HBO's new series Westworld, created by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies), has been years in the making. Though the teaser trailer for the sci-fi/western finally debuted last summer, production was halted early this year and rumors began swirling about possible problems with the script and even the filmmakers themselves.
Based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film of the same name, Westworld is the story of a western-themed adult amusement park where patrons can participate in their wildest and most dangerous fantasies with realistically-human robots. The AI is so convincing that it seems the park workers don't even realize their lives aren't real, which is where much of the drama in the new series will stem from. The creators have promised an "ambitious, subversive, f***ed-up" show that explores all of the audience's genuine fears about both artificial intelligence and human behavior.
Putting together such an ambitious project, that tackles complex ideas in a mash-up of genres, turned out to be a bigger hurdle than Nolan originally bargained for. In an interview with i09, the writer/director dismissed any conjecture about script problems, explaining that the series had merely been started a bit too hastily.
"We came out of the gate very, very quickly, because we wanted to get on the air as early as possible, and so we started shooting with only a handful of episodes in hand. Nothing that I have done prepared me for the sheer avalanche [of production requirements]. The truth is, what we’re doing there is a 10-hour movie. It’s not really a TV series. When they say ‘It’s not TV, it’s HBO,’ they’re really not kidding."
Nolan expected that his experience writing, shooting, and producing episodes on a tight schedule for Person of Interest would translate well to the Westworld production. Unfortunately, the HBO series didn't have the benefit of a contemporary setting and more procedural storytelling.
"[Westworld is] a period piece and a science fiction film. Literally everything you put in front of the camera has to be built, designed, [or] bought. So it’s just an extremely complicated show to mount and put together. The network’s been extremely supportive."
Executive producer J.J. Abrams also recently confirmed that HBO have been lenient bosses when it comes to deadlines, explaining that Nolan and Joy weren't "rushing it because of business matters and the network is giving them the time." With a big production Nolan describes as a combo of "Alien, Days of Heaven, and Unforgiven," that stars Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, and James Marsden, HBO is understandably willing to wait to make sure everything is done right.
Westworld is reportedly in the final two weeks of production, with Nolan directing the season finale, and Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Bad) directing the episode just before it. While there's still plenty of work to be done, it looks like the series is finally in the home stretch. This may alleviate some of the "f***ing nonsense" Nolan says he's read on the Internet about the production delays, but it won't protect him from any possible criticism once the series debuts.
While the lengthy production time may not have been due to script "problems," per se, the showrunners are likely aware that such an unusual, subversive, genre-bending series will need to be pretty perfect to meet the expectations of the HBO audience. We'll hopefully find out soon if Westworld is worth the wait.
Westworld is expected to premiere on HBO sometime in 2016 or early 2017.