As many sci-fi fans will know, the show 'Westworld' is based on the 1973 feature film of the same name (written and directed by Michael Crichton), and the premise is basically the same as it was then: In a future where technological possibilities are seemingly endless, a highly sophisticated theme park offers rich clients the chance to visit the long gone era of the Old West (Crichton later explored a variation of that theme in a certain well known novel - which was then adapted by a certain Mr. Spielberg - albeit with slightly different creatures than cowboys populating a slightly more "jurassic" environment).
The show does a great job pulling the viewer immediately into
Westworld. Within 10 minutes of the first episode, the basic rules of
the theme park are established: paying guests called "newcomers" get to
interact with androids called "hosts" (which to the naked eye are
indiscernible from the guests) in a world dressed up like the Old West
- and in this world, the guest truly is king. The rules are brutally
simple: the visitors get to do whatever they like with - or to - the
androids. They can have a friendly chat with them, flirt with them or
embark on a spontaneous (or scripted) adventure with them - but they
can also shoot them, rape them, torture them and kill them at will.
Imagine a real-life version of the game 'Grand Theft Auto' (in a
slightly different setting) and you'll get the idea.
The androids, on the other hand, are constructed and programmed in a
way that is supposed to inhibit them from physically harming "living"
creatures. At the beginning of the show - thanks to an interesting
choice of storytelling - we get to experience Westworld from the
perspective of the androids, which reveals a cruel detail about their
nature: they apparently experience emotions. Artificial or not, they do
feel pain and fear - as well as affection and anger, and they have no
idea that they don't count as "real" people (at least not to those who
call themselves real people). And while that detail certainly makes the
"game" even more thrilling and more realistic for the visitors, it
means that the shocking abuse some of the androids have to suffer is
harrowingly real to them.
The way the show is constructed - so far - it immediately confronts the
viewer with very uncomfortable questions. How do we as humans behave
towards creatures we consider non-human? How excessive do we become and how thin does our layer of morality turn out to be if we're allowed to
live out all our fantasies without having to fear any consequences for
our actions? And at what point should a creature have rights similar to
those we demand for ourselves? How do we define "sentient"? How do we
define "human"? And how well do we actually understand - and how well
are we able to control - the amazing technology our species seems to
have acquired so suddenly?
As an avid film fan, I found 'Westworld' immediately intriguing; not
only because it dares to challenge the viewer with fascinating
philosophical questions and scientific concepts, but also because its
premise offers the chance to explore a wide range of film genres: sci-
fi, western, drama, horror - to name but a few. In the first few
episodes alone, there are hints of many of my favorite films and
stories such as (obviously) 'Frankenstein', 'Blade Runner', 'A.I.', 'Ex
Machina', 'Jurassic Park', 'The Truman Show' and 'Rise of the Planet of
the Apes' (and I suspect somewhere down the road there will be a strong
'Spartacus' vibe). As for the non plot related aspects of the show:
production design, music and effects are fantastic - as we've come to
expect from HBO's high concept productions - and, with very few
exceptions, the impressive ensemble of high caliber actors do a great
job at bringing their respective characters to life (artificial and
A special mention needs to go to Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins: their
charismatic screen presence is once more just impossible to ignore and
they simply own every scene they're in. Generally speaking, there
really isn't much to complain about in 'Westworld' (so far), and I'm
pretty sure HBO have another winner. Given the amount of talent
involved, anything else actually would have been surprising. Produced
by J.J. Abrams, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy Nolan based on a
concept by the late - great - Michael Crichton; directed by Neil
Marshall and Vincenzo Natali (among others), and with a cast most shows
would kill for, the stars really seem to have aligned for 'Westworld'.
My overall verdict so far: 'Westworld' is intelligent science fiction
for adults (some scenes are very graphic) which offers more than just
eye candy and is full of mysteries for the patient viewer to uncover.
The show's main themes may not be new, but I found the way they are
presented never less than compelling. It succeeds in creating a
powerful metaphor for oppression, and by showing how quickly humans
tend to deem "un-humane" treatment of other beings acceptable - once
they've managed to convince themselves they're "less" human than they
are - the show drove a point home that resonated strongly with me. 9
stars out of 10.
Favorite TV-Shows reviewed: imdb.com/list/ls075552387/
Favorite films: IMDb.com/list/mkjOKvqlSBs/
Lesser-Known Masterpieces: imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Favorite Low-Budget and B-Movies: imdb.com/list/ls054808375/