Taking the time to watch The Stepford Wives (1975) tells me fire sure that it’s far superior to the 2004 comedy remake really pales in comparison, the feminist bite that I found here is watered down substantially. The original even just on the surface is darker and sinister. I’m not going to compare the too, I just don’t see the need really when the original’s packed full of ideas, which I’m going to explore. I will however start by comparing this sci-fi paranoia with Westworld (1973), the amusement park populated with android hosts who are at the beck and call of the human guests whim, be them violent, sexual or anything in between. The idea of the android being used for human pleasure was only scratching the surface of how far it could be explored. Of course in the theme park a malfunction saw the robots take over and that was that until the poorly made sequels (that no-ones ever seen). In the theme park we acknowledge early on that these are not humans, in on the illusion, waiting for it to go horribly wrong. For new visitor Peter (Richard Benjamin) he is all too aware of the possible consequences of his actions, using and abusing these hosts who at least look human. He wont kill any of them, even when the safety features are in place. The illusion is all too real for him.
It’s the illusion that photographer, wife and mother Joanna (Katharine Ross) who moves with her lawyer husband from New York for a new life in the suburban town of Stepford. On the surface you have the idyllic American dream, the big house, the kids and if your lucky the perfect wife. Well most of the other residents do. All with perfect bodies and spotless houses, funny how they all live within a few miles of each other. This gated community living the dream. Joanna however starts to see cracks in the dream, with all the spare time on her hands she finds herself starting to go mad. For me I think part of that illusion and mystery is lost due to the knowledge of the remake which gives away the plot. It was about rediscovering how Joanna came to that which made the revisit worthwhile.
Leading up to that discovery she befriends recently moved in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) who shares the same concerns start to look at little closer at the wives of Stepford who would rather live the life of the ideal wife, keeping the house spotless, makes cakes and talk as if they were selling a household product. They are living adverts for the ideal married life… for the male anyway. Perfect in every-way for the husband to enjoy, having less to worry about at home, coming back from work to a clean house and a woman who worships him. Honestly every man does want that but ultimately that’s just a childhood fantasy. The generation depicted in the film, grew up in the 1940/50’s with stay at home mothers who only ventured out to get groceries and pick up the children. An image and ideal woman who according to Freud all men look for, their mothers, someone to compare to what is basically an impossible goal to reach. These boys who become men desire that in the women they meet. Who in-turn want the father in their husband – that’s if we are looking at a heterosexual relationship. In Stepford that ideal becomes a reality for the men who are rarely at home, either at work or the men’s club.
If in Westworld the desires of the guests; male or female are met, then in Stepford only the desires of the men are being catered for. Its a male dominated environment, that reflects reality of the time. The Women’s liberation/feminism was in full swing. Women fighting for an equal voice, to be taken seriously in a male dominated society. Looking back, how much has really changed since that time. I don’t think I am really qualified to give a definitive answer. I can say in short that there is still a way to go. The workplace has made progress, the depiction of women in film and TV has improved if only slightly. Print and digital media is also slowly catching up. Its about keeping the ideas alive and fighting for what is basically equal rights, respect and representation in society as new generations grow up.
Stepford Wives is full of fear, the fear of unknown if women were allowed to be free thinking, independent people, free to act, work and dress as they please without fear of being objectified, ignore and treated less than their male counterparts in life. The ideal, yet softened feminist for the screen. Both Bobbie and Joanna represent women who can think for themselves, have a laugh and see the town for what it is. They become fixated with the wives who they can’t really hold an intelligent conversation with. We see one wife Carol (Nanette Newman) whose clearly a recovering alcoholic malfunction, or so we are lead to believe, her reaction is more robotic, there’s nothing human about her beyond her form. Her presence is rather sinister, perfect hair and body, she has achieved the ideal that adverts and the media promote, and so have all the other wives. Joanna and Bobbie then encounter Charmaine (Tina Louise) who comes with her own marital problems. Then a few weeks later a trip away and she’s transformed into a new woman, blossoming almost, yet under the facade is another shallow obedient wife.
I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy the fictional Barbie doll complete with pull-string that allows her to talk. Playing archaic female stereotypes that are being fed to young impressionable girls. Lisa takes it upon herself to design and sell her own doll with her own independent thinking and sayings. The little girl playing the giant toy company at their own game. Only to come back with the same doll, this time wearing a hat. Showing how easy it is to sell to children and how little they really care about the impact they have in their development. The men of Stepford are the same really, taking the women they met, and improving in their desire image, having overall control over their wive. The men are once again in charge. Leaving all the women subservient, quiet and of little hassle to them.
