‘Westworld’ Review: Western Meets Sci-Fi!
Last night saw the premiere of HBO’s newest sci-fi thriller, Westworld, based on the 1973 film of the same name. Starring the likes of Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Ed Harris, and Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld centers around a group of characters all living in a classic, “Wild Wild West” kind of town; full of lassos, cowboys, and showdowns! There’s only one thing about this seemingly normal western town- it isn’t real.
That’s right, this perfect Spaghetti Western lover’s dream is just that, a dream. Well, not in the literal sense, it’s not just some guy’s extremely vivid imagination during slumber time. Westworld kicks things off pretty strangely with Rachel Wood’s character, Dolores, lifeless in a chair in the middle of an empty futuristic room, immediately introducing viewers to the sci-fi aspect of the show.
Wood begins talking to an off-screen narrator about her whereabouts, before we’re whisked away to Westernland…I mean Westworld. There, we’re introduced once again to Dolores. This time, she’s not naked and lifeless in an empty room, but fully clothed in classic Western female attire (I’m sure there’s an actual name for it, but I’m not fashion expert). The narrator is still present, talking to Dolores about the arrival of these so-called “Newcomers” to Westworld.
Not long after we see Dolores again, we’re introduced to James Marsden’s character, Teddy Flood, a ten-gallon hat wearing gunslinger in love with Dolores. Long story short, the two lovebirds go horseback riding together before returning to Dolores’ ranch, where gunshots are heard in the distance. After finding her mother and father shot dead, Dolores and Teddy come face-to-face with “The Gunslinger,” portrayed by Ed Harris.
The Gunslinger gets into a shoot-out with Teddy, and this is where we’re suddenly reminded that we aren’t watching a regular Western. Teddy’s bullets seem to just sink into the Gunslinger’s body, causing him no harm whatsoever. Eventually, the Gunslinger shoots Teddy, and his bullets actually do their job. After killing Teddy, the Gunslinger drags Dolores away, and the screen cuts to black. Then, in a Groundhogs Day-esque situation, the day resets itself, and we once again see Dolores in her family ranch, as if nothing had ever happened.
It’s then that the secret behind Westworld is finally revealed, as the camera pans out on the seemingly normal early-Western frontier to reveal a control room fresh out of the Hunger Games. Westworld is actually an augmented reality playscape that paying customers use to escape the harsh realities of the real world. Think Sword Art Online, but with cowboys!
We’re subsequently shown more of the control room, which is revealed to be an entire facility full of workers, and creepy “Silicon Valley” robots designed to look like human beings. Essentially, Westworld is a bit like Jurassic Park, a theme park meant to bring back an extinct time period for the enjoyment of wealthy visitors (although there are certainly more cowboys than dinosaurs still alive).
The shockingly realistic androids are meant to be as close to actual human beings as possible, in order to keep the illusion going. Some, such as the head of security (portrayed by Luke Hemsworth) are worried that Westworld may not be as perfect as it seems. However, as the head of the programming division, Bernard Lowe (portrayed by Jeffrey Wright) says, the park hasn’t had an accident in over 30 years. And since this a sci-fi thriller, there’s no way that winning streak will be broken anytime soon, right?
Anyway, we’re soon whisked back into the world of West, where the day has begun anew. This time however, some things are different. Encounters end different, and some don’t even happen at all. It seems that Westworld, much like a Telltale game, has multiple choices and outcomes for its visitors to explore.
As I alluded to earlier, that “30 years till last accident” calendar gets ripped off the wall when one of the robots in the park suddenly stops working properly. This causes a bit of a problem as it seems the issue may be with the new update, which 10% of the population in the park has been given. This potentially puts the guests in danger, since the A.I. isn’t working as advertised. Things get worse when even more A.I. start to go crazy, including one that seems to remember past experiences, even though they’re memories are supposed to be wiped after each day reset.
Slowly but surely, things get a little hectic in Westworld, especially when Dolores’ father has a complete nervous breakdown and goes bonkers, threatening Lowe and Dr. Robert Ford (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins). It looks like her father is way off-script, developing a conscious of its own. Just goes to show you, constantly adapting A.I. to make it more realistic is (surprisingly) a really bad idea!
The episode ends with the day once again getting reset, with some more differences. The faulty A.I. has been replaced, including Dolores’ father, and all is right as rain in Westworld. Though something tells me that isn’t permanent.
You’ll notice that I made a few references to other pop culture media that Westworld shares a similarity with, but what I didn’t mention was the TV show that many have been comparing it to; Game of Thrones. Westworld got the nickname “the new Game of Thrones” way before it even premiered, due to the fact that it sounded an awful lot like Game of Thrones, but with mighty stallions substituted for dragons. However, Westworld isn’t really that similar to the fantasy series when you look at it.
Sure, it’s got blood and boobs, just like Game of Thrones, and it’s obvious that HBO was trying to capitalize on the success of their hit show with this one, but Westworld has interesting qualities of its own. What’s great about Westworld is that it’s both a great Western and a great sci-fi, displaying elements of both genres tremendously.
On the Western side, it’s got all the right intrigues of a good Western movie. Great and mysterious characters, an authentic Western town setting, and some rootin-tootin showdowns! On the sci-fi side, it’s got the creepy, technological company pulling the strings (which gets even creepier when you realize how close we are to this kind of stuff in real life) and the threat of the “Newcomers” coming to wreak havoc in the theme park.
All in all, Westworld is a really interesting show. Blending together all the good elements of sci-fi and Western. It may not share a lot in common with Game of Thrones, but I can definitely see this show getting just as popular really fast.