Michael Crichton’s original 1973 Westworld is considered a classic of the science-fiction genre. Set in a futuristic resort whose guests find themselves under attack when the humanoid robots built to enact varied fantasy scenarios turn lethal, it’s themes of systemic breakdown and the dangers of technology-as-entertainment have influenced subsequent films, books and TV series from The Terminator to Crichton’s own Jurassic Park — along with it’s own sequel, Futureworld, in 1976.
Now, the franchise is headed to HBO as a new series; and its creators are taking an entirely new angle on the story that will center the malfunctioning (or are they?) android characters.
The original Westworld (so named for the Old West themed portion of a much larger complex encompassing several other “Worlds,”) chiefly followed the exploits of a pair of vacationers who discovered too late that the high-tech humanoid robots programmed to act out gunfights and other cowboy-fantasy scenarios for them to interact with had malfunctioned and were attempting to kill them for real. A the time a send-up of the then-new obsession with cutting-edge animatronic attractions at theme parks like Disney World, it also served as a sly social-satire as wealthy vacationers found themselves assailed by the “hosts” they’d been treating as literal objects.
The new series, created by Johnathan Nolan and Pushing Daisies’ Lisa Joy, promises to turn that premise on its head (and expand it) by focusing on the androids’ side of the story — with an added implication that the laboratory-engineered “hosts” are beginning to develop genuine sentience, threatening a rebellion against the guests whose every desire (no matter how violent or perverse) they are meant to service. Explains Nolan:
“That’s the reason we wanted to do the show, and what the early conversations with [fellow executive producer J.J. Abrams] centered on – that the show should turn the original movie inside-out, with the “hosts” as the protagonists When it comes to the question of consciousness, we always start with ourselves as the answer. As the be-all-end-all. It’s understandable – we’re the only consciousness we’re familiar with. But we wanted to challenge that assumption. The “hosts” are discovering that they’ve been created in our image, but beginning to question if “humanness” is really what they want to aspire to. And given their circumstances, it’s easy to understand why they start to question whether they want to be like us at all…”
The series has faced several production delays and at one point was thought to have been shut down completely, but now boasts an impressive pedigree in the form of well-regarded actors like Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, and Thandie Newton along with an impressive production design. According to Joy, the long lead-time also allowed the show’s creators to get a much firmer grasp on the complex, unique material:
“The show is complicated and ambitious. For the first half of the series we were writing while in production and we needed the time to catch up on scripts. Taking that time allowed us to really finesse all the storylines we set up – deepening character arcs and delving further into the series’ larger mythological questions. By finishing all the episodes before returning to shooting, we were able to concentrate on production in the latter half of the show – making sure the last few episodes were as ambitious on the screen as they were on the page.”
Westworld is expected to hit HBO in October of 2016.
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