Last October, when the TV series #Westworld made its debut on HBO, it took the airwaves by storm. It tells of a western themed park run by Delos Inc, a re-creation of the old west populated by autonomous intelligent androids whose sole purpose is to be toys for the wealthy guests. It became HBO's most watched first season program since True Detective. Being met with both massive critical acclaim and consistently high ratings, it was pretty much a guarantee that the show would be renewed for another season. What many were not expecting was that second season to not come out for at least another year.
From a marketing standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. With the show set to make its home video debut and word of mouth spreading, this can raise hype to a fever pitch so that once the second season finally reaches cable, people will be glued to their sets. For fans of the show however, this will be a long frustrating wait. Just what do we do in the meantime? Don't worry fans of the show. There is something you can do. Might I suggest checking out the classic film the series was based on?
The original Westworld remains one of the best science fiction films of the 1970s. It tells of the same park of the television series, an android run simulation run by Delos of the old west, as well as Medieval and Roman times, where guests are allowed to live out their every fantasy under the presumption of safety. Soon however, something goes wrong and the androids run amok, killing the guests and sending the park into chaos. One man in particular finds himself pursued by the park's star attraction, an android gunslinger who will not stop until every one of them is destroyed.
Breakout of Michael Crichton
Westworld was written and directed by #MichaelCrichton, who would later go on to create the Jurassic Park franchise when he wrote the classic novel. Crichton was a successful novelist who attempted to break into films after the success of the film adaptation of his novel, The Andromeda Strain. He had been writing and directing for television in the years leading up to the release of Westworld.
After proving he knew how to use a camera as well as a typewriter, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Crichton was offered the chance to write and direct his first film for the big screen. It was a dream come try for Crichton, as it would be for any of us, but he curiously didn't want to work in science fiction for his first big feature.
Crichton described all aspects as production, from early pre-production meetings to post production as a very difficult affair. It was so difficult that after the release of the film, he didn't direct another movie for five years. Crichton eventually focused his career more in the written word as opposed to the photographed image. He continued to write both novels and screenplays, with works including Congo and Twister. As for Westworld, the movie proved to be a massive success, becoming MGM's biggest moneymaker of that year.
Westworld was highly influential on Crichton's future career, serving as the template for the dinosaur epic that would become his most well known work. Jurassic Park and Westworld feature virtually identical plots, elaborate theme parks where the star attractions break out and harm the guests. The two even both feature an iteration of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Tyrannosaurus Made Of Metal
Westworld is perhaps best remembered for its villain, the android Gunslinger played by Swiss/American actor #YulBrynner. The Gunslinger is the star attraction at Westworld, much like the T Rex in Jurassic Park. He is programmed to be the classic old west villain, seeking out and harassing guests so they may have exciting showdowns with the mysterious man of metal. However, the Gunslinger soon starts outdoing his human opponents, resulting in their deaths. When only one man remains, the Gunslinger, as per his programming, pursues him across the park until their duel can be completed.
The chilling nature of the character is due in large part to Brynner's impressive performance. The Russian born actor was one of the most successful actors working in Hollywood at the time, with impressive credits such as The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, and The King And I, for which he received the Best Actor Oscar at the 1957 Academy Awards. It was his performance as the heroic Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven, however, that really paved the way for his role as the Gunslinger that terrorizes the Delos resort.
Brynner's appearance in both The Magnificent Seven and Westworld is virtually identical, the actor possibly carrying over his leftover costume from the earlier film. He also carries over Chris' stoic and intimidating nature that would have made him the villain of any other film. One of the few things that sets Brynner apart from the earlier role is his eyes. For Westworld, Brynner wore a pair of silver contact lenses. The highly reflective lenses caught the light in a very unnatural way, almost appearing like they were glowing. He looked less like a man and more like a cat ready to pounce.
When the androids finally run amok and rampage through the Delos resort, Brynner becomes something quite frightening. His dialogue ceases, his movements become very methodical and precise, and he never, ever stops. Even when he leaves the Westworld portion of the park, going to segments based on Roman and Medeval times, the Gunslinger shows zero interest, focusing only on tracking down his frightened target. His final line is spoken some forty minutes before the film ends, lighting the fuse to one of the most suspenseful pursuits ever put to film.
Influence On Cinema
Westworld is an excellent suspense picture on its own, but it is also one of the most influential in the science fiction genre. Westworld was one of the most popular films of the time detailing the dangers of technology, and its portrayal of hyper realistic androids became a template for many future works of science fiction.
The portrayal of androids that appear human may not have originated in this film, but Westworld popularized it like never before. That template has since been adapted into a variety of other works such as Star Trek and the Alien series. Most significantly, Brynner's relentless portrayal as the Gunslinger was the primary inspiration for another unstoppable robot, the main antagonist in the 1984 classic, The Terminator. The character's almost indestructible nature may have also influenced the slasher genre, birthing such characters as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees of Halloween and Friday the 13th who keep coming back no matter how many times they are 'killed.'
More significantly is Westworld's use of digital effects. The 1973 film is actually the first ever movie to employ the use of computers, using digital processing to create the pixilated point of view shots of the villainous Gunslinger. It was Crichton's idea to use this technique to put us in the mind of the film's villain.
The film required us to show the point of view of the main robot, played by Yul Brynner. But what special-effects technique would best suggest a machine’s point of view? I proposed a rather simple solution: to show the point of view of a machine, use a machine. I wanted to film the scenes and then manipulate the film with a computer.
This was a revolutionary process at the time that had no prior precedent. When Crichton suggested this to his team, they were completely lost as to just how to do it.
Crichton couldn't find anyone in Hollywood to bring his vision to life. Eventually he went to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena California, who completed the process in nine months for $200,000 dollars. The technicians worked tirelessly, having to convert each individual frame of over two minutes of film or over 2880 separate images. No one could have known it at the time, but this was the beginning of a special effects revolution, one that would poetically reach another milestone when Steven Spielberg used computers to bring another Crichton story to life.
The Gunslingers POV was also heavily influential on another character. Later in the film, his eyes are destroyed but he still has his heat sensors to locate the hero. Thus we are treated to an impressive infrared vision effect during the final showdown. These shots were the obvious inspiration for the moody POV camera work in the movie Predator, where the alien hunter stalks his victims using the same thermal imagery.
Unlike the TV series, the original Westworld only suggests themes of autonomy when the robots begin to malfunction. Instead, the original film contains many interesting ideas of its own to explore.
The first and most obvious is the dangers of technology. The human race has a long history of overestimating control of our machines, a vanity for which we have paid a heavy price. Here, the characters are clearly playing with fire, but are assured that nothing can possibly go wrong. Even when the androids begin to behave strangely, from a rattlesnake successfully striking a guest to a model built for pleasure refusing a guest's advances, they don't take the threat seriously until it is too late.
Another theme is wealth. The Delos resort in the film is catered specifically to the super rich, costing guests a thousand dollars a day even in 1973 dollars, which today would be over five times as much. Most of the resort guests are portrayed as privileged, clueless, even sleazy. James Brolin's character of John for example is a repeated customer at the park. John treats the entire stay like a game, convinced of his invulnerability to the very real dangers that surround him. All other guests follow this trend save for one.
The main character of Peter is uneasy from the beginning. Though he eventually grows to enjoy his stay in Westworld, he very clearly takes everything far more seriously, expressing worries about the park's issued firearms while other guests recklessly play with them. He is also not as rich. He laments over a recent divorce that left him ruined, so it is entirely possible that John is paying for this trip as a gift. Since Peter isn't as rich, he hasn't lived as privileged a life as everyone else staying at the resort. Having lived a much harder life, Peter fights much harder to survive when everything goes wrong, becoming an unlikely hero in this tale of metallic mayhem.
By far the biggest theme in the film is the dangers of corporate greed. Throughout the film, we are treated to scenes of lab technicians and park execs maintaining the facility. After an android refuses the advances of a guest, one of the lead technicians says the park should be shut down before things get worse. This idea is quickly dismissed by the big wigs, who only agree to shut down after the current guests have left. They speak of protecting the resort's reputation and how making the guests leave would be too expensive. For the sake of financial gain and publicity, they throw their guests to the wolves.
Their greed ends up sewing the seeds of their own destruction. In order to cut costs, the park was run with a centralized computer system that breaks down along with the androids. The executives and technicians are sealed inside air tight rooms when the ventilation system fails, slowly suffocating them to death for their hubris. The film ends with the final haunting image of Peter lamenting at the irony of the slogan that seduced him and his friend to what turned out to be an elaborate death trap. The Delos tagline echoes through the air, haunting Peter, and the viewer, forever.
While Westworld was a hit, the franchise faltered shortly after with a bungled sequel and a TV series that barely lasted a season. After the breakout success of Jurassic Park however, interest in Crichton's earlier work was rekindled. For over ten years, people were talking about revisiting the Delos resort and the androids of Westworld, with a remake even in the works starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that fell through. Those plans were finally realized last year with the new series on HBO.
Westworld is an all around remarkable film that begins as an innocent and fun fantasy, before unexpectedly becoming something more sinister. Its final climactic battle between machine and man is a fight for the ages, but the fight may never end. The smashing success of the TV series has proven this franchise is as relentless as the original Gunslinger. Even after seemingly being put down for over forty years, it shows no signs of stopping.
Have you seen the original Westworld? How do you think it compares to the show? Let us know below!