Everyone has their “Old Yeller” moment as a kid. You know, a film moment, a musical moment, an aesthetic moment that splinters the fragile psychological barrier of childhood naivete. We usually carry a few with us into adulthood. For J. J. Abrams (and myself), Michael Crichton’s 1973 science fiction thriller/western, Westworld, contained more than one of those moments. Written and directed by Crichton, Westworld told the story of a futuristic amusement park where individuals, for a whopping $1000 a day, could explore the limits of their physical, emotional, and ethical transgressions in an artificially constructed virtual environment, i.e., with robots. The patrons could do whatever they wanted–cheat, rape, steal, murder–without consequence because their interactions were entirely with machines. Well, what happens when the park’s machines malfunction and fight back? People die. For the early 1970s, this was a pretty heady premise: somewhere between Jurassic Park and Terminator long before Jurassic Park or Terminator even existed.
The Crichton film has aged a bit, considering its original low production budget, but its themes are ever so timely. Recently released, HBO’s “about the series” featurette gives us a glimpse into the themes the new show will be exploring. While there is hardly anything novel about artificial intelligence tales and the Prometheus problem, HBO has a good track record of taking risks and delving into deeper intellectual territory. To meet the spirit of the 1973 Crichton screenplay, HBO’s Westworld will have to do just that. The featurette gives me hope. And, with names like Abrams and Jonathan Nolan listed in the credits, I will be firmly glued to my screen on October 2nd for the inaugural episode.