Could West World be the next Game of Thrones?

Now that Game of Thrones potentially only has one or two seasons left, could HBO’s upcoming science fiction miniseries West World take its place? The first full-length trailer does not a disappointment. The casting looks sharp: Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and James Marsden are just three of the notable names that grace the trailer. Peter Fonda also turns up as an artificial being who appears to want to meet his maker.

Based on the original 1973 film by Michael Crichton, West World is a theme park like no other. Populated by humanoid robot slaves, visitors pay for adventure and entertainment, with all their needs catered for. The 1973 film was followed by Future World starring Peter Fonda in 1976, so there is room for a sequel or two when the wild west has run its course. It appears ten episodes are being filmed to start the series off, with more undoubtedly planned if the ratings are good.

West World is of course not new territory for science fiction movies, television or books. Isaac Asimov’s Robot series, Philip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? (and the Blade Runner film adaptation), along with Battlestar Galactica in all its forms, are just the first three that spring to mind. West World’s makers are are going to have to work hard to differentiate themselves from the pack. A series based on a well-worn science fiction cliche will have to do more than repeat the obvious in a western setting.

Still, from brief trailer based glimpses, the production values look high, the casting promising, and the visuals haunting and poignant. The fly crawling across the woman’s pupil, however, was just amazingly creepy.

The new West World series is by Jonathan Nolan (responsible for The Dark Knight film with his brother Christopher) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies). J.J. Abrams is Executive Producer. Based on previous experience,  the Executive Producer title probably means little. Abrams probably just glanced at the script on the way to a luncheon appointment.

My memories of the West World film in the 70s are dominated by Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger, an android that loses control with unfortunate consequences. A black hat and an expressionless face were easily far more unsettling than the quicksilver terminator in James Cameron’s Terminator 2. In the new series, it seems Ed Harris is taking over the role of the Gunslinger. In the cast summary, Ed Harris’ character is listed as “The Man in black”.

Is Game of Thrones an impossible act to follow?

Clearly Game of Thrones is a hard act to follow for any series. The fact that HBO used the opening of one of the final episodes in season six to publish the trailer suggests they would like the audience of one to follow the other. The high production values and acting power employed seem similar to Game of Thrones, but they don’t have a series of wildly popular books to feed off. Michael Crichton’s West World novel was merely entertaining pulp at best.

I guess when the new West World series is aired in October this year, we’ll quickly find out.

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