Yee-haw! HBO's Westworld is off to a rootin' tootin' start, and it isn't hard to see why 3.3 million of us tuned in to see Ed Harris do his best Yul Brynner impression. 43 years after the world first heard of Westworld the legacy lives on: We've had a sequel film, a show that lasted just three episodes, and now HBO's offering. Parodied across the likes of Red Dwarf and The Simpsons, here is the whole story of Westworld and beyond!
The Wild, Wild West(world)
Becoming a cult phenomenon and being the first film to EVER mention the notion of a computer virus, it is hard to believe that the original Westworld was shot in just 30 days and for around $1 million (a fraction of what one episode of the 2016 show costs). Already an established science fiction novelist, author Michael Crichton didn't want his feature film directorial debut to be sci-fi, but unfortunately he found himself doing just that with Westworld. MGM Studios was a notoriously hard studio to deal with, but with no one else to pick up Crichton's script, MGM became the Last Chance Saloon. The studio demanded rewrites on the first day, while the leads like James Brolin and Richard Benjamin were reportedly not signed up until just 48 hours before shooting.
The plot followed a high-tech theme park run by the Delos corporation — guests could pick from three themed worlds (Roman World, Medieval World, and of course West World). For $1,000 a day they lived amongst the park's animatronic hosts, installed with a kill code to never harm humans. You know the drill, and if you have read any of Crichton's other works (or watched his films), you know how it ends. It isn't long before things go awry, and guests are stalked by a psychotic rogue robot known as The Gunslinger (Yul Brunner).
Brynner's iconic performance as The Gunslinger became synonymous with Westworld, but isn't as original as you might think; based on his role as Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven, you may notice one or two similarities in the costume (see the above image)! Crichton's original ending for the film was the idea of a superior machine being pulled apart by a primitive one; but while seeing The Gunslinger torn apart by a medieval-style rack sounds amazing, the crew couldn't get the desired effect and it was cut.
Rack-death aside, the novelization of the film revealed that a lot of footage was cut from the final edit, including "adult" footage of more human massacres, and an opening shot of a hovercraft over the desert. The film was certainly a tough undertaking for Crichton, who was left exhausted after Westworld — he took a year off after it was completed and refused to return for the inevitable sequel. However, you may also see a similarity between a theme park run amok and his 1990 best-selling novel Jurassic Park.
The Future's Bright
Luckily, and unlike The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Crichton wasn't shoehorned into writing a sequel for the sake of cinema. Sadly, this means we were left with a Crichton-less sequel that was met with mixed reviews — welcome to Futureworld. Three years after the original, only Yul Brynner could be lured back, and even that was to appear in a clichéd dream sequence. However, Futureworld does hold the accolade of being the actor's penultimate film before his death in 1985. Futureworld followed the (now) well-trodden formula of re-opening a disastrous theme park after a serious incident — can everybody say Jurassic World?
Given a $1.5 billion investment, the Delos corporation abandoned the Westworld area of the park, but also installed a new "Futureworld" segment. Futureworld invited Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner's characters to review the park prior to its relaunch, but all is not as it seems. If you think the robots were evil first time round, you ain't seen nothing yet!
In a hybrid plot of a James Bond video game and the movie The Island, Delos was out to create robotic clones of world leaders, eradicate the originals, then rule the world as Murdoch-style overlords. While some saw it as a strong sequel, the New York Times wasn't quite so favorable, with Richard Eder sayng that Futureworld was:
As much fun as running barefoot through Astroturf...The film is rated PG. Parents are advised that there is nothing offensive in it. Offensiveness would help.
As with Westworld, Futureworld was ahead of its time, and despite its failings, it was classed as the first major film to use CGI; it even featured the hand of Pixar president Ed Catmull in the now infamous sequence. Although there wouldn't be a third film in the franchise, Futureworld directly lead to a television series that continued the corrupt actions of the Delos corporation.
- Robots In Disguise: How Does HBO's 'Westworld' Turn Its Actors Into Robots?
