Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright Photography: John P. Johnson/HBO
Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright                Photography: John P. Johnson/HBO

The HBO series based on Michael Crichton's 1973 movie begins a 10-episode run Sunday.

Be forewarned: Westworld — the much-hyped, eagerly awaited HBO series set to kick off  a 10-episode run at 9 pm ET/PT Sunday,  October 2 — is not your father’s western. Indeed, it’s not even your father’s Westworld.

The original 1973 Westworld, written and directed by author Michael Crichton, is an ingenious sci-fi thriller about a futuristic theme park where customers can immerse themselves in a Wild West landscape populated by androids prepared to fulfill any fantasy. Want to dally with a saloon girl? Go ahead. Take part in a posse? No problem. Have a shootout with a bad-in-black Gunslinger (memorably played by Yul Brynner in full Magnificent Seven mode)? Hey, knock yourself out. Programmers have taken care to ensure that the androids can never, ever, hurt any guest, so everyone is safe and nothing can go wrong.

Until, of course, they do go wrong — spectacularly wrong — and the androids start shooting back at the trigger-happy humans. And they don’t aim to please.

(In 1990, it should be noted, Crichton recycled many of his high-concept film’s science-run-amok concepts in his novel Jurassic Park.)

The ’73 Westworld was enough of a box-office smash to inspire a (far less successful) 1976 sequel, Futureworld, starring Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner and, fleetingly, Brynner, and a (deservedly) short-lived 1980 TV series titled Beyond Westworld. Much like Crichton’s original, these follow-ups focused primarily on humans caught in the crossfire while supposedly fail-safe machinery fails. Judging from the premiere episode, however, it appears the HBO Westworld will be paying far more attention to the creators of the theme park attractions, and the unexpected evolutions of those creations and their A.I. (artificial intelligence) makeup.

In this brave new Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the enigmatic founder, creative director, and chief programmer of the theme park, wants to make his android “hosts” be all they can be, and never tires of tweaking their A.I. Unfortunately, his latest update involves outfitting the androids with “memories” of events that took place long before the scenarios they’re programmed play out with thrill-seeking guests. Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), the programming division chief charged with making the androids appear more human, is among the first of the Westworld overseers to recognize the inadvertent consequences of Dr. Ford’s tinkering. But the human guests likely will be the ones who’ll suffer worst as a result of this bad science.

In addition to Hopkins and Wright, the Westworld cast includes Ed Harris as The Man in Black, a menacing galoot clearly modeled after Yul Brynner’s character in the ’73 flick; Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, a rancher’s daughter who takes a shine to new visitor Teddy Flood (James Marsden); and Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton, the theme park’s malevolent “most wanted” outlaw. The premiere episode is cleverly constructed to keep viewers constantly guessing: Which of these folks are playing guests —and which are playing hosts?

“Building on the incredibly evocative concept of the original film,” says series co-creator Jonathan Nolan,” we wanted to pose the question: If you could be completely immersed in a fantasy, one in which you could do whatever you wanted, would you discover things about yourself that you didn’t want to know?”

Co-creator Lisa Joy adds, “We also wanted to explore what it means to be human from the outside in, through the eyes of the ‘hosts’ — the lifelike A.I. characters that are the main attractions of the park. It’s a meditation on consciousness — the blessing and the burden of it — beautifully portrayed by our remarkable cast.”

Keep in mind: This is HBO, not broadcast or even basic-cable television, so the premiere episode of Westworld features elements — sexuality, graphic violence, male and female nudity, fusillades of F-bombs — that may offend some viewers. Here is a taste of what else you can expect.

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