HBO’s Westworld is one of fall’s most buzzed about new series. Created by the esteemed Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, it reimagines Michael Crichton’s 1973 cult classic as a deeply meta exploration of what it means to be human. Like the film that preceded it, the show navigates the world of a futuristic theme park in which hyper-realistic androids serve as a hedonistic escape for vacationing guests, allowing them to enact their most visceral fantasies sans consequence.
The new iteration makes a number of playful nods to Crichton’s ill-fated adventureland: Delos, its name in the film, is imprinted across several walls, the Man In Black bears an uncanny resemblance to the movie’s Gunslinger, and creative director Dr. Robert Ford makes an explicit reference to the androids’ hands– a telltale sign that they weren’t human in the 1973 flick. But the modernized spin uses the original film as more of a touchstone than a literal interpretation, trading shoot ‘em up action for intricate, slow build suspense, albeit with its fair share of carnage. With that in mind, here are 15 of the show’s largest departures from the original film.
15. The perspectives are broader
Save for a brief sequence of pixilated imagery meant to symbolize the android Gunslinger’s point of view, Crichton’s 1973 precursor largely unfolded through the eyes of two guests: first time visitor Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and Delos frequenter John Blane (James Brolin).
The series, however, widens the scope by shifting through viewpoints from guests, staffers, and the park’s robotic “hosts.” It also examines those categories at closer range, including everyone from high-level executives and Westworld veterans to vigilant security guards and fresh-faced families. Among the characters it explores are reluctant newcomer William (Jimmi Simpson), inquisitive programming head Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), and Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), a beautiful, blonde android designed as a young, southern ingénue.
Whereas the original plot was restricted to a trim 88-minute run time, the reboot’s television adaption allows for a slow, rich, and expansive dive into the park’s various inhabitants, opening the door to a number of important questions on artificial intelligence.
14. A robot is the protagonist
The original film focused squarely on three central characters: visiting guests Peter Martin and John Blane, and savage machine-turned-murderer the Gunslinger. The latter serves more as a violent, rudimentary shell for brute force than as a legitimate villain, letting Martin take the lead as an adept first-time visitor hell bent on survival.
In HBO’s iteration, Jonathan Nolan and Co. instead aim the spotlight at Dolores, a wide-eyed rancherette who wakes up bright and beaming every morning, kisses her father goodbye, and rides off into town to run errands and paint by the river. Though she appears young and sprightly, she’s actually the oldest android in the park, and her current stint in Westworld is only one in a string of carefully designed narratives she’s lived out. As programming head Bernard Lowe continuously disregards a glitch in her system, she grows gradually more self-aware of her history.
13. The robots are more emotionally complex
The androids in Crichton’s version are presented as hollow, emotionless creatures. In one particular scene, newcomer Peter Martin expresses nerves about sleeping with a stranger—let alone a robotic prostitute—and his partner all but ignores him, rotating through her programmed actions without as much as a second glance.
In contrast, the TV series’ androids are present and engaged. They’re wired to read (and mimic) the slightest of behaviors, from the tiny curl of a smile to the furrowing of an eyebrow. Their interactions with each other are deeper, too, as evidenced by a bubbling romance between Dolores and Teddy Flood (James Marsden), her valiant, well-mannered fellow host.
Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have said in interviews they wanted to build an emphatic relationship between the robots and their viewers. “We were just fascinated by that,” Nolan told Esquire. “The moment in which the robot’s behavior becomes so close to human that it’s only in the tiny subtle ways that you’re exploring the question of, well, are they sentient or not? Because they certainly seem sentient.”
12. There’s only one theme park
Crichton’s story spread across three separate destinations: the Euro-centric Medieval World, the ancient, empire-driven Roman World, and the rough-and-tumble sprawl of West World. The plot largely took place within West World, which is likely why they settled on it as the film’s namesake, but there are scenes and characters derived from all three attractions.
Thus far, the TV adaption has remained staunchly in the Old American West, though producers have toyed with the idea of expanding the show’s universe in subsequent seasons. “The film’s story was virtually limitless and so is television at this moment with audiences enjoying shows that break out of their traditional story structures,” Nolan told Deadline. “We definitely look to fully exploit that aspect of storytelling.”
Only a few episodes in, it’s clear there’s a lot to digest in Westworld alone, especially with a much larger selection of perspectives to ponder. It’s likely the series won’t touch on Medieval or Roman World until a few seasons have passed.
11. The park is more family friendly
Kids had no business being in the early ‘70s stages of Delos, an adult-only amusement park that hinged upon lawless hedonism, violent bloodbaths, and R-rated romps. It seems, however, that the entertainment has evolved to include family-friendly activities in the 40-plus years since the original breakdown.
