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Review: HBO’s Westworld

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Michael Crichton’s 1973 Westworld is a sci-fi classic and a favourite of mine. When I heard that HBO were working on a TV adaptation I wasn’t sure what to think. Then I heard that Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins were involved and the excitement started building. Then a trailer or two came our way and it all looked great. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a theme park full of robot cowboys that may go haywire at any time!

The show is described as a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged. How does that translate to the small screen? Rather well actually.

HBO very kindly let me see the first few episodes and I cannot wait to see the rest. For this version, Westworld has been open for a few decades. The robots, or Hosts, are there to ensure the Guests (the humans) have a great time. Whether that involves gunfights, treasure hunts, robbing banks, or sex, the Hosts are there to cater to the every wish of the Guest. The fact that a Host cannot harm a Guest means everything is hunky dory. Behind the scenes are many people working to ensure the park runs smoothly and that the Hosts work as they should.

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The Hosts do not know they are robots. They have been given memories to ensure they have a sense of self, but their programming means they ignore any mention of the real world. Each morning they wake as if it is the same day even though they may have been shot numerous times or had other terrible things done to them. They are taken in for repairs and memory wipes whenever they are needed. That’s the thing with a theme park like Westworld. The guests are told they can do whatever they want and so some do the dark things that they have tried to keep hidden out in the real world.

Some of the Hosts have been in the park since the beginning, but have played many parts. Whenever a new storyline is created, some Hosts are retasked. If they start showing any faults they are taken out of the park and put into storage.

Anthony Hopkins is Dr Robert Ford, the creator of the robots. He looks on them more like his children and is constantly tinkering. As the series begins his latest update has been implemented in some of the hosts and a few have started to show errors.

Evan Rachel Wood plays Delores, one of the Hosts and she is, initially our way into Westworld. Wood, along with the other actors playing Hosts are brilliant. They go from being characters in a Western, to emotionless droids depending on what the situation calls for. Louis Herthum, as Delores father is a particular standout, when his grip on reality is lost and he is taken for questioning he does amazing things that make him seem almost human yet devilishly robotic at the same time. Brilliant work.

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Ed Harris is the man in black and seems to be the villain of the piece. He knows how Westworld works, but what his intentions are have yet to be discovered. As usually he is a joy to watch, even when terrorising a whole village. Is he a Host who has broken his programming or is he a Guest who has gone off the reservation? The show keeps us guessing about him and many other people. He is either the most terrible man in Westworld or the biggest gaming nerd there has ever been!

Seeing things from the viewpoint of the Host makes you realise what a dreadful existence they would have. Killed, maimed or raped over and over again at the whim of the Guests only to have everything reset for the next day is horrific and when the virus, computer error or whatever it is kicks in some hosts begin to remember the events they have gone through and the things they have lost.

There is a lot going on in the show and the first episode was a bit all over the place simply due to the amount of characters and story lines involved. Everyone seems to have a hidden agenda and just when you think you have a handle on things you learn something new or a new character is introduced that makes you question everything. Are the Hosts beginning to malfunction due to the update, human error, industrial sabotage or some darker reason?

As the show continues we learn more about the park and how it operates. We see what Guests go through to get there and what goes on behind the scenes. It all looks stunning. While the episodes I watched were still unfinished in terms of CGI that did not take anything away from it. The shots in Westworld itself are beautiful and would be welcome in any classic Western, while behind the scenes everything is dark with glass walls, spotlights and lots of naked Hosts. A great juxtaposition that works well. We also see deeper levels of the park that seem like abandoned parts of other, older buildings. Nothing in Westworld is what it seems.

Westworld is well worth a watch and I highly recommend it. It is fantastic television and I cannot wait to see how it all plays out.

Apart from all the mysteries waiting to be uncovered the other question you would have to ask is what would you do if you could visit Westworld?

Westworld starts in the US on HBO on 2 October and in the UK on Sky Atlantic in October.

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One Comment

  1. I have loved everything Michael Crichton has written, I miss him. This will be a great homage to him.

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