Westworld (the TV series) — a review

If you didn't want to sing some songs around the fire, you could have just said so....

If you didn’t want to sing some songs around the fire, you could have just said so….

Back when I wrote the review for Michael Crichton’s film Westworld, I mentioned that plans were in the works to turn it into a TV series on HBO. The first episode of this new series has premiered, and it’s produced by JJ Abrams and Jonathan Nolan, the brother of Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception). The main storyline of Westworld is similar to that of Jurassic Park, where a high tech theme park suffers a catastrophic break down that puts its visitors in serious danger (the late Michael Crichton, who wrote and directed Westworld, also wrote the novel that the Jurassic Park film was based on), and I was extremely curious to see how Jonathan Nolan (who co-wrote and directed the first episode) was going to adapt this story into a series.

After watching the first episode, all I can say is: so far, so good. It’s the same basic storyline, where a western town filled with human-looking robots serves as a resort for human visitors, In Westworld, the visitors–or Newcomers, as they are known in town–can do whatever they want, right up to murder, all within the safety of the resort. But the team running the theme park starts noticing some weird behavior on the part of some of the androids, and when it’s determined that this behavior is the result of an update that ten percent of the android population had received, it’s decided that these androids need to be dealt with.

What did I tell you about doing that creepy thing with the horse? Just quit it!

What did I tell you about doing that creepy thing with the horse? Just quit it!

How the park employees deal with the mass removal of some two hundred androids from the park, