HBO’s Westworld series is off to an amazing start! After just three episodes I’m already hooked. I realized the other night that I had never actually seen the original movie from start to finish. It was always one of those things playing on cable at odd times or at a convention when I have other things to do. I sat down and watched it and decided I wanted to do a comparison article. This article will contain SPOILERS, so be aware if you have not seen the original movie or are not caught up on the HBO series.
Two giants in genre entertainment were involved in the two Westworld versions. Michael Crichton wrote and directed the original motion picture in 1973, and JJ Abrams heads up the production for HBO’s newest series currently airing. Michael Crichton had already made his mark in Hollywood as a successful screenwriter with Andromeda Strain and was looking to expand his role in the production of his properties. He wrote the screenplay and directed Westworld, and even though it is often misattributed as his first directorial credit, that nod goes to the TV movie Pursuit, that came out in 1972. Crichton is a master of original concepts and creating tension in the most innocuous places. It’s interesting to note that Westworld and his other most famous creation, Jurassic Park, share a lot of thematic elements. High priced amusement parks where the “attractions” go out of control and threaten the guests, technology ahead of it’s time that is used questionably for profit rather than the betterment of mankind, even the catalyst event for the disaster in both is a power outage. The central antagonists (T-Rex and the Gunslinger) share a certain merciless inevitability as they pursue the last survivors in their respective parks.
JJ Abrams shares a lot with Crichton, both are sci-fi royalty, hitting homeruns again and again for all of us geeks. The laundry list of titles they have both been involved in is like a best of list for science fiction movies and TV; Westworld, Jurassic Park, Lost, Star Wars, Star Trek, Coma, Sphere, Alias…the list goes on. I’m assuming JJ has perfected cloning, because I otherwise have no idea how he has his hands in Star Trek and Star Wars while producing a series for HBO that they are hoping becomes the next Game of Thrones. The reports are that there is a 5 year roadmap already in place for Westworld, Actor James Marsden has this to say about plans for the series;
It wasn’t about getting the first 10 [episodes] done, it was about mapping out what the next five or six 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.
The HBO series is extremely well done and very compelling. I sincerely hope the series continues to do well and we get to see what they have planned for us down the road.
Besides sharing the basic premise and high concept Crichton created in the early seventies, both iterations of Westworld take some very different approaches. First off budget, originally Westworld was shopped around Hollywood and Crichton was turned down by every studio. It wasn’t until MGM bit that he even had a chance to get it made. That came with a price, a very low price…MGM had an awful reputation at the time and only wanted to do the film only if the budget could remain under one million. Crichton had this to say about the deal;
MGM had a bad reputation among filmmakers; in recent years, directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Blake Edwards, Stanley Kubrick, Fred Zinneman and Sam Peckinpah had complained bitterly about their treatment there. There were too many stories of unreasonable pressure, arbitrary script changes, inadequate post production, and cavalier recutting of the final film. Nobody who had a choice made a picture at Metro, but then we didn’t have a choice. Dan Melcnick… assured [us]… that we would not be subjected to the usual MGM treatment. In large part, he made good on that promise.
I do believe that sometimes restrictions like budget lead to innovation and Westworld told a lot of it’s story through subtle implication rather than explicit fanfare. The original Star Wars and the subsequent installments are testament to that. Westworld was the first feature film to use digital image processing and originally Crichton was quoted $200k for the animation he was requesting to simulate the androids point of view. He eventually found his way to Information International, Inc (Tron, Looker) and was able to complete the sequences necessary for the film for a lot less. The HBO series is rumored to have a $100 million budget for the first season alone. I’m sure a great deal of that is going to the A list cast they have assembled, Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, Thor), Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe, True Blood), James Marsden (X-Men, 30 Rock, Enchanted), Thandie Newton (Mission Impossible II, Rogue) and I could go on for days…Jeffrey Wright, Luke Hemsworth, Ed Harris, Clifton Collins Jr…do I need to continue? HBO ended up cancelling Vinyl after just one season, and it’s budget was on par with Westworld. Obviously HBO has a lot pinned on this being an ongoing success.
Another interesting dichotomy between the movie and the series the Gunslinger from the original and the (current) villain on HBO share a look and lack of mercy, but while Yul Brenner played a relentless robot (his performance was used as a template for the Terminator by Schwarzenegger) Ed Harris, The Man in Black, is a guest of the park and therefore the implication is he is human on the cable series. It will be interesting to see how far they take The Man in Black, will he become a threat to the other guests themselves?
So what are your thoughts? Does HBO have another win on it’s hands? Will they have a replacement for GoT when that series takes it’s final bow?