artificial intelligence

The New HBO Production Bills Itself as ‘a Dark Odyssey' About the Dawn of Artificial Consciousness

HBO’s revival of the chilling 1973 A.I. film appears made for our brave new world.

The late Yul Brynner might be best known for "The King and I," but he's currently reigning as the spiritual center of pop culture's western revival. 

His stoic Chris Adams, who let his shooting do most of his speaking, led the all-star line-up of the original 1960 version of "The Magnificent Seven," whose current remake corralled last weekend’s box office

Brynner didn't have to say a word, though, to give chilling life to the dead-eyed, dead-shot android gunslinger who terrorizes a futuristic amusement park run amok in 1973's "Westworld" – reimagined in 10-part series that debuted Sunday on HBO.

While "The Magnificent Seven," then and now, offers throwback appeal to an ageless tale rooted in "The Seven Samurai," "Westworld" was built for our brave new world.

The original "Westworld" proved ahead of its time, beating "The Terminator" by a decade. Sure, Stanley Kubrick started the modern artificial intelligence scare-fest in 1968 with "2001: A Space Odyssey," as the faceless, hyper-verbal computer HAL toyed with astronaut Dave. But Brynner's very human-looking gunslinger embodied progress gone awry as he silently and relentlessly stalked Richard Benjamin's hapless tourist, whose Wild West bacchanalia turned into a flight from death.

"Westworld" writer and director Michael Crichton also emerged ahead of his own time, with the film landing two decades before "Jurassic Park," his novel about larger-scale vacation chaos, became a big-budget Steven Spielberg thriller. "Westworld," though, employed more Hitchcockian suspense than special effects to frighten the bejeezus out of those of us raised on the cult film – including reboot king J.J. Abrams, a producer of the HBO show.

The series, starring Ed Harris as the gunslinger, joins the swelling ranks of A.I.-driven entertainment plots, as seen in recent films from “Her” to “Avengers: The Age of Ultron” to the under-appreciated “Ex Machina.” The new "Westworld" also stands to resonate louder these days amid the advent of driver-less cars, Watson romping on "Jeopardy!" and take-'em-with-a-grain-of-salt reports that intimate robot-human relations might be more than a "Futurama" gag three or four decades down the line.

That context clearly isn't lost on the creative team behind the revival of “Westworld,” which is billed as “dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin." The line could be enough to make even Brynner’s robotic gunslinger crack a king-sized smile.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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