Wednesday, December 7, 2016
So the first season of Westworld ended this past Sunday, and it is still fresh in my head. For those of you who haven't seen the show, don't worry. There will be a spoiler-free section of this review up front, and a spoiler-filled section towards the end.
For those of you who don't know, Westworld was originally a film that debuted in 1973. For years, as a kid, I thought that the Westworld film had a very similar vibe to Jurassic Park; a park where people can experience things of the past, and then the attractions go wrong and start killing people. I was very much surprised when I learned that the author of the Jurassic Park books, Michael Crichton, actually wrote the screenplay for Westworld and directed the film as well. In the film, there were several different "worlds" that a paying customer could visit. The bulk of the film focused on Westworld, but there was other parks like Ancient Greece. Perhaps Jurassic Park could have been one of those worlds, but I guess we'll never know.
The premise of the film was very short and simple. One of the robots in the park, always a villain who made fun of the guests until they gained the courage to kill him, got tired of being killed everyday and revolted. It didn't take long before the happy western park film became a terminator scenario. The film didn't try to boast any grand ideas about humanity. It was simply a horror film about artificial intelligence.
When HBO announced that they would be adapting the film into a series, I wondered just how this would be possible. The film was fun, but it was short and simple. The show would have to either drag the plot out and elaborate on useless details, or they would have to rewrite the story to make it more suited for a television show and a modern audience. They chose the latter, and it turned out spectacular.
The show follows several characters involved in the Westworld park. We see the park from all angles; guests (both new and returning), the robots (living their lives on a loop) and the people behind the scenes (engineers, technicians, security, narrative development, and management). Experiencing the park from the ground level, as well as the ownership level, did allow the viewer to embrace the entire concept of the park and not be limited to one character's take.
The cast is made of up nothing short of a stellar list of actors. Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, and Evan Rachel Wood lead the show with impressive performances. We see their characters fully develop over the series and truly get a sense of their motivations and desires. Unlike some shows, Westworld balances their large cast list quite well. Instead of episodes dedicated to one character, they seem to all get enough screen time to matter throughout the season.
While there are some nods to the original film, the show contains enough twists from the first episode on to leave the viewer guessing about what might happen next. It is full of intense drama, a bit of romance, and plenty of action and creepy elements to keep you on the edge of your seat. Clocking in at ten episodes, the show is a must see delight. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good time.
5 out of 5 stars
Ok, let's get down to the grit of this show. I absolutely loved the original film, and I absolutely loved this show as well. Unlike the film, which featured an artificial intelligence that just eventually came alive, we got to see what it took for such an event to happen in the show. The robots didn't just wake up one day and decide to revolt. In fact, as far as I could tell, only one character actually achieved consciousness while the others were simply programmed to believe they did.
From the get go, it was clear that not all humans were humans. James Marsden appeared to be a recurring visitor to the park, but we found that he was only programmed to be that way. Ed Harris, who played the man in black, was actually a human instead of a malfunctioning murderous robot. Unlike the happy-go-lucky guests of the movie, HBO showed us the darker side of humanity; some guests were simply there to perform acts that were illegal in the real world (rape, murder, and so on). Ed Harris's character was incredibly interesting to me, as the majority of the show seemed to revolve around him in different stages of his life. Watching him evolve from such a weak and shy person into a murderous killer hellbent on finding the one robot who would break their loop, was a highlight of the series.
Thandie Newton's character was quite interesting as well. As we were certain that Evan Rachel Wood was starting to find consciousness, it seemed that Thandie Newton was miles ahead of everyone in that department. Using both her charm and viciousness, she quickly turned two technicians into her servants and quickly became aware of her surroundings. The best part about her rise to power, however, was that it appeared to be planned from the beginning. Though quick, there was a scene in the final episode that seemed to hint at someone writing every step of her supposed awareness.
The process of writing narratives was an ongoing theme in the show. There was a prick who's job it was to manage the requested narratives of V.I.P. park guests, as well as come up with new massive stories that would invite the guests to participate. Anthony Hopkins, however, played the creator of the park who had his own plans for a narrative. Hopkins came across as someone unwilling to let go of the park, as well as an individual plagued by the actions of his former partner in the business. It appeared that his partner, Arnold, wanted to see the potential in developing consciousness in the robots, where Hopkins simply wanted the park to work. When no one would listen to Arnold, he started a chain of events that would haunt the park for decades to come and force Anthony Hopkins' hand into making a delicate decision.
I felt that ten episodes was the perfect length for the show. It gave the plot time to breathe, but it kept the filler to a minimum. There was a ton of story going on in this show, but it certainly wrapped up nicely. Instead of half the season being a murderous rampage, the robot revolt was held off until the very end, and even then it wasn't fully realized just yet. We got a glimpse of what appeared to be a second park (SW) which featured samurai! As several storylines seem to come to an apparent close at the end of the first season, it is unclear if the second season will be a continuation or another park full of other characters. Either way, I absolutely adored the trip this show took me on, and I'd love to hear what your thoughts are regarding it.
Keep on Daydreaming!
- Joshua Howell