Entertainment Weekly asked the showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about this:
When we’re told in the premiere that the park “hasn’t had a critical
failure in 30 years.” Are we supposed to take the events in the 1973
movie as canon — that everything in the Westworld film happened in
this universe – or was that reference not meant to literally be to the
It’s playful but not meant to be literal. We wanted to connect
to the ideas in the original film, but also take a look at this place
as a cultural institution that is not new – because these ideas aren’t
new. They stretch back to when Crichton was playing with them.
wanted to consider the park in that capacity, as a cultural
institution in the manner of a Disney World. We feel like there’s a
long story here. Like there’s something so pointed and sad for us
about the idea that Dolores, this sort of evergreen frontier girl next
door. She’s been that plucky heroine for 30 years.
Jonathan Nolan has also shared this tidbit about producer J.J. Abrams:
It starts with J.J. Abrams who I’ve been collaborating with going on
J.J. sat down with Michael Crichton two decades ago.
Crichton wanted to talk to him about remaking the original film. J,J,
couldn’t crack it at that point. Neither could the rest of the town.
How do you remake the movie? Yul Brenner’s performance in particular
is so iconic.
Fast forward two decades later, it occurs to J.J. it’s
not a movie, it’s a series. A key aspect is you take the narrative and
invert it, make it about the hosts.