Having been billed as HBO’s successor to Game of Thrones, it’s fair to say people are getting pretty excited for Westworld, especially after the show’s first few aired episodes. Like for the aforementioned show about “tits and dragons,” the producers of this sci-fi western – which seamlessly blends robot cowboys and corporate dystopia – hinted that the show would feature more smut than a Kim Kardashian sex tape… We predict an upsurge in HBO subscriptions.
Westworld is a theme park populated by state-of-the art androids. Human customers come to live out their wild west fantasies, interacting with the cyborg locals, mostly by either killing them or having sex with them. Or both. At the end of the holiday, the blood gets cleared up, the locals are repaired, and the whole narrative is re-booted for the next wave of visitors.
But there’s more to it than that, as anyone who has watched Westworld’s first episodes can tell you. The show toys with the moral quandaries of artificial intelligence. It also has big star appeal, with the likes of Ed Harris, James Marsden and Thandie Newton on board. And, as the scientist who invented the park who then has to try and clear up his own mess when things start to become royally screwed, we have Anthony Hopkins.
Wait! Scientist invents a theme park that goes wrong. Very wrong indeed. Where have we seen that one before? Read on, friends. Yep, here are 10 things you might not yet know (but definitely need to) about HBO’s latest sordid sci-fi fantasy, Westworld.
Westworld is actually a remake
The original Westworld, from 1973, is the ultimate theme park movie experience – more reminiscent of a terrifying, technological Jurassic Park than anything else. That’s not surprising really, given that the movie’s director – a young Michael Crichton – went on to write the dinosaur novel 13 years later, bringing Isla Nublar into our vision with its cloned dinosaurs and their ability to wreak all kinds of havoc.
Not altogether so different, the original Westworld theme park transports visitors into a long-gone world of the past… The park’s attractions – the robot citizens – snap, and begin to mercilessly kill all of the guests (I guess Crichton really hated taking the kids to Disney World).
Yul Brynner plays the relentlessly creepy problem robot, like the original Terminator, only much, much scarier than Arnie’s ever been. It’s packed to the rafters with sci-fi obscurity and set to the unusual backdrop of a western. The movie’s most oddball feature? The blank faces of the malfunctioning androids being popped open to reveal lifeless sensors and machine parts shaped like real faces.
The 1973 original was also allegedly the first movie to acknowledge the existence of computer viruses.
But there are some differences
In the original movie, the theme park was a revolutionary new leisure attraction. In the reboot, Westworld is 30 years old and struggling to keep the visitor experience fresh. The robots are constantly updated with nuanced emotions, gestures and back stories. And don’t expect them to pull off their faces to reveal the circuit boards behind. These “hosts” are all 3D-printed sinew. If they weren’t okay with letting flies walk across their eyeballs, you couldn’t tell they weren’t human.
In the 1973 film, the park’s visitors were also the protagonists – flawed but human – in over their heads in a malfunctioning cyberworld. In the series, the guests are reduced to the role of extras. This time around, the heroes are the robots: they’re so sophisticated that they’ve reached the level of incipient consciousness, yet they’re still referred to as “livestock.”
Westworld will make you question your own humanity
The show’s premise is pretty dark. Of course, in our world, where gamers while away hours driving around Grand Theft Auto and smashing call girls in the head, it’s not much of a leap to imagine a 3D future gaming environment in which punters can beat, torture, and rape any host unfortunate enough to cross their path.
The main purpose of Westworld is, seemingly, to offer an outlet for man’s worst urges. We can shoot baddies and bed prostitutes, knowing it’s all fake… But with it, not only are we left questioning the morality of technology, but also man’s most primal urges and most perverse notions of pleasure, how we might act if we knew we could “get away with it,” and what society has told us about acceptable behaviour.
The hosts in HBO’s Westworld are subjected to near constant trauma. For them to remember would mean that these acts have consequences. "These violent delights have violent ends," one host warns ominously… Watch this space.
Christopher Nolan’s brother writes the show
Quentin Tarantino was asked to helm this remake, but he declined. So Jonathan Nolan, Chris Nolan’s bro, took the reigns for writing and producing the HBO show. He’s a powerhouse of great writing; his credits include Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Interstellar. In other words, he knows how to spin a great yarn.
Nolan’s wife, Lisa Joy, is also on board as a writer and producer. Her credits include Pushing Daisies and the sleek, tongue-in-cheek spy series Burn Notice (probably one of the most underrated shows of all-time). Therefore, we can expect the sharp, dry wit that we witnessed in the first episodes to be pervasive in the series.
In addition to the Nolan team, Ramin Djawadi, the composer for Game of Thrones, is at the helm for the show’s music composition. If that doesn’t get you excited, you might be a permanent resident of the theme park.
