Westworld Isn’t Great Science Fiction, But It’s Great Television
The new HBO show Westworld is based on the 1973 feature film of the same name. The movie, which was written and directed by Michael Crichton, explores the idea of a high-tech theme park that goes haywire, an idea Crichton later recycled in his much more famous Jurassic Park. The original Westworld has many fans, but film critic Theresa DeLucci says the new series is a major improvement in terms of quality.
“It’s an HBO show,” DeLucci says in Episode 223 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “This definitely has that HBO pedigree of cast and acting and music and visuals.”
Science fiction editor John Joseph Adams also enjoyed the show, but felt that the worldbuilding was weak. He says that the show never paints a convincing picture of a working theme park, and that the human visitors don’t seem to be a believable product of a futuristic world that exists outside the park.
“It’s kind of using the furniture of science fiction to tell this interesting story, and what it’s doing it’s doing pretty well,” he says. “But as a piece of serious science fiction it doesn’t really work.”
He hopes that future episodes will explore the show’s premise with more rigor, but he’s apprehensive. Westworld reminds him of Battlestar Galactica and Lost, two shows that also began with promising science fictional premises but ultimately descended into mysticism and absurdity.
“It does have that same kind of plot, so I’m worried,” he says. “I’ve been burned before.”
Listen to our complete interview with Theresa DeLucci, Rajan Khanna, and John Joseph Adams in Episode 223 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Theresa DeLucci on Westworld and videogames:
“I call this ‘the rich inner lives of NPCs.’ I’ve played so many Rockstar games, and I remember what a big deal it was in the press when the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas AI was updated to make all the non-playable characters more lifelike—you know, the traffic patterns changed based on time of day, little pixel Californians jogged, ate burgers, talked to each other. So that’s kind of like what we see with Dolores and the other androids, they’re on these loops going about their day, and the human players—the human park visitors—are there to mess up their storylines and get involved in ways that they see fit. I thought that was really, really interesting.”
Rajan Khanna on the logistics of Westworld:
“What’s interesting to me is that all of this is happening at the same time, and the timing is very unclear about how this stuff loops. Because let’s say I’m in Westworld and John’s in Westworld, and I’m going to be sadistic and just start shooting people up, but he’s there to actually go on an adventure, and he wants to talk to the old prospector, or he wants to talk to somebody who’s going to send him on an adventure, and I just go ahead and shoot that dude in the head. Isn’t that interfering with his experience? I know that the park is catering towards everybody, but you’d think that they would have some rules in place so that one guy doesn’t ruin everything for everyone else.”
John Joseph Adams on naked robots:
“In the storage facility, where they had the non-functioning robots, OK, that made sense to me that they would store them nude in there, because they’re robots and they’re powered down. There’s no reason to have them all dressed up, and they probably need those outfits to put on some other robot. But when they were working on them, and they were talking to them—like a bunch of the conversations with Dolores, she’s sitting there naked—that seemed a little bit weird to me. It was almost like, ‘Hey guys, this is HBO. We’ve got to have a bunch of nudity.’”
David Barr Kirtley on AI in movies:
“I saw a comment years ago, that I think is really true, where it said that science fiction movies in particular can only see robots in one of two ways—either they’re killer monsters or they’re an oppressed minority. … And that’s kind of the case here. Obviously if the robots are sentient, then the ethics is all overdetermined—obviously then they’re victims and everyone who’s doing bad things to them is horrible, and it’s very black and white and simple how we feel about this. Whereas if the robots aren’t sentient—or at least if we have no good reason to think that they are—then how people treat things that look human but aren’t sentient I think is a much more interesting question.”