“An Escape Into Reality”: Computers, Special Effects, and the Haunting Optics of Westworld (1973)

  • Colin Williamson Department of Film and Screen Studies, Pace University
Keywords: Westworld, film, television

Abstract

As one of the earliest experiments with integrating computer-generated special effects into celluloid filmmaking, Michael Crichton’s science fiction film Westworld (1973) imagined the transition into a digital future with a familiar apocalyptic narrative about disobedient machines and virtual realities. In this essay I move away from “escapist” and “futurist” readings of the sci-fi genre and explore how Westworld was “an escape into reality,” to borrow Isaac Asimov’s phrase, that immersed audiences in the computerization of life, visuality, and the cinema in 1970s America. My focus will be on mapping the film’s use of computer simulation as part of a constellation that includes everything from modernity in fin-de-siècle amusement parks and early cinema to discourses on postmodernism (Baudrillard) and dehumanization (Sontag). I will also consider how the recent HBO series Westworld (2016) reimagined Crichton’s film as a way of visualizing and historicizing questions about the virtual in our digital moment.

 

 

Author Biography

Colin Williamson, Department of Film and Screen Studies, Pace University

Colin Williamson is an Assistant Professor of Film and Screen Studies at Pace University (NYC). His research focuses on animation and special effects, early cinema, media archaeology, film theory, and nonfiction film. He is the author of Hidden in Plain Sight: An Archaeology of Magic and the Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 2015), and has published articles and essays in such edited collections and journals as Thinking in the Dark: Cinema, Theory, Practice (Rutgers University Press, 2016), animation: an interdisciplinary journalLeonardo: Journal of ArtsSciences, and Technology, and The Moving Image.

Colin Williamson est professeur adjoint d’études du film et de l’écran à Pace University (NYC). Sa recherche se concentre sur l’animation, les effets spéciaux, les débuts du cinéma, l’archéologie des média, la théorie du film, et le film de non-fiction. Il est l’auteur de Hidden in Plain Sight: An Archaeology of Magic and the Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 2015) et il a publié des articles et des essais dans des collections et journaux académiques tels que Thinking in the Dark: Cinema, Theory, Practice (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Animation: an Interdisciplinary JournalLeonardo: Journal of Arts, Sciences, and Technology et The Moving Image.

Published
2018-11-10
How to Cite
Williamson, C. (2018). “An Escape Into Reality”: Computers, Special Effects, and the Haunting Optics of Westworld (1973). Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies, 9(1), 19-39. Retrieved from https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/imaginations/index.php/imaginations/article/view/29398