- Violent Delights Don't Come Cheap: This Is How Much It Would Cost To Visit Westworld
- Westworld': Here's What We Understand, And What Left Us Wondering
A Short-lived Short Circuit
You may think that the trail of Westworld lore ran cold there until this year, well, you would be wrong. CBS's (very) short-lived series Beyond Westworld ran from March 5 to March 19, 1980, airing just three of its five episodes. The series starred Jim McMullan as Special Security Agent John Moore, who was an actual good guy from the Delos corporation. Moore is tasked with bringing down evil scientist Simon Quaid, who once again is intent on using Delos for evil. Although it only aired three episodes, the series did manage to grab two Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup and Outstanding Art Direction for a Series.
Perhaps it was the rehashed "clone" storyline from Futureworld, or the step out of the theme park that dogged Beyond Westworld, but the final nail in the coffin was its ratings. In comparison, CBS's other show Dallas had the most-watched episode of the year and a Nielsen Rating of 34.5. While there is little else to know about Beyond Westworld, let's turn to the tagline, asking, "How do you kill a man who's a machine?" I ask, "How do you kill a franchise for 36 years?" The "whole" series is available on DVD on the Warner Bros. website if you really want to know more.
'Beyond' Beyond Westworld
Lying dormant since 1980, a new Westworld had been long rumored. As early as the '90s Warner Bros. had been trying to resurrect Westworld from the android graveyard, but with no such luck. When studio executive Jessica Goodman left in 2011, the rumors of a Westworld revival once again began circling, but there was still no sign of movement on a feature film. On August 31, 2013, HBO announced that they had ordered an original pilot with The Dark Knight's Jonathan Nolan, his wife Lisa Joy, and LOST's J.J. Abrams at the helm.
With a reported cost of $100 million for the pilot season, HBO has paid an undisclosed license fee to Warner Bros. for the rights to the show — although both companies probably split costs 50/50. So, as well as rights to a 43-year-old film, what else do you get for your $100 million? Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood), and James Marsden (X-Men) have taken on the titular roles, with Ed Harris (Snowpiercer) playing the modern-day version of Brynner's The Gunslinger. Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot the elusive third Hemsworth brother, Luke, amongst the cast.
Unlike Game of Thrones and its scrapped $20 million pilot, things are looking pretty favorable for Westworld. Film critics, the Twitterverse, and even Katy Perry seemed universal in praise:
Westworld begs the question though, how long can bloodthirsty robots go around before the situation is taken in hand? Would Hopkins and co. really be stupid enough to not build a kill-switch into their creations, and what is beyond Westworld? Is there a Futureworld coming for Westworld?
Back To The Future
It is no secret that Westworld was held back by delays, but new information suggests that this may have been a good thing for the show. Amongst the reshoots and script changes, it seems that Westworld is firmly heading for the future. James Marsden told EW:
"It wasn't about getting the first 10 [episodes] done, it was about mapping out what the next 5 or 6 years are going to be. We wanted everything in line so that when the very last episode airs and we have our show finale, five or seven years down the line, we knew how it was going to end the first season -- that's the way Jonah and J.J. Abrams operate. They're making sure all the ducks are in the row."
Hmmmm, remember when Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse told us that they knew how LOST would end from day one? We aren't so convinced, but if it means seven years of Westworld... hell yeah!
Perhaps one of the premiere's best moments was when Jeffrey Wright's Bernard Lowe accompanied the security team into the bowels of cold storage. The brief interlude into Westworld's operations remind us that this show isn't just your usual shoot-em-up. We have already seen Sidse Babett Knudsen and Simon Quarterman's characters bicker atop the Westworld command center, so, are there other worlds out there? To stick true to Crichton's vision we need to step out of the desert and into the unknown. As long as they remain in the confines of the theme park setting, I am invested to see what happens.
Giving HBO its biggest premiere since True Detective in 2014, is HBO onto a winner here with Westworld? Just enough time has passed so that Westworld doesn't seem like a cheap cash-in, but that there are still those who will hold to the nostalgia factor. While to a certain generation the show may look entirely new, it is firmly tied to its 1973 roots, and we already have subtle nods to the original. With an all-star cast, a strong directorial team, and clearly money to spend, I am sorry to call the comparisons, but Westworld really is the next Game of Thrones. You have been warned! Maybe we should do an Alien franchise and just pretend the middle two never happened?
Which 'Westworld' do you prefer?