HBO's 'Westworld' Takes The Movie To Another Level

by Laura Rosenfeld

One of the most highly anticipated new shows of this fall TV season is upon us. Westworld premieres Sunday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Though Westworld looks like one of the most innovative and epic sci-fi shows to hit TV in a long time, the series is actually not a completely new idea. It is, of course, inspired by the 1973 film of the same name written and directed by Michael Crichton. Having that little bit of knowledge, it's only natural to wonder how different HBO's Westworld will be from the movie.

First of all, the premise of Westworld the movie and Westworld the TV series are basically the same. Both are set in the near future, where Westworld is a resort that transports guests to the past by seemingly perfectly recreating the age of the Wild West, from buildings to clothing to activities. AI hosts who look just like humans are also there to help make visitors have a blast in the past. With this fantastical world as its backdrop, Westworld the TV show will explore the theme of instant gratification in a world where every desire is fulfilled, according to the series' website, just as the movie did.

Though Westworld may sound like a dream vacation, both the movie and TV show are dramas, so you know there's going to be trouble in paradise. In the movie, Westworld's robot hosts eventually end up turning on their human creators to wreak havoc of their own volition. That's most notably done by the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), the main villain of the movie who turns on the humans and ends up looking to kill first-time visitor Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and his pal and veteran visitor John Blane (James Brolin). From the series' official trailer, which you can check out below, it looks like the AI characters will similarly try to attain their own free will, whether it's rancher's daughter Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) trying to discover her true past or the Man in Black (Ed Harris) attempting to disrupt the system entirely, although it's unclear if his motives are as nefarious as the movie's Gunslinger, on which the character seems to be based. This spotlight on AI characters shows that the series will also analyze what it means to be human, which was another major theme throughout the film.

However, without having yet seen the series premiere of Westworld on HBO, it looks like it will differ from the original movie in several key areas as well. One that initially jumped out at me is that the movie features the company Delos, which owns and operates two other resort areas in addition to Westworld: Medieval World, which is a reconstruction of 13th-century Europe, and Roman World, which is set at the peak of the imperial Roman Empire. Though the vast majority of the action takes place in Westworld, there are a few scenes here and there in the other two resort areas. It looks like the TV show will solely focus on the goings-on of Westworld, but with five more seasons already mapped out, as showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy told Entertainment Weekly earlier this month, who knows where the series could take us?

The TV show also seems to be told mostly from the point-of-view of the AI hosts, such as Dolores, whereas the movie mainly focuses on the experiences of Peter and John as they explore the resort and quickly discover that everything is not as idyllic as it seems. But it does seem like those characters will make it into the TV series as well in supporting roles in the form of rookie visitor William (Jimmi Simpson) and longtime guest Logan (Ben Barnes).

Luckily, the TV version of Westworld will feature more female voices in addition to male ones with characters like Dolores, madam Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), bandit Armistice (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), and head of Quality Assurance (Sidse Babett Knudsen). The movie version of Westworld really only featured male characters like Peter, John, and their fellow travelers, as well as the Gunslinger, and the scientists and engineers trying to keep the resort in order. Female characters were really only there to serve male characters, such as the flight attendants, sex workers at the saloon, and even the queen of Medieval World, who didn't really assert her authority over a male subject, who's actually a visitor, but rather, functioned to satisfy his sexual desires.

To that point, sex and violence will also be a major part of Westworld the series, as reviews, such as this one from Variety , have already been pointing out. Joy even addressed concerns about Westworld 's depiction of sexual violence during this year's Television Critics' Association Summer Press Tour in August, saying that the creative team didn't want it to be "about the fetishization of those acts," but rather, "exploring the crime, establishing the crime and the torment of the characters within this story and exploring their stories hopefully with dignity and depth," HitFix reported. Similarly, since Westworld's characters are in the Wild West, shootouts are at the center of the movie with (some very fake-looking) blood splashing on the screen every once in a while. And since the visitors think that whatever happens in Westworld is not real, they're positively trigger happy and almost numb to violence. The movie is also filled with the aforementioned sexual subservience of women, which is shown by the likes of the sex workers in the saloon who just hang around waiting until visitors want to sleep with them. HBO series are known for featuring graphic depictions of sex and violence, although they sometimes come under fire for that as well, so it wouldn't be surprising if the TV version of Westworld to push the envelope even further in this regard.

Of course, the very fact that Westworld is being reimagined on HBO as a TV series means it's sure to depart from the movie in many other big ways that will be seen as the season progresses. But right now, it sounds like Crichton's ground-breaking film is going to get the small-screen treatment it deserves.

Image: John P. Johnson/HBO