It’s in this fictional American town there’s the illusion of hope for the men, restoring order to things so they can go about their lives not needing to progress socially, science has caught up enough to allow them to turn the clock back on the women who’ve been fighting them since the 1960’s. Feminism has no place here, its fought and won with male ingenuity and science – and because they can. It’s that easy in science fiction to solve a social problem with technology, now just wait until it malfunctions.
On reflections Stepford Wives is a very dark film, drip feeding to you the suggestion that something is wrong, socially critiquing a small town in suburban New York state. We see independent women being stripped of all they have fought for, rewinding the clock to the 1950’s. There’s no hope for any of them here in the cinematic world, filmed like a cheap TV movie the ideas are even sharper because you don’t expect to find them. Even passing the Bechdel test too with flying colours which is even rarer for it’s time. A film that looks dated on the surface with razor sharp contemporary ideas, now when is it being rereleased?
I caught a glimpse of the series finale of Westworld last night, not something I wanted to do, possibly ruining what was going to happen. Thankfully it didn’t really give too much away. After last weeks episode when we knew things were finally staying heated in the park. I can safely say things stayed that way. Last week I also read about different timelines going on in the series, at least three, which finally became clear. I wasn’t really seeing that myself, but it does become clear after spending 20 odd minutes with Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) who catches up with William, our Man in Black(Ed Harris) is the older William (Jimmi Simpson) who was riding in the park with Logan (Ben Barnes)So we have two timelines converging on Delores who is only now realising, who she is and ultimately her purpose or should we say destiny as this extended episode drew the first series to a climatic close.
So what about Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) who back above ground is putting the next phase of her plan in action. Or should we really call it her narrative? I’ll get to that later. Taking with her two other hosts who are in for repair, now human blood is being shed and its all away from the park. It seems that all the training that the hosts receive before being letting loose in the main park allows them to adapt to situations and tools. Maeve is careful to keep hold of Felix throughout all of this action. We do have a few more nods to the film when headquarters learn something is up, filling in the gaps of what may have fallen on the cutting room floor in the 1970’s. Her story-line is somewhat sidelined at the end to allow us to build up more Arnold/Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Delores and Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) who finally reveals all to them both and the audience. We learn who Wyatt which comes as a surprise, a character who has laid dormant in another host ready to take us to the next season.
A daring twist is to kill off Ford, which I feel has worked in his favor as the companies board have voted him out. His new narrative is revealed finally, he has allowed the revolution to slowly happen before us. Rolling back hosts memories at times to delay the incident until his final card is forced. However as the final card is played, we see both Delores and Maeve taking control of their destiny’s, going beyond their original programming. However are we still working with two timelines, or have they converged just yet? All will be revealed in 2018
I think we are starting to get somewhere now, I say that lightly as we are still expanding the world of the theme-park at the same time. If there’s going to be a revolution of some kind, it may not be until the second series which all hangs on how episode ten’s received and if there’s still an audience.
So what happened to make me consider this. Firstly we picked up with Meave Millay (Thandie Newton) one of the two hosts whose becoming increasingly aware of her existence. We left her in the workshop, waking up shocking one of the engineers Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam) who has a knack with host behaviours. Now there is one host whose eyes have been really opened to what is going on. Using her position and situation to her advantage. All she has to do now is cause the uprising, can that really be done in 4 episodes or will that be the series finale?
We have left the two brothers for this episode, which I hope will be picked up next week. We spend about 2 scene with older Hector (Ed Harris) riding with Teddy Flood (James Marsden) who’se being used through the Wyatt narrative to get to the maze, that’s if Dr. Ford allows him that far. The image of the maze is starting to be found elsewhere in the park. Ford is not afraid in throwing in the map, which can be seen as a personal motif or even a rouse?
Picking up from last week in more detail is the shocking finding of the transmitters found in the older hosts, and the more contemporary use of them in the park. This is a thread that starts to look at other malfunctions in the park. The makers of the showing are putting in a lot and trying to spread it out among the shows run, picking it up as and when. For me this is a slow process, (probably as I’m not a serial box-set watcher) which I hope, I say hope will pay off with some answers soon as they are adding more and more and not getting far fast. I’m getting impatient with this rich world that has a lot potentially going for it
A nice surprise with boy, who turns out to be a first generation host, along with a host version of Arnold. Using imagery that we find in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) are we in that same or similar universe, who are not willing to create a “David” android? Ultimately this is another story-line that is starting to develop, for me I want the realisation to occur in more of the hosts.
Lastly if you look closely in one of the early scenes you might see a very cheeky nod to the original film as Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) goes to the surface to do some investigating. Maybe we never really left that park, which has simply updated as technology has? Now that’s something to stick around for.
