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Westworld: The Original Terminator

By Karel Segers

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When HBO launched Westworld (2016), I took the opportunity to discover the eponymous directorial debut of writer-director Michael Crichton. The movie is firmly embedded in pop culture, yet despite being a fan of Jurassic Park, and reading a few Crichton books, I never knew about Westworld.

THE ORIGINAL TERMINATOR

Crichton wrote the original novel Jurassic Park (1993) - which is essentially the same story if you substitute dinosaurs for people. When Malcolm (Goldblum) in that movie says the "Pirates didn't come to life and kill people”, he is obviously referencing Westworld.

A major character in this film is The Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner. In homage to The Magnificent Seven, he wears the same outfit as his character Chris in the Sturgess western.

The fans refer to the Gunslinger as the original Terminator, as Schwarzenegger reportedly based his performance on Brynner’s.

HAVE WE GOT A VACATION FOR YOU

The movie did well at the box office, because it had a terrific high concept. Nobody had seen anything like this before: a thousand-dollar-a-day resort where people go on a holiday to act out their forbidden desires. Then, of course, things get out of control.

Despite the great concept, the film was troubled with all sorts of production nightmares, and the story doesn’t hold up very well today. Even back then, writer/director Crichton completely re-edited the first cut of the movie because he was depressed by how long and boring it was.

MALFUNCTIONING STRUCTURE

[SPOILERS] Westworld’s realism, its attention to detail, and its slow build reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you can appreciate this, you’ll probably enjoy the movie.

If you prefer fast-paced, skip straight to the TV series. Until the movie’s mid point, nothing really happens that is out of the ordinary. In fact, an encounter with a malfunctioning rattlesnake is like a much overdue inciting incident.

To make the story work for today’s audiences, this should happen an hour earlier. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, creators of the HBO’s TV series understood this, and the 2016 show’s inciting incident (the first on-screen malfunctioning ‘host’) appears within the first half hour of Episode 1.

BRING IN THE GUNSLINGER

Apparently Yul Brynner was one of only two actors in Hollywood who wouldn’t blink at the firing of a gun(*). In this movie moment, he delivers an extraordinary blend of cowboy cool, and techno cold. “Get this boy a bib,” he taunts… “He needs his mama.” Like in a subplot of the TV series, one of the heroes spurs the other on to enter a fight. They’re invincible anyway… Even though we know that the Gunslinger’s bullet can’t hurt our heroes, the tension is palpable.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes that is indeed Christian Bale who traveled back in time to play John Blane (James Brolin).

-Karel Segers
(* the other one: Clint Eastwood)

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and Logline.it!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.

 

Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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