In the series premiere, “The Original,” a human child and his parents are shown wandering through West World’s frontier when they come across Dolores. Their interaction is friendly and tame, but it’s clear these PG areas are limited; the mother later warns the family that they “shouldn’t cross the river.”
The second episode, “Chestnut,” uncovers a few more children, albeit the robotic kind. During a walk through the desert, creative director Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) comes across a young android boy he’s able to control with the flick of a hand. Meanwhile, the ruthless Man In Black (Ed Harris) threatens to kill a host’s daughter if she doesn’t help him with his enigmatic quest.
10. There aren’t any rules
Though the original film certainly isn’t short on barbarism, there appeared to be at least some sort of legal structure in place. When guest Peter Martin fatally shot a robot, the town sheriff promptly threw him in jail and warned him a hanging judge would arrive the following week. It’s likely Martin’s stint behind bars was simply meant as part of the fictional experience, but it brings up a clear divergence from the series.
In modern-day Westworld, shoot-outs are not only frequent but encouraged. Longtime visitor Logan stabs an old treasure hunter in the hand simply for heckling him and his friend, and the Man in Black’s burgeoning death count is far past sadistic. Those behind closed doors don’t seem fazed by their guests’ excessive violence, instead giving them free reign to attack their creations. In fact, the HBO version also frequent portrays sexual assault, while the 1973 project seemed to draw the line at prostitution.
9. There are more behind-doors details
In addition to richer character development for park employees, the modern take on Westworld also delves deeper into what goes on behind scenes. The facilities themselves are massive, running from a stunning veranda with sweeping desert views through endless levels of underground production.
Inside, we see the factory-like production of the androids’ bodies, how they’re hosed off and spruced up after a long, bloody day, and the dark, dank basement they’re stored in when they’re deemed out-of-service. Perhaps most revealing are the interviews conducted by staffers, in which they regularly quiz robots to ensure their functionality is good. Here, we see each android has various modes of consciousness, including sleep, analysis, and their regular, waking storylines.
The film also offers glimpses behind doors, but they’re kept brief and purely technical. We see workers gathering dead, discarded bodies at the end of each day, and fiddling with the robots’ wiring in a hospital-like room.
8. The “infection” is different
The downfall of ‘70s-era West World was a systemic malfunction that spread like an infection amongst the androids, beginning in the Roman and Medieval Worlds before reaching a fever pitch in the West. The bug caused the robots to act autonomously while also reversing their inability to kill guests, forcing the dueling Gunslinger into a murderous frenzy.
The TV reboot has already begun to show signs of a similar failure, but this time the glitch is far more complex. The park’s robots have been programmed to carry out various storylines since their creation. These narratives are akin to past lives that are wiped clean from the androids’ hard drives before beginning a new plot. However, creative director Dr. Ford introduces new software called “reveries,” a series of gestures meant to give the robots more hyper-realistic movement by recalling previous memories. Inadvertently, the update causes several machines to begin actually remembering. At only a few episodes in, it’s difficult to tell if the defect will advance in a similarly violent direction, or if it will simply make the robots more human.
7. The “gunslinger” isn’t a robot
For fans of the Westworld film, one of the biggest shocks of HBO’s take came in the form of the repurposed gunslinger. Portrayed by Yul Brynner in the film, he’s a duel-starting android who eventually launches into a lethal shooting spree. Ed Harris’ Man In Black is a clear nod to the original character, but with one crucial difference: he’s human.
While it’s often difficult to decipher between machine and person, the TV adaption follows the same rule as its predecessor: robots can be killed, guests cannot. And thus far, the Man In Black is bulletproof. Instead, he seems to be a seasoned visitor bored with the allure of the park’s debauchery. He arrives in search of hidden-level maze that promises the ultimate key to Westworld’s game. He’s also seemingly one of the park’s most valuable clients; despite leaving an uncharacteristically long trail of slaughtered robots in his wake, staffers repeatedly turn a blind eye.
6. The cast size is double the film’s
The Westworld of 1973 was comprised of a rather small-scale cast, including the three leading men and about a dozen additional faces. Most of the supporting parts weren’t even granted legitimate names, instead featuring placeholder-like titles. Alan Oppenheimer (The Six Million Dollar Man) was simply “Chief Supervisor,” Victoria Shaw (Edge of Eternity) was “Medieval Knight,” and Steve Franken (Transylvania Twist) was labeled the vague but wordy “Delos technician shot dead by the gunfighter.”
The 2016 iteration, on the other hand, boasts an ensemble roster with upwards of 30 characters. There are 16 people in the main cast alone, with assists from at least 18 announced recurring roles. It doesn’t come close to HBO’s sister hit Game of Thrones—which recorded a whopping 257 credits in its third season—but it’s still a substantial selection, and if the producers do decide to add Medieval and Roman World down the road, it’s one that will only get bigger.
