Not many today would associate the author of Jurassic Park with Westworld – what comes to mind instead is violence; the question of whether mechanical and organic consciousness is comparable; A-listers Thandie Newton and Anthony Hopkins; and an internet full of fan theories over an engaging, modern show that mixes the Wild West with the future sheen of robotics. But the original 1973 Westworld film, compared to today’s HBO hit series, was a little different.
Our approach to the idea of Artificial Intelligence today focuses on wondering over our potential similarities. It was only a decade ago that blockbuster films like I, Robot were still hung up on the apparently inevitable robot uprisings and the dangers of messing with technology we couldn’t comprehend. 1973’s Westworld, written and directed by author Michael Crichton, was deep in that era but the film is a mix of both philosophies. The man famous for using hard science and then pushing it to the extreme in his novels, such as in Jurassic Park, liked to work with unique concepts in his stories.
Westworld is a near-future theme park designed as an exact replica of the Wild West, from the sandy setting, the authentic costumes and the personalities of the robotic ‘hosts’. Guests can enjoy life in a way never before experienced: free and without consequence. Want to kick it back in an old saloon? Or become the local sheriff? Or that’s not to your liking, how about visiting the brothel, or becoming an infamous murderer? Guests can’t be hurt and after every day the hosts are quietly shipped out of the park, patched up of bullet-holes or what-not, memory wiped and then placed back into starting positions for the next day. For guests it’s a safe place to finally let loose and discover just what kind of person you could really be. For hosts – if they could remember any of it – it’s a very real nightmare.
“Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. The disarray. I choose to see the beauty.” – Doloroes, Westworld Series 1, Ep1
Both show and original film have the same premise. The film however is different in many ways and comparison between the two reflects how our own attitudes towards robots in sci-fi and technology have changed over forty years. Crichton was inspired after a visit to Disneyland to create Westworld; it’s why we also see parks Medievalworld and Romanworld. Everyone remembers the infamous Man In Black: the rogue host who, after being killed twice by the same guests (who inspired characters William and Logan in the HBO show), wants revenge – but Crichton was disappointed that audiences focused on the dangers of technology message, rather than the real message of corporate greed.
After a lacklustre sequel (Futureworld) and failed TV show in 1980 (Beyond Westworld), most know Westworld today as the hit HBO show, with its A-list cast, sublime desert setting, web of mystery and philosophy and its gorgeous music. The show clearly focuses on the hosts, unlike the film’s focus on the guests, and is a look at how both hosts and humans live in endless repeating cycles; we act similarly in similar situations, we have daily routines, we don’t act out of character. It takes new experiences, or extreme ones, to exact change – which is where the violence and the interlocking storylines play their part. 1973 Westworld is severely dated but the action is about exploring the consequences of violence, rather than having a fun scene. Today, we think less of robot uprisings and more of robots replacing us, as the TV show’s ideas clearly show. It’s a possibility, isn’t it? After all, don’t violent delights, such as the pleasure a guest experiences at Westworld, come with the promise of inevitably violent ends?