And I thought that all the references to the original film were all over with after the first episode, instead we see the park from the perspective of two new visitors. William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), one returning, another fresh to the experience that is Westworld. Mirroring the roles of John Blane (James Brolin) and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin), bringing an ordinary perspective, we see the lengths that the park goes to in ensuring that all they enjoy themselves beyond killing a few cowboys and having fun at the brothel, there really is something for everyone. It’s a holiday for the ultra rich, so you’ll have to start saving now, might be in time for the park opening. We also meet our first aware (and limited) host Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) who takes William to find his tailor-made costume, there seems no detail from the original film that has been forgotten. I’m certain more will pop-up.
I’m starting to think that Ed Harris‘s character is the human version of Yul Brynner’s gunslinger who wants to know more about the world that we learn he has not left for sometime. He’s getting closer to unlocking this world, one episodic step at a time. In this episode he take us to a Mexican town, making himself known. He definitely knows more than the average guest, his years of experience have taught him to questions the limitations of Westworld, he really is pushing them.
Last time the focus of the episode was on Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) who takes a back seat, yet she is becoming the main thread through the series which takes us to the madam of the town – Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) who is starting to show signs of wear and tear like other hosts. She’s starting to dream, possibly reflecting on a past role which shows the more horrific narratives that have played out in the park. Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is really playing god, taking his creations giving them life and dictating the paths they take and the reality they perceive. Cracks are certainly on show in this world. we are breaking away from the original film to see a series inspired but very much its own. Millay’s discovery is sure to ricochet through the park, having only a negative outcome for the guests and the management.
I have to mention the failed new narrative created by Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) that’s rejected, even after all the work he has put into the hosts, the detail and back story. It does however reflect how far the management will go to entice more guests to the park. Looking like an Indian Wars scenario, it seen as little more than just Sizemore’s, imagination I wonder if later on these hosts will in-fact be introduced, a possible weapon against the revolt they will more than likely face.
The world is expanding before us, of course we have the groundhog day effect which I am starting to get used to. It’s the insight that the hosts are starting to understand beyond their programming and built in limitations that is starting to show. I smell an uprising soon, the upgrades will backfire and all hell will break loose. For the old doctor who surveys his park and even newest narrative he’s blind like the rest of them to what is really going on.
The wait is finally over, Westworld aired last night on Sky Atlantic in the UK. My first reaction to this reboot was cold when I saw the trailer back in the summer. However the more I saw of this reboot of the science fiction horror that was all but forgotten. I’ve only recently seen the original, complete with Yul Brynner‘s cowboy version of The Terminator that Arnold Schwarzenegger truly made his own over a decade later, an iconic image of film that’s built upon for another generation beyond that of what was a much forgotten obscure film about a theme park for the ultra rich in a future where guests would spend a week to indulge their pleasures.
Move forward to more recently we have the reboot, a series I will actually bang on about because I can see this being very successful even just for series one. There is so much potential for the scope of this world. Co-produced by JJ Abrams who seems to be going around breathing new life into classic films rather than really making his own mark beyond Cloverfield (2008) and this years sequel. He does however have the ability to really get under the skin of a piece of work, practically resuscitating it back to life, making it fresh for a new generation as he has done with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
Taking episode one as a whole the makers of the series have stayed true to the film. Beginning not with a silly hovercraft but a steam training bringing a fresh batch of guests to enjoy the wild West theme park. However there is a nice twist with the first character that we meet, believing Teddy Flood (James Marsden) to be a guest whose actually a host who meets his first bloody end. A host being one of the androids, the whole language of this worlds been updated to give us a more considered corporate driven theme park that has grown from the 1973 original. Much like Jurassic World (2015) there’s an acceptance of the past which’s built upon. Hoping to improve on their mistakes.
It’s refreshing to see a series that’s lead by a woman – Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) who is very important to her makers. No longer are we in a male driven frontier, the woman is able to speak up and hold her own. It’s scary how a fly can walk all over her characters face without producing a reaction, either that’s damn good acting or clever subtle C.G.I. at work either way, our perception of who is a host and guest is really being played with in Westworld.
We see very little of Ed Harris who is basically chewing up the sets and spitting them out again. Lets face it he’s having a ball here in Monument Valley, my only concern is the makers of the show aren’t treading on sacred Navajo ground. Harris plays a mysterious character who we know very little about, however he knows more than he’s letting on, looking like the real threat to this theme park at the moment.
Looking up to the management of the theme park we found just as little of creator Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is the name a dark nod to Jesse James assassin? Or am I just reading too deep, this inventor doesn’t appear to be mad scientist type who wont give up on his dreams. However his latest update does start a series of malfunctions that lead to a recall of hosts to be checked over. He’s not about to give up on his empire just yet, whilst those around him are more aware of potential problems, you can see the politics of science vs profit starting up.
