(Minor Spoilers Below!)
Ah, Westworld. You know the plot, it’s a amusement park set on the Old West, populated by robots and you can interact with them, play along with the preprogrammed story, kill them, or have sex with them. Literally anything goes. And that means these robots will eventually run amok and start killing the guests at the park.
This might all sound familiar. Westworld is a remake of the 1973 film of the same name, written by the sadly deceased Michael Crichton, whose creative mind later brought us another story of a theme park where the creations get loose and eat the tourists, and that is of course, Jurassic Park. It isn’t the shadow of the original film that hangs dark and long over this new HBO show, but more that of dinosaurs roaring their way into our hearts. It doesn’t help matters that all the characters keep calling Westworld ‘The Park’.
And make no mistake, this is an HBO show through and through, with all the obligatory nudity, violence and bad language we’ve come to expect. Early reviews stacked full of hyperbole suggested Westworld was the best opening episode since Game of Thrones, and there’s no mistaking HBO are seeking something to replace GoT which is winding down in a year or two. Comparing Westworld to GoT seems like a mistake, they share very little DNA. While the sex and nudity on Westworld is appropriate, considering the park is designed to be a fantasy, rumours abounded before release of pornographic level orgies being filmed, and the violence too fits with the theme of the Wild West. But what feels out of place, perhaps due to poor scripting or equally bad line delivery, is the constant swearing. It grates very quickly and feels forced rather than natural, it’s very noticeable and took me right out of several scenes.
That’s a problem that can be fixed. Overall, Westworld does deliver an incredibly solid, entertaining and mysterious first episode, there’s a lot of characters for us to get to know. Luckily it isn’t rushed in 45 minutes, because without advertisements, Westworld clocks in at over an hour. It feels like you’re watching a feature film.
Capturing this film quality further is the amazing cast; Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris.
The standouts for me are Hopkins and Wood. It could be said that recently Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins has a tendency to give a larger than life performance, he can ham it up with the very best. But not here, as the creator of Westworld, he gives a measured performance, with a lot bubbling under the surface, he’s quiet and restrained but there’s so much more going on with his character, he’s equally as mysterious as the robots.
As for the robots, we meet several in the pilot, but none leave an impression like Evan Rachel Wood’s Delores. She is delightful and charming and she is the character we spend the most time with in this first episode, she is our point of view for much that goes on in Westworld. It’s clear from early on that she is far more sentient than most of the park’s inhabitants and we later learn there is a reason for this, despite her youthful appearance, Delores is the oldest robot in Westworld. And we know the place has been open for some time.
There is a level below in the human controlled (for now) robotics lab that looks like it might have once been something else, part of Westworld now closed to the public, full of discarded and outdated robots. A warehouse wall to wall with unmoving, seemingly dead human frames. It’s eerie, as is much going on in the pilot episode, Westworld will force us to ponder what we consider to be entertainment and worse that that, what it says about humans as a species.
I enjoyed Westworld and I will definitely tune back in next week. The quality is all there on screen, a few teething problems with scripts and minor characters who feel horribly out of place, we all know I’m talking about the writer, with a truly spectacular cast. There’s a lot of foreshadowing, some intentional and obvious, some more subtle, but it isn’t hard to guess where much of Westworld is going. It won’t be long before the dinosaurs, um, I mean robot cowboys, decide to break free. And I suspect that’s when the real fun will begin, although I suspect it won’t be quite that simple….
Westworld starts tonight on Sky Atlantic.