The past twelve months have set a new record in reboots, remakes, and decade late sequels. Regardless of the money thrown at of these IPs, and occasionally in spite of it, virtually every one of these fresh reduxes has been disappointing at best. The common thread seems to be a reliance on nostalgic fans showing up for another serving of what they once loved, instead of focusing on quality storytelling. When HBO announced they were creating a new series inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1973 Sci-Fi Western classic, was the studio just following suit, or did they have something grander in mind?
After screening the first four episodes, we can say without a doubt that HBO’s new “Westworld” series is not a reboot, remake, or sequel. It is a truly brilliant reimagining of the source material. Co-Creators Jonathan Nolan (“Interstellar,” “The Dark Knight”) and Lisa Joy (“Pushing Daisies,” “Burn Notice”) have taken the mythos and injected it with doses of mystery, violence, sex, religion and philosophy.
The first few episodes quickly fill us in on what this place is, and how it operates. Anthony Hopkins stars as Dr. Robert Ford, a name that is surely a nod to Jesse Jame’s cowardly assassin. Dr. Ford is the original creator of this adult theme park, a place where robotic “Hosts” exist solely for the pleasure of the human “Visitors.” During a Visitor’s stay in Westworld, they are often thrust into seemingly dangerous situations, but the Hosts are completely incapable of harming the humans. Hosts are encouraged to act on any of their impulses, regardless of how righteous or depraved they may be. To say Dr. Ford suffers from a God Complex would be a gross understatement. While his sanity may be questionable, his razor sharp intellect and obsessive drive to improve on the androids he has pioneered is not.
Jeffrey Wright plays technician Bernard Lowe, the first to begin noticing anomalies in an increasing percentage of the androids. One, in particular, has caught his attention, Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), a young blonde farmer’s daughter who has been expressing peculiar unscripted responses to her experiences. Day after day he questions her, searching for clues on what is triggering these changes to her program. Are they ghosts in the machine? Pieces of code that manifest themselves? Or is something more treacherous?
Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Luke Hemsworth, and Clifton Collins Jr., make up the various Hosts and Visitors that inhabit this wild, wild, west world. Each of them craft remarkable characters that deserve plenty of discussion, but to do so would rob the reader of the experience of learning who they are first hand. All of these great performances are coupled with inspired writing that not only propels the plot but provides the viewer with a range of characters with which whom they can relate. Which character(s) will you most identify with? The answer may surprise you. Like all the best science fiction, “Westworld” explores questions that haunt us all. Who are we really? What divides good from evil? Do we answer to a higher power? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Also of particular note is the art direction and attention given to making this impossible world seem real. The West is bright, dirty, and gritty. You can almost smell the dust, blood, and leather. The control rooms are dark with sharp contrasts in color and lined with cold polished surfaces. These metaphors need little translation.
This review covers only the first four episodes of the 10 episode premiere season in what is slated to be a five season run and already it has exceeded our most optimistic expectations. One of the theme park Visitors perhaps phrased it best, “I know you think you had a handle on what this place was gonna be. Guns, and tits, and all that. You have no idea.”
“Westworld” kicks off its ten-episode season SUNDAY, OCT. 2 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
*Note: This series contains just as much violence, sex, nudity, and profanity, but (so far) less gore than your average “Game of Thrones” season.