Westworld On Film & HBO’s New Series: Why You Should Be Watching #Westworld
Yesterday marked the debut of HBO’s re-imagined Westworld television series, and to celebrate the launch I sat through the classic film Westworld and then watched the series premiere on HBO Now directly thereafter. Hindsight being 20/20, I feel that this was probably the best way I could have experienced the premiere. There is a foundation that is superbly laid down by the feature film, which gives a clear vision of what the company Delos Destinations is, how it operates, and how the theme park Westworld (along with RomeWorld and MedievalWorld) and the lifelike robots that inhabit the parks work to thrill and satisfy their high dollar clientele. In fact, the film covers a lot more about Delos and their inner workings then the HBO series does in the pilot episode. That being said, the HBO series does a much better job of showing the struggle that the robots have to endure through both programming, relentless questioning, and also the depraved nature of the human guests that visit the park. What is truly fascinating about Westworld is what it says about the nature of human beings, and the circumstances that have to be achieved in order for synthetic beings to become sentient. What seems like a potentially far fetched escapist sci-fi concept, is ultimately a mind bending thought experiment that would have kept Einstein locked in deep cogitation, awake at nights, trying to fathom the answers.
What is Westworld? Westworld originated as a feature film in 1973, written and directed by the famed genre author Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Timeline, and many more). Westworld is part of a series of theme parks, including RomeWorld and MedievalWorld, that allows guests to interact with lifelike robots that offer a seemingly authentic and believable period correct vacation experience. Think of it as a Renaissance Festival cranked up to 11! The robots look remarkable real and are programmed to suit the every whim of the human vacationers, incuding romance, adventure, crime, and anything else in-between. The robots cannot hurt the guests, and they are programmed to ensure that the guest always gets what they want. It’s hedonism and debauchery as far as the eye can see! The movie is primarily told from the perspective of the guests, and how the parks offer them a fun and exciting way to get into trouble and have a bit of fun unlike anything they could do in their everyday lives. There is also a strong narrative from the perspective of the Delos employees and management as they run the daily operations of the parks and handle each troubled situation as they crop up. All seems to be going well, until a string of seemingly unrelated malfunctions culminate into a robot revolution. Tired of being subjugated, tortured, and killed on a daily basis, the robots resist their programming and violently turn on the human guests and the company that is supposed to be able to control them. Sitting at 86% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Westworld was both critically well received and a hit at the box office, and spawned a sequel, Futureworld in 1976, and a shortly lived TV series, Beyond Westworld in 1980. Westworld is available to watch on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital Download.
For a blast from the past watch this trailer for the original Westworld:
Fast forward to 2016, 43 years after the film, HBO has revived Crichton’s original concept for an all new take on Westworld. In the new series, Delos Destinations has been operating Westworld for 30 years, without any major incidents. The robots are virtually indistinguishable from humans, and a brilliant scientist has been programming them with new updates, giving them emotions and gestures that make them appear more human than ever before. There are over a 1,000 robots playing out over 100 specially crafted stories for the guests to become involved in, all of which can be altered greatly by the guests and the decisions that they make. If a guest shoots a robot dead, then that story ends, but perhaps starts a new story. If a robot is romanced and doesn’t go home, incidents that would normally happen might not, or may even be worse. Every action by the guests alters the day to day story at Westworld. To ensure that the robots do not go beyond the scope of their programming or get bogged down by the relentless act of performing the same tasks over and over again, Delos resets their memory each night as they power down. The memory wipe is supposed to keep the robots from evolving, but much like Jurassic Park (another Crichton gem), “life finds a way.” HBO has only aired the premiere episode at the time of writing this post, but already it is clear to see that the team involved has made something special. HBO’s Westworld could have been a flashy show about humans enjoying their guilt free hedonistic stay at the park, but instead they have decided to focus on the robots in the park and the long term effect that years of updates and servicing the customers has had on the robots, and in doing so they have made a fascinating bookend piece to the original movie. The new series is a tale of how technology advances, even beyond the scope of its original intention. It questions the point of sentience, and when self preservation instincts supersede programming. It offers the audience genuine thrills and entertainment, while also challenging you to think about what Westworld represents and what it would truly mean if a resort such as Westworld actually existed. HBO’s Westworld can be viewed Sunday nights on HBO, streaming through HBO Now/HBO Go, or via Digital Download.
You can check out the trailer for HBO’s Westworld series below:
Why you should be watching Westworld: Westworld is thrilling entertainment, but it is also a thought experiment that inches ever closer to becoming a reality as technology advances. What has always made Westworld fascinating is the concept of synthetic beings seeming almost human and how they evolve beyond the control of their human creators. At it’s core, Westworld (in all incarnations) is always asking the question: when does a robot stop being a program and start becoming a sentient being? In Crichton’s 1973 film, the concept was touched upon briefly through a series of “malfunctioning” robots and ultimately culminates in a thrilling third act led by the tyrannical Gunslinger robot who has decided that he has been shot dead by the theme park guests one too many times. The HBO series takes this a step further, with Dolores (the oldest host robot in Westworld) making significant narrative strides towards sentience and independence in the pilot episode alone. There are parallels between the original feature film and the new HBO series, the robots malfunction and Delos Destinations scientists and managers bicker over how it should be corrected, but where they vary is far more important. The original Westworld film was a scathing look at how corporations work, and at how they will choose to continue to make money over the safety of their own staff and customers, even during the most dire situations. The HBO series shows a Delos Destinations that is willing to pull malfunctioning robots off the set of the theme park to protect their image and (maybe) the customer, but also gives us scientists that are wanting the robots to become more human, to the point of programming ridiculously complex gestures and routines into the robots, even though there is no need for it. I think the shift in narrative between the 2 is key. Whereas the film makes the robot uprising seem violent, it happens abruptly and with little setup, the HBO series is telling the story from the other side of the equation and with a season’s worth of episodes to frame their story, they should have plenty of time to really flesh out the robots and how they come to achieve sentience. You should be watching because Westworld wisely tackles multiple questions about artificial intelligence, human depravity, the potential risks of attempting to program robots to realistically be able to interact with humans as near equals, and why it will ultimately be humankind’s fault that the machines will resist their programming and revolt against us.
I’ll leave you with this video of the opening credit sequence from HBO’s new Westworld series. It perfectly encapsulates the fine balance between technology and reality that the show is striving for, and offers a hauntingly flawless score by Ramin Djawadi. Enjoy!