Based on the 1973 film of the same name, Westworld is the new HBO drama from Executive Producer J. J. Abrams and screenwriters Jonathan and Lisa Joy Nolan.
The story follows the occupants and creators of ‘Westworld’; a futuristic theme park based on the old west. Here, the wealthy ‘newcomers’ can go and live out their most exciting or horrific fantasies and interact with the ‘hosts’; artificial beings created to facilitate their luxurious holidays and sworn not to hurt visitors. There are numerous stories the ‘newcomers’ can play out, safe from harm, and the park will just reset itself and its ‘hosts’ after they’ve finished whatever adventure they’re on.
However, when a new update grants the ‘hosts’ the ability to tap into their subconscious memories in order to make them seem more realistic, some of them begin to act out and stray from their programming.
A couple of months ago, I overheard someone in the street describe Westworld as the new Game of Thrones. And like Game of Thrones, there’s a lot to love about Westworld.
There’s a rich array of character for viewers to pick their favourites from, headlined by some A-list stars such as Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and James Marsden. As such, the acting, for the most part, is outstanding, surprisingly more so from the ‘host’ characters. As the show continues, we see that they are the true stars of the show, and not the humans they interact with. The central ‘hosts’ undergo very emotional character arcs, and their interactions with the dark, flawed human characters only serve to heighten them.
The look of the show also deserves praise, as it swaps between science-fiction, western and thriller settings without hindrance; from beautiful sweeping landscape shots of the old west, to the dark and clinical innards of the park’s control centre, where the eerie scenes of the ‘hosts’ being fixed or stored away take place.
There are some flaws of course; while Westworld only has ten episodes, stopping it from being too drawn out, there are still some cases where audiences might wish for things to speed up a bit and make you wonder if the show might have still worked just as well (or even better) had it been trimmed down another episode or two.
Furthermore, with a couple of exceptions, the fact that the human characters are generally less compelling than the hosts can make the show drag slightly when you’re watching a segment following the human cast. With the exception of Ed Harris’ Man in Black, whenever human characters find themselves in any real danger, it’s less moving than when the host’s do, unless the threat also affects one of the hosts as well.
Of course, you might not pick up on that, instead being more concerned with the various mysteries the shows throw out, such as: what is the the Man in Black looking for? What happened at the park thirty years ago? Who is Arnold? Is every human character actually human? And most importantly, how many times will we have to watch the lovable Teddy (James Marsden) get killed and rebuilt before it emotionally cripples us?
These questions and plot threads run throughout the whole series, and when you get answers, they certainly deliver; some with ‘oh shit!’ moments, and some with pretty brutal gut-punches that never fail to disappoint.
Westworld is a show that is pretty skilled at the art of misdirection. Its predominantly excellent performances, intriguing themes and shocking twists mean you may get to the end and want to start the whole thing again, just to see where it was the writers started tricking you.
And that’s probably a good idea, seeing as it will be over a year until we hear that beautiful theme tune again when the show returns for series two in 2018. But one thing’s for certain, it’ll be worth the wait.
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy Nolan, Michael Crichton, Halley Wegryn Gross, Charles Yu, Edward Brubaker, Dan Dietz, Kath Lingenfelter, Dominic Mitchell & Daniel T. Thomsen
Dir: Jonathan Nolan, Fred Toye, Jonny Campbell, Richard J. Lewis, Michelle MacLaren, Neil Marshall, Vincenzo Natali & Stephen Williams
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Simon Quarterman, Luke Hemsworth, Angela Sarafyan, Shannon Woodward, Talulah Riley, Tessa Thompson, Rodrigo Santoro & Clifton Collins Jr.
Prd: Cherylanne Martin
Westworld is available now on HBO and Sky On Demand.