I hadn’t at the time. Knowing myself, I would be prone to incredible scrutiny and comparison between the two works. Instead, I watched HBO’s version without any prior knowledge of the concept, and I was completely hooked after the first episode. We seem to have moved from the vampire phase to the post-apocalyptic phase to what I think is now the “AI Phase” of popular culture (see: the 100 S3, Agents of SHIELD S4, Ex Machina, Transcendence, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Mirror). HBO’s Westworld fits right into this trend, and I believe it makes a substantial impact on the genre. Not only does HBO’s Westworld contain as many plot twists as an M. Night Shayamalan film but also its stacked cast, stunning cinematography and gorgeous score written by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones, Prison Break, Iron Man) come together as a true work of cinematic art.
I could go on about how much I love the show, but I decided to simply note the differences between the original 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, ER, Twister) and the new television series produced by HBO. Below are the comprehensive notes from my viewing of the film.
Right off the bat we learn the name of the main company, “Delos,” which hasn’t been introduced in the show yet. We also learn that there are three parks in total: Roman World, Medieval World, and Western World — dubbed “Westworld” — and they are quite close to one another. However on the show Westworld encompasses a large mass of land, and in contrast to the three parks, we only have Westworld and a glimpse of something called “SW” featuring Oriental warriors. Does this mean that HBO’s Westworld is going to go further with the variety of parks? We also learn that the fee for any of the 3 parks offered costs $1000/day, a fee never discussed on the show. Is it the same on the show, with inflation and change in technology? Also, the line “spared no expense” was in the film — also used in Jurassic Park, based off a Crichton novel, which I thought was funny.
They have a weird mix of technologies in the film. The guests arrive on a kind of hovercraft ship, but the monitors are still huge boxes. One neat feature in the film was that the robots were discernible from humans, as “they haven’t perfected the hands yet.” In contrast, the series makes you wonder what’s artificial and what’s real. The two main characters of the film — business partners, one has been to the park before and the other makes it all the way through, a neat parallel to the series — arrive by coach rather than train. In addition, the robots do not seem to be following a “routine” or “storyline” as the HBO show uses as a main feature. I thought it was funny that the main “villain” robot was a “Man In Black.” I am sure that this may have confused many viewers of the HBO at first if they had seen the film previously (most likely anticipated by the writers, allowing the plot twist reveal). In addition, this robot’s — and all of the robots, actually — movements are quite jerky and obvious. They pass well enough as human, but it is painfully clear that they are not fluidly operating beings.
I particularly appreciated the fact that the film did not just focus on Westworld; there was a side storyline occurring in Medieval World. Short clips of Roman World were also shown. I rather enjoyed seeing them as It was a completely new idea, rather than just the one park as shown on the HBO series. One massive contrast I found was the complete lack of personality of the prostitutes in the saloon. On the show we have fiery, headstrong Maeve, evidently a prostitute host but full of personality and conversation. In the film, these robots do not say much and serve only one purpose. This was especially disappointing for me, as it serves a highly popular stereotype of women serving as sex appeal in media and not much else. Essentially muting the women robots and creating them for only the purpose of sex was not only irritating but unnecessary. At the same time in Medieval World, a man attempts to seduce a woman robot and she refuses — the men in the control room commented that she was acting “against her programming.” This gives the strong impression that the majority of the “servant girls” in Medieval World only serve purpose for the man that spend their time there. They did not contribute to the storyline in any way. The only semi-leading character that was a female robot was the Queen in Medieval World but she was incredibly one-dimensional and, quite frankly, boring. Bring me back my Delores and my Maeve. Good on you, HBO.
Continuing on, another contrast I noted was the “operating room” featured in the film. The robots were loaded onto a conveyor belt and were all worked on in the same room that was basically a questionably clean hallway with beds and medical equipment; nothing like the show’s glass walls, technology, and separate rooms. In addition, these robots are very obviously robots as the ones being worked on had their wires sticking out of places, and scientists working on their inner workings like taking apart a computer. This was honestly the biggest contrast for me with the show. The series focuses a lot on the idea of Artificial Intelligence, conversing with the hosts as they run diagnostics. They are surveilled on a tablet, which shows their coding rather than the physical wiring. This way of analysis focuses less on the physical build and more on what’s inside each host. Crichton’s original film was simply the malfunction of technology. HBO’s show literally makes you contemplate whether or not your reality exists.
Crichton created a completely genius concept, constrained by the technology available at the time it was conceived. The movie most definitely looked futuristic to audiences in theatres when it was released. However, 40+ years later, science has made incredible advancements and the film now looks silly to modern audiences. The idea that Michael Crichton had, though, remains brilliant. HBO’s version brings it back to life with today’s modern advancements — and more. The genre of science fiction has imagined all kinds of technology that we have yet to create. In movies such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars or Star Trek series, or even lesser-known movies like Transcendence and Ex Machina, the ideal of Artificial Intelligence has been present, with the accompaniment of greater technology than we possess, whether that be holographic screens or space travel at light speed, so of course it makes sense that the modern reboot of Westworld would include technology greater than ours — the concepts of the hosts’ bodies, their coding, the tablets that the scientists use to control and analyze them, and the idea of Artificial Intelligence. Crichton’s original Westworld seems feasible to our modern audience (I cannot speak for the audiences in the 70s) as it focuses only on robots programmed to accomplish certain tasks, and the showing of their inner workings. However, HBO’s Westworld is fantastical and launches us far into the future of the science fiction genre.
We are in an age where Star Wars and Star Trek are continuing strong in reboots/series continuations, with science fiction at the height of popularity. It has become hard to compete with these huge franchises, and yet here we are with Westworld taking the genre by storm. Every episode has put me quite literally on the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen next, wondering what’s scripted or coded or conscious actions of the hosts. We genuinely care about the hosts, blurring the line even for us whether or not these hosts are just robots or actual characters. I root for Teddy as he fights for Delores. I am captivated by Maeve and her vendetta against all of humanity. I feel pity for Bernard who is doomed for a lifetime of servitude. I know they’re just hosts, but the way they are portrayed in the show is too captivating to not care about them. In Crichton’s film, the robots are robots are robots. There is not much to them. HBO’s Westworld has created a realistic fantasy world in which reality is constantly warped. The show pays a beautiful homage to the original film, but has taken it to the level it not only needed but deserved. I am sure that Crichton would have loved to see what they have done with his brilliant idea.