5. There are women in the main cast
Men ran the show in Crichton’s Westworld. The guests appeared to be almost exclusively male, and the handful of women roaming the frontier received minimal screentime.
Forty years later, HBO has quite literally flipped the script, trading three leading men for a female protagonist. Five other women are featured prominently in the main roster, including stern operations leader Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), standout programmer Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), and strong-willed madam Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). Elsewhere on the docket are Angela Sarafyan (The Good Guys), Tessa Thompson (Creed), and Lili Simmons (Hawaii Five-0), among others. The women are also given more elaborate storylines, as well as sizable chunk of broadcast time.
To be fair, the male-to-female ratio is relatively disproportionate regardless of decade. Five women make the cut in the 1973 version’s 15-person cast, while 11 of HBO’s 33-strong lineup are women, resulting in roughly a 1:2 ratio for each.
4. The development took three times as long
After Crichton penned the screenplay in August of 1972, the Westworld film was shopped around, cast, shot, and edited in just over a year. Nonetheless, pre-production was bumpy. It was offered to all the major studios, but MGM was the only one to take the bait. After they picked up the movie, they demanded script changes up until the first day of shooting, and the leads weren’t confirmed until two days before filming began.
On the contrary, the TV adaption was tossed around for decades before finally making its way to the small screen. Warner Bros. had been considering it since the early ‘90s, and HBO finally picked up a pilot in 2013. Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burke were all attached to the show from the start. Production began in 2014 and the series premiered in October of 2016, bringing the development tally to three years in total.
3. It has an experienced production team
Crichton had been an accomplished novelist before stepping behind camera. Although best known today for Jurassic Park, his sixth novel, 1969 techno-thriller The Andromeneda Strain, was the one that solidified his status as a best-seller several years before Westworld’s success. He first turned to film with TV movie Pursuit in 1972, but Westworld marked his feature directorial debut. His producer, Paul Lazarus III, was also relatively inexperienced, having only helmed two shorts and one full-length, Extreme Close-Up, also written by Crichton.
In contrast, HBO’s reboot is largely comprised of industry veterans. Co-creator Jonathan Nolan has collaborated with his brother Christopher on several mega-watt films—Memento (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), Interstellar (2014)—and Lisa Joy worked on both Pushing Daisies and Burn Notice. Executive producer J..J. Abrams has an extensive career, most recently tackling box office record-breaker Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). He’s often teamed with fellow executive producer Bryan Burke, who contributed to the Star Trek reboot series, Lost, and Person of Interest, among others. Jerry Weintraub, known for his work on The Karate Kid (1984) and Ocean’s Eleven franchise, rounds out the top-tier production team.
2. The original spin-off series was a flop
Few may remember Westworld’s first transition to television. The short-lived series, titled Beyond Westworld, premiered on CBS in March of 1980. It was developed and produced by Lou Shaw, a seasoned exec whose roots traced back to Studio 57. Though it was a direct spin-off, rather than a reboot like HBO’s, it diverged from the original movie by attributing the androids’ killing spree to deranged, power-hungry scientists controlling their switchboards behind doors.
Only five episodes were produced and only three aired before cancelation, though it did receive nominations for two Primetime Emmy Awards: Outstanding Achievement in Makeup and Outstanding Art Direction for A Series.
The newly revitalized take, however, has already raked in rave reviews and major ratings. The inaugural episode delivered a strong 3.3 million viewers across its first two airings and streaming. It was HBO’s biggest premiere audience since True Detective’s first season nearly three years ago. To date, Westworld’s premiere episode has amassed nearly 12 million viewers, and the subsequent two episodes have remained on par with its opening viewership.
1. The budget is 80 times larger
The original film squeaked by with a tight budget of $1.25 million. MGM initially refused to make the project for over $1 million, but later tacked on $250,000. HBO’s reboot blasts that price tag out of the water, reportedly coming in at a hefty $100 million for the first 10 episodes alone. Even per-episode budgets dwarfed the original’s, landing around $8 million to $10 million each.
The reboot was an expensive gamble for HBO, whose costly Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese team-up, Vinyl, flopped earlier this year. It opened to only 764,000 viewers last February, and received mixed reviews from critics throughout its first season. HBO prematurely greenlit a second season soon after the pilot aired, but ultimately rescinded the announcement.
With their long-running smash Game of Thrones fast approaching an end, pressure is high for Westworld to be the network’s new breadwinner. Luckily, it seems their investment is on its way to a huge payoff.
Westworld airs Sundays @9pm on HBO.
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