Down in the park you can see the potential for danger, its bold, bloody and brutal. Early on we are brought into a loop, the daily life of the resort, it’s only until we see the subtleties, do we realise that they hosts are programmed much like the less life-like robots on museums, having their own stories, dialogue, actions and routines. Only here the aim is to be more an illusion of life but do management really want that. All this and more interesting questions that are all starting to be explored, the notion of sentience for artificial life. Its all about to get a whole lot darker very soon where things are left, malfunctions are happening, eyes are being turned, truths are being sought.
Admittedly this review of Westworld (1973) is timed before the UK premiere of the new spin-off TV series completed with 21st century update, I must say its one series I will be watching for sure. Now that I have seen the original film I can come into the series with a stronger context and points of reference. Much the same to Fargo (1996) and the respective series, having that richer understanding of the directors and film itself you have potentially a richer experience. Anyway enough of the hype building for the TV series, onto the original Sci-fi horror which had until recently become an obscure cult film that I had only heard snippets about. I have in-fact got a clip of the film in Cue the Lights (2014) without knowing what the film was about short of being robotic cowboys.
That was until more recently, checking out the trailer that gives more away yet not as big a plot-spoiler if it were released today. Westworld is one third of a theme-park for the rich to spend a week of escapism. Think Disney World but far more immersive, you’d be getting much closer with Itchy and Scratchy Land, visited by The Simpsons with similar consequences. So already I am finding that America wanted to escape from its own realities to it’s past, the mythical frontier space, populated by androids, operated by the Delos Amusement park. To get location that can only be reached by hovercraft, complete with advertisement to further entice the new batch of tourist who are ready and waiting for adult escapism. The focus on the Westworld, completely disregarding Roman world and Medieval world shows how much attentions put into revitalising the genre that is seriously lagging. Returning to an ideal history of that as portrayed on-screen is something I’m sure I might even consider.
As two men, John Blane (James Brolin) on his second visit and eager friend Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) who wants to know and try out everything at Westworld. He’s like a big kid going to Disney world wanting to try out all the rides. Wanting to really play the cowboy even down to the details on his gun belt, it’s all about the authenticity of the experience for him. For John he’s more than happy to show him around. On the surface we have fun place for big kids to go and have some unadulterated fun. Even a few killings without the consequences of going to jail. When they meet the Yul Brynner‘s Gunslinger they discover how much fun then realy=ly can have. Guns that will only shoot at androids’ its like being on the holodeck with the safety mechanisms still in places.
I’m reminded of The Stepford Wives (1975) which takes the android to another level of replacing a mans wife with his ideal, pacified wife who will obey his every command. That was Women’s liberation movement in Hollywood, if you want the ideal technology can replace your wife with a better body and one that doesn’t talk back or has her own mind. I think a few of them are in Westworld when they two friends visit a hotel, however for Peter he takes a while to warm to the idea that he can have sex with a robot having no consequences, no one gets hurt at all, its all harmless escapism for the male visitor. Of course women can enjoy the same pleasures with male counterparts.
It’s a hedonistic theme park that knows no boundaries until the unknown starts to have an effect. There have already been a series of malfunctions at the park, which are overlooked by some of the scientist running it. More concern for profit than for guests safety as a series of faults become more alarming. Beginning as just a few malfunctioning robots, it’s seen across the three worlds before spreading like a virus. Something that could easily have been prevented, ignored in the name of profit. Of course we all know that it wont stop there.
With the reappearance of the gunslinger fresh from being patched up (and some clever upgrades) he is ready for a rematch with more deadly results. The safety’s are off, throwing the visitors back into reality which had escape hits them and hard. As if they are living in a film and they are allowed to be killed off. Brynner has only a few lines in this film, which makes his presence all the more felt. An aging gunslinger who can still stand his ground is not about to be messed around (for the last time). His is danger in android, he can’t be stopped, a super gunslinger complete with a sensory upgrade so he can’t miss his target. Its becomes a game of cat and mouse as technology has broken free and malfunctioned, man left powerless to their own creations. Brynner is definitely silent and deadly making for a hard nose bad guy who is the ultimate, no safety over-rides can stop him.
From Michael Crichton who I’m know mainly from Jurassic Park (1993) this plays on the same theme of complacency of technology before humanity losing control. Our reliance on it for our own amusement must be monitored. We are slowly getting to the point that Crichton has depicted, yet these are still pleasures for the rich, not the general public. In Westworld the sense of wonder is soon replaced with pure dread – 70’s style which HBO looks to have successfully updated, looking on sentience of the androids, its no longer about human pleasure. I’m looking forward to the blend of modern Western and Science fiction, how the film has been since updated and ultimately expanded.