The new HBO television show Westworld premiered this past weekend amid much hype and huge expectations. The updated and expanded version of the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton continues the saga of an adult themed Old West amusement park where the robots go haywire and must be contained – albeit with superior special effects and a more intricate plot. We have a separate review of the pilot episode of Westworld for people to read. But we thought it would be instructive to provide some context around the new show and original movie that inspired it. So here are 10 things you should know about Westworld – mostly about the history and a bit about the new show.
10. The 1973 Film Contained the First Computerized Images in a Movie
The Westworld (1973) movie broke new ground in cinema by being the first film to use computer digitized images. The computerized effects were used to show the malfunctioning robot of The Gunslinger’s point of view. It’s kind of like an early version of the Predator’s heads-up-display point of view vision from the classic 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film. This was a painstaking and difficult process back in 1973, but the filmmakers made it work and it quickly paved the way for the increasing use of computerized images in movies. But back in 1973, it took computer engineers eight hours to produce each second of the Gunslinger’s pixelated point of view. Two minutes of computerized animation took nine months to complete and cost $200,000 (in 1970s dollars). The pioneering computer animation and images in Westworld was covered in a 2013 article in The New Yorker magazine.
9. Westworld Was Inspired by the Disney Attraction “Pirates of the Caribbean”
Author and film director Michael Crichton was inspired to create Westworld after visiting Disneyland and going on the ride “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” where he saw the animatronic pirate characters and thought to himself “What would happen if these animatronic creations ran amok?” Sitting down at his typewriter, Michael Crichton swapped out pirates for cowboys in an Old West themed amusement park, and the rest is history. Although Michael Crichton has said in interviews he was worried for years after the 1973 movie came out that Disney would sue him over the concept for Westworld. Fortunately, that never happened as the western theme in the movie was just far enough removed from the Pirates of the Caribbean to avoid any outright comparisons to the Disney attraction.
8. This is Not The First Westworld Television Show
Believe it or not, there has already been a Westworld television show. In 1980, Michael Crichton developed a TV show based on the 1973 movie called Beyond Westworld. The 1973 film had been a huge box office success for producer MGM, and following the success of Star Wars in 1977 and with sci-fi shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers on the air in the late 1970s, producers thought it would be a good time to capitalize on the popularity of Westworld with a television show. Thus Beyond Westworld went into production at the CBS television network. The show was about a character named John Moore, who is Security Chief of the Delos Corporation, the company that created the killer robots seen in the film. Moore must deal with an evil scientist named Quaid, who has taken control of the lifelike Delos robots, and plans to use them in his plot to conquer the world. Starring a cast of nobodies (actress Connie Sellecca from The Greatest American Hero is the only “name” person in the show), Beyond Westworld only lasted five episodes before getting axed by CBS and effectively killing the franchise until 2016.
7. Westworld Inspired The Terminator Franchise
Director James Cameron is a huge fan of the Westworld movie. So much so, that the portrayal of robots in the movie inspired his depiction of robots, or cyborgs, in the Terminator films. In fact, James Cameron had actor Arnold Schwarzenegger watch Westworld prior to filming The Terminator and told him to model his performance on that of Yul Brynner, who played the malfunctioning robot known as The Gunslinger in the 1973 original. If you watch the original Westworld and then The Terminator, the similarities between how the robots behave is pretty clear and rather striking. They each have the same emotionless detachment and laser like focus on whatever task they happen to be undertaking. The similarities are actually pretty eerie. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in talks to star in a remake of the film in 2007 before that deal fell apart.
6. Quentin Tarantino Was Involved in an Unsuccessful Remake of the 1973 Film
As mentioned, there were plans to remake Westworld as a movie in 2007 with Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the role of the robotic Gunslinger. And Warner Brothers had tapped Quentin Tarantino to direct it. Tarantino, a big fan of the original movie, was involved in pre-production on the movie remake for several months before dropping out. Plans for an updated movie fell apart after Tarantino left the project. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino wanted the remake to be much darker than the original and wasn’t completely sold on Arnold Schwarzenegger in the starring role. Eventually the differences with Warner Brothers became too great to overcome and the film project was scrapped. This is a little disappointing as it would have been interesting to see what Quentin Tarantino would have done with a reimagined Westworld.
