Yep, it’s another sci-fi robotics show. A classic genre that I’m always fond of and hopefully isn’t in danger of over-saturation yet even with the second season of Humans coming in the near future (Season one of which I’ve already reviewed). Westworld is a western show with a sci-fi twist. But it’s not set in space, this time it’s a theme park for the ludicrously rich and famous. A theme park that is manned entirely by robotic hosts. Westworld also features an array of fantastic actors; Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Shannon Woodward to name a few.
In Westworld theme park there are apparently roughly 2000 robots, 100 collective intertwined narratives and 200 individual storylines. The stories and robots (hosts) are set in a loop so that they repeat every day groundhog day style and will continue uninterrupted without any guests being in the room, yet each of the stories is open ended enough for slight variances caused by the guests to lead to completely different stories and endings (including skipping “chilling” monologues, much to the annoyance of the writers). It’s like a real life version of what Telltale games promise, the guests or “newcomers” actions genuinely have an impact on how storylines progress, some of which can end very darkly.
Thankfully the robot’s memories are purged every night similarly to Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and as it does in Dollhouse it turns out that memories aren’t always completely erased. So far it’s been established that the hosts can turn on each other but cannot hurt the tourists and generally they should stay within their respective loops (only slight variances on who they can fight/kill), but a new update to the hosts causes an issue with the loop restraints, with hosts beginning to break from their loops in unpredictable ways. So whether it continues to be the case that they can’t turn on humans as well is yet to be seen but let’s face it, the history of this style of show is not on the human’s side.
While most ofthe men, women and children that visit have fairly standard fantasies and are happy to live through the stories that management have written, one tourist in particular (The Man in Black) is taking advantage of his given invulnerability by living out all of his fantasies and proving that humans are interested in much darker themes than being a hero in the wild, wild west. It often feels like the guests are living in an MMORPG in that every host has a story and offers some form of quest, side quest, treasure hunt or just good old fashioned hooker banging. Hell there’s even some indications at the fall of MMORPGs the one after the original creator stops caring and the new developers start adding terrible campaigns.
The actors I named earlier give great performances. Sir Anthony Hopkins absolutely nails his role, unsurprisingly. He plays the creator of the tech, still constantly upgrading them to be more and more lifelike but without informing his programming or management teams. I’m looking forward to James Marsden’s role being expanded a bit as I think his talents are being constrained by his character as it stands and I actually have the same issue with a number of the actors playing robot roles. Although, obviously only two episodes are out so there’s plenty of time for growth. Thandie Newton’s acting in episode two for example was intense, and her characters plot was excellent. I really believe given enough time Westworld will allow their acting talents to stretch their legs.
Where Westworld slightly disappointed me is in its cinematography. While it’s not bad, there’s nothing that stands out as being anything above average. It has some relatively boring camerawork and on the whole the setting while sleek and shiny, can feel a little generic at times. Two scenes in episode one, including the opening scene were brilliant, the lighting in particular was good enough that I couldn’t help but think that with a little extra love and attention the entire show could have been brilliant but they never really try anything different and play it safe too often. This does pick up come episode two though to be fair so it seems to be a case of different tastes for different directors and that I prefer Richard J Lewis’ directing style to Jonathan Nolan’s.
As for the music in Westworld, it’s a different story, it’s generally relatively subtle and not something I initially noticed but rather noticed my lack of noticing, the music helps set the mood without it being invasive, allowing the acting to really shine. There isn’t constantly background music either, so it’s not overused, and treats silence as golden, once again allowing the quality of the acting to set the mood. There is one scene unlike the others though, featuring a spectacular and fitting rendition of Paint it Black during a pretty cool action sequence.
Somehow with Westworld I was drawn in before anything even happened, the story starts to unfold right from the offset with twists and turns showing that human fantasies can be much darker than a simple hero in passing story. While it runs in to the classic “when is a human a human” style philosophy dialogue occasionally it’s discreet enough that what the viewer takes away from it is entirely up to the viewer. You can enjoy the show as it is or ask question after question, or even get offended at the content without asking yourself why. It’s a much better tactic than the start of Humans for example.
To be honest I had enough material to write a review within the first half hour, hell 20 minutes in I felt like I’d only been watching for 5. After just one episode I was well and truly hooked, and episode two may have been better than the first. Treated correctly Westworld could be an absolutely great show.