One of the more interesting television shows coming later in 2015 is the HBO series remake of Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi movie Westworld. The series is being developed by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest) and his wife Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies) and produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk.
Ostensibly about a theme park where the attractions turn on the tourists, the original Westworld was a place where adults could act out their weirdest fantasies with the help of artificial-intelligence-powered robots. Nolan and Joy’s take on the material will be far more in-depth, something they promise will be “the most ambitious, subversive, f***ed-up television series.“
Now, EW has released their full-length interview with the couple, who have a lot to say about their intentions with Westworld, the influence of Michael Crichton’s original film, and the public’s almost subliminal neurosis about artificial intelligence – a fear they intend to trigger as much as possible.
According to Nolan, the idea for a Westworld remake was J.J. Abrams’, who approached the couple with the idea. The rich world behind Michael Crichton’s film was just one reason to get excited. According to Nolan and Joy:
Nolan: In that usual Michael Crichton fashion, he never wrote anything that was just a film — there was always a massive world behind it that could be mined. Lisa and I thought about it a little bit, and came to the realization this had literally everything that we’re interested in in one series. We couldn’t say no.
Lisa Joy: It’s such an amazing world. It’s such an amazing platform for examining so many things that are top of mind for me intellectually, emotionally, psychologically. Jonah and I joked that it’s kind of like we took a bunch of movies that we were thinking about writing and shoved it all into this TV series. It’s been incredibly thrilling.
The original film fell into a fairly straightforward three-act structure. When asked how they intended to expand the premise and universe into a weekly series, Nolan expanded on the idea of a massive world behind Crichton’s original narrative, and went into detail on how the concept was ahead of its time, saying:
He knew so much about the technologies that were about to emerge, spent so much time thinking about how they would actually work. Consider the fact that the original film was written prior to the existence of even the first video game. Think about massive multiplayer role-playing games, and the complexity and richness of video game storytelling. When he wrote ‘Westworld,’ none of that existed! So it’s a film that anticipated so many advances in technology. The film has a structure that barrels forward – there’s this unstoppable android hellbent on vengeance – and it preceded ‘The Terminator’ by 10 years.
Nolan stated that “a lot of the richer, darker questions in narratives are the more daring work being done in television,” while Joy described the obvious draw of a TV series approach to storytelling as a chance to delve deep into the narrative, or as she put it: “The glory of doing it as a series is that you get to kind of dance in the little spaces that were left unexplored.”
Still, Nolan and Joy have no intention of spilling any of the plot’s secrets quite so soon. When asked if they could describe even their version’s premise, Nolan replied:
Not really. What I love about working with J.J. is it’s just like working with my brother, Chris. There’s a commitment [to secrecy] there in an age in which anyone who sits down to watch anything already knows f–king everything. Our commitment is preserving the old-fashioned audience experience. [We want you to] come in knowing as little as possible.
When the discussion turned to some past properties which have dealt with some of the same themes (Almost Human, Dollhouse), Nolan referenced his brother Christopher’s favorite movie (Blade Runner) and talked about their interest in addressing some of the unanswered questions yet remaining in the genre, saying:
Nolan: A.I. [Artificial Intelligence] is a topic that Lisa and I are both fascinated by. And the thing about science fiction is that it’s past the golden age. The great [talents] have already taken a crack at lot of this. But it’s still very pleasurable take a swing at some of the bigger ideas.
Joy: I think the other thing that’s fascinating about doing this now is, in a short amount of time since ‘Blade Runner’ came out, the kind of science that we’re talking about has become closer to “science” than it is to the “fiction” part of “science-fiction.” I think we’re standing at an interesting precipice from which to both view the future and to hypothesize about the future. I think that all of that new information will help add new dimensions to this world.
The couple deflected some questions on how closely their androids will resemble actual humans (“That’s a very good question”), and while they remained vague on just what kind of theme park their Westworld would be – physical or virtual – Nolan commented on the irony of people looking for an “authentic” experience in such a setting and said that ultimately: “It’s a place where you can be whoever the **** you want to be and there are no consequences. No rules, no limitations.”
Nolan commented on the remarkable casting coup of Anthony Hopkins in his first television show (as Westworld’s mysterious creator): “We’ve been able to collaborate with a legendary actor [and it’s] been a pleasure.” As for the series’ over-arching theme of A.I. rum amok, Joy and Nolan touched on prescient Crichton’s original vision turns out to have been, with some tech visionaries warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence even as they help bring about its birth.
According to Nolan:
I would say, picture your neurosis. Picture the things that keep you up at night – human behavior, artificial intelligence – any of those things that trouble you, worry you. That is exactly what the show is about. We are hoping to exploit all of those anxieties… We’re incredibly excited about it, both on the narrative level and on a cinematic level.
We’ve seen a mashup of sci-fi and Western genres before (Jon Favreau’s ill-fated Cowboys & Aliens comes to mind), but Nolan, Joy and company seem intent on spinning the original film’s premise into a unique way to explore some very relevant underlying issues and phobias in our everyday lives. The degree of creative liberty implied by their association with HBO could see Westworld becoming one of the year’s standout TV offerings.
What do you think, Screen Ranters? Are you looking forward to seeing Westworld on HBO? Let us know in the comments.
Westworld will debut on HBO in 2015.