HBO, the people who brought us A Game Of Thrones, will bring another epic series to our screens this October, one that many people are predicting could have a similar impact. You can tell big things are expected from Westworld the fact that here in the UK we won’t have to wait an age to see it – Sky Atlantic is premiering it just two days after its Stateside debut.
Westworld is a science fiction drama about the ultimate immersive experience. Through the use of life-like robots, artificial intelligence and a custom built resort, anyone with enough time and money can go to Westworld and be the wild-west hero of their dreams. Except of course, it’s never that simple.
Though this set-up may sound nothing like A Game Of Thrones, the formula behind it is very similar. Much like the popular fantasy show, it’s based on an already successful story. The TV series is inspired by the 1973 movie of the same name, also called Westworld, which was written and directed by Jurassic Park novelist, Michael Crichton. Add to the mix a stellar cast, amazing locations and world filled with violence and nudity and it’s easy to see how this show is tipped to be the next big thing.
Game Of Thrones with Guns?
The core thrust of the show promises to tell the story from the perspective of the androids themselves. The machines are there to indulge the fantasies of their human masters. This means that they get shot, murdered and worse as part of their day to day chores. This sort of thing graphic action may not surprise fans of A Game Of Thrones.
The key twist here is that the various androids are also reprogrammed and re-used. But it seems not all of their memories are reset and their memories begin to bleed through.
In the original movie, much of the focus was on the iconic “Gunslinger” robot, played by the legendary Yule Brynner of The Magnificent Seven fame. In the movie, this rogue machine hunted down the plucky human hero mercilessly. The TV series promises to be much more subtle than that, but the core idea of machines going rogue seems to be the backbone of the new show.
Like Game Of Thrones the show is coming in for criticism for gratuitous sex and the portrayal of it female characters, though it beats Game Of Thrones by causing that controversy even before it’s aired.
The first controversy came late last year when it emerged that extras for the series were being asked to sign a contract that agreed to them filming scenes featuring nudity and graphic sexual situations. “The document that the background actors were given was created by an outside extras casting vendor,” HBO said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly at the time. “It was not requested, written or approved by HBO, Warner Bros Television, or the producers, and contains situations that we do not require of any actor… We are rectifying immediately the discrepancies in this vendor’s document with our actual on-set practices, which provide a professional and comfortable working environment for all performers.”
Phew. But it didn’t stop there.
When it emerged that the pilot episode features an implied rape, this once again raised questions about HBO’s portrayal of violent sexual act against women in shows like Game Of Thrones and The Night Of…
“It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and heavily considered as we worked on those scenes,” defended co-creator and executive producer Lisa Joy at this year’s Television Critics Association summer press tour. “Westworld is a consideration of human nature. The best parts of human nature… and the basest parts of human nature. That includes violence and sexual violence… We wanted it to not be about the fetishisation of those acts.”
The potential to play multiple personalities with one character has drawn the interest from some of the top talent in the industry. True Blood actress Evan Rachel Wood plays one of the complicated machines. Meanwhile, the role of the brilliant yet arrogant director of Westworld has gone to Anthony Hopkins. The character is meant to be the ultimate mind behind Westworld, on which much of the drama will hang. The decidedly sinister Ed Harris will be picking up the role of The Gunslinger.
Not Their First Rodeo
Add to this pedigree the people involved with the show. For a start, we have Star Trek and Star Wars director JJ Abrams and his regular collaborator, producer Bryan Burk, acting as executive producers. Some may still yet to forgive Abrams for TV’s longest shaggy dog story, Lost, but the team has an undeniable pedigree. Add to this mix Jonathan Nolan. That’s the chap behind (the brilliant – ed) cyberpunk thriller Person Of Interest. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the Dark Knight movies and Interstellar with brother Christopher.
This is a team with a proven track record for amazing story twists and an understanding of futuristic, character-driven drama. With the show’s pilot already getting rave reviews, it looks like we are in for a treat come October.
Brave New Worlds?
Despite the name, the original 1973 movie featured another two themed resorts: Medieval World and Roman World. Both of these were an excuse for debauchery and formed the B-plot for the film. It could be that these zones are planned for the future series, though given how close they are aesthetically to Game Of Thrones it’s easy to see why HBO would want to drop them.
The movie’s success did lead to a sequel, called Futureworld. This was a pretty forgettable, despite robot boxing, a surreal dream sequence with the gunslinger and simulated zero-g environments. The only notable thing about Futureworld is that it helped develop Chinese interest in American movies, as it was one of the first modern Hollywood movies to be shown in China.
HBO’s new show is not the first time Westworld has appeared on the small screen. The Emmy Award-winning Beyond Westworld (1980) was pretty short-lived, but had quite the impact. Of the five episodes made, only three ever actually aired. The show’s plot revolved around the human-like androids being used as spies and infiltrators by a sinister corporation. Copies of this old show are in limited supply, though this will probably change if the new show becomes a success.
Time will tell if Nolan has used any of the ideas from Beyond Westworld for the new HBO show, though he doesn’t seem short of inspiration for his work.
The original movie is regarded as a bit of a classic; its themes of machines going wild went on to inspire movies as diverse as Terminator and Short Circuit. Abrams and Nolan have sunk their teeth into another sci-fi classic, and so far it looks like the team may revive yet another science fiction classic for the enjoyment of modern audiences. Article by Ed Fortune
Westworld airs in the US on HBO from October 2 and in the UK on Sky Atlantic on October 4.