Anthony Hopkins is making a comeback
And by “comeback,” we mean “no longer doing himself a huge disservice by farting around with second rate movies.” Despite the fact that Sir Hopkins is one of the greatest actors of our time, his recent films haven’t really matched his talent. In fact, this year’s Misconduct – the totally baffling legal thriller – could have been shown in film schools as a textbook example of how not to make a movie. Hopkins’ performance as a corrupt billionaire reached world-class levels of ineptness.
So, it’s sure good to see that Hopkins has been taken in by the warm embrace of HBO. The network was a key factor in The McConaissance – a dauntless second act in Matthew McConaughey's life, which exhibited his desire to make interesting choices again after a previous acting career which relied mainly on his six pack and Southern drawl.
Hopefully Westworld can do similar things for a 78-year-old man who once won an Oscar.
No expenses were spared
Yep, this show most probably has a higher budget than Justin Bieber’s entourage. The first season of Game of Thrones had a budget of $60 million. Westworld scored a very similar budget of $58 million. But some sources estimate the show's budget to be around $100 million, putting it in line with other recent HBO offerings such as Vinyl.
GoT is one of the most expensive shows ever made, at $6 million per episode, and it’s also one of HBO’s most successful, garnering an enormous following and breaking season premiere and awards records right and left. In contrast, Vinyl didn’t do so well with viewers or critics and was cancelled after a single season. So, there’s quite a bit riding on Westworld’s success. With any luck, hideous robot abuse is every HBO viewer’s bag.
HBO’s Westworld isn’t the first spinoff
The current HBO show isn't the first attempt to revive the huge success of the original movie. In fact, the 1976 movie Futureworld was the first sequel. But if you’re looking for a good movie nerd-off, you won’t find it there.
Where Westworld is a powerful, action-packed thriller with a closing twenty or so minutes that lifts it to cult classic status, Futureworld is a lumbering – even boring – movie. At 105 minutes, it’s at least 20 too long… And there’s a spectacularly naff dream sequence which is clearly placed in the film to ensure Yul Brynner’s name would appear on the credits. Unsurprisingly, Futureworld was immediately panned by critics.
The second revival was in the early '80s, when a show called Beyond Westworld continued on where Futureworld had left off. The show fell off the radar very quickly after being criticized for not fully taking place in the same universe as the two first movies and only lasted for three sad episodes.
Without Game of Thrones, Westworld wouldn’t have happened
Jonathan Nolan has gone on record saying that without Game of Thrones, Westworld would not have happened. Why? Well, it pushed the TV boundaries on a lot of levels. There’s the nudity and sex thing, for sure.
But Game of Thrones also opened the way for TV portrayals of alternative universes. It’s not just fantasy nerds who are openly allowed to enjoy shows like this, these days.
While the number of times you've played Dungeons and Dragons probably correlates with a propensity to enjoy George R.R. Martin's work, plenty of people enjoy the GoT universe. The show is a prime example of nerd culture going mainstream and it functions as a gateway for the uninitiated to get into fantasy. It should thus be smooth sailing for Westworld to break into the mainstream.
There’s scope for many more seasons
Yep, it’s early days. But, in the original movie, Delos amusement park included not only a Westworld, but also a Medieval World and a Roman World. There was more than just a lone gunslinger robot that went on the rampage, too.
Of course, we might see these other worlds expanded on in Westworld’s first season. But given Season 1’s title, it doesn’t take a detective to work out that the Nolans are probably focusing on cowboys this time around. What this means, is that the HBO series – if successful – could be expanded into several following seasons, each with a different setting. And, if we know HBO at all, it’s unlikely they’ll turn down a cash cow of this sort, once they have viewers hooked.
Personally, we can’t wait for Roman World and its Gladiator bloodbath levels of intense, senseless violence… Because it’s only robots we’re hurting, right?
Westworld makes you smarter
Okay, not exactly. But, the show does ponder some interesting existential questions.
The most powerful thing about the sci-fi genre is its ability to reflect contemporary fears and anxieties about society in a fictional setting, so – generally – things often tend to wind up getting pretty freaky. Westworld has the power to explore the morality of creating human-like artificial intelligent beings, asking how we should treat them, and questioning the difference between humans and machines.
Nolan commented that, “a lot of A.I. researchers seem to want to sidestep the consciousness question… Some of them because they know it taps into a cultural conversation they don’t want to engage with at this point.” Well, tough turds. Westworld swings open the saloon doors and treats us to an intelligent discussion of whether or not robots will eventually kill us all.
Now check out these 10 scary TV shows.