5. Yul Brynner Wore the Same Outfit in Westworld as in The Magnificent Seven
Writer and director Michael Crichton tapped actor Yul Brynner to star in Westworld based on the actor’s previous role as the lead in the 1960 western classic The Magnificent Seven. Michael Crichton felt that Westworld would be a nice counterpunch to The Magnificent Seven, and treated Brynner’s role as The Gunslinger as a bit of an inside joke – right down to the costume. This is because Brynner wears the same outfit in Westworld in both movies. It is the exact same black costume that Brynner wore in The Magnificent Seven, which he kept after filming wrapped. While Brynner said in interviews he was paying homage to The Magnificent Seven by wearing the same outfit, Michael Crichton has always maintained that it was a running joke on the Westworld film set.
4. Westworld Coined the Term “Computer Virus”
The term “computer virus” is pretty ubiquitous these days. After all, we live in a world of computer viruses. But back in 1973, nobody yet owned a home computer and definitely didn’t know what a computer virus was. However, Westworld is credited with coining the term to explain the robot malfunctions in the film. The term “computer virus” is used by the Chief Supervisor of the amusement park during a staff meeting where the spread of malfunctions across the theme park is discussed and he likens the various malfunctions to a “computer virus.” Interestingly, the concept of computer viruses didn’t become popular until the mid-1990s when computer programmers who had seen the movie Westworld used it to describe computers that had been infiltrated and infected by computer viruses via the internet.
3. There Was a Sequel to Westworld Made in 1976
Westworld was successful enough that it inspired a sequel in 1976 called Futureworld. This sequel stars actors Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner. Yul Brynner makes a cameo appearance reprising his role as The Gunslinger in a dream sequence, but Michael Crichton was not involved in the sequel. The plot of Futureworld involves the amusement park being re-opened after more than $1 billion of safety enhancements have been made. Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner play journalists who are sent to cover the re-opening of the park. However, in Futureworld, a group of robotic Samurais end up malfunctioning and going haywire in the amusement park. What follows is a fairly predictable sequel that retreads a lot of the ground covered in the original movie. Not surprising, critics responded harshly to Futureworld when it hit theaters back in 1976.
2. The New HBO Show Was Inspired by Blade Runner
The new HBO series contains a similar premise to the original 1973 movie. However, the new show is more existential and thought provoking than the first movie – looking at the impact of the experience on the robots and exploring the point at which machines outgrow their creators. In this respect, the new show borrows heavily from the 1982 movie Blade Runner. Rather than being called “replicants,” as the androids were in Blade Runner, the robots in Westworld are called “hosts,” and they are to have their memories wiped at the end of each narrative sequence. However, it becomes apparent that the memories and trauma the robots experience is harder to erase than expected. That leaves Westworld’s creator (Anthony Hopkins) and his chief scientist (Jeffrey Wright) with a tough problem. Their goal has been to make the “host” robots of Westworld as lifelike as possible, but when does lifelike become actually alive? It’s an approach that borrows heavily from Blade Runner, as well as the rebooted Battlestar Galactica TV series. The new show is less about technology than its effect on human consciousness – and the point at which humanity’s machines start to question and turn on their creators.
1. There’s a Little Seen and Hard to Find Version of Westworld That Fans Covet
In 1976, NBC aired Westworld on TV for the very first time. This turned out to be a very unique and special airing of the movie. That’s because NBC aired a slightly longer version of the film than was never shown theatrically or ever released on home video. Some of the extra scenes that were added for the first U.S. TV airing include a brief fly-by exterior shot of a hovercraft; a scene with scientists having a meeting in the underground complex; a scene of technicians talking in a locker room about the workload of each robot; a longer discussion between Peter and the Sheriff after his arrest when he shot the Gunslinger; a scene in “Medieval World” in which a guest is tortured on the rack; and an extended scene where the Gunslinger chases Peter through the amusement park. This extended version of the movie only aired on TV once and has not been seen since – making it a rare and special find for fans of the film and whole Westworld mythology. Reports of the extended version of the movie have cropped up online in recent years, only to be proven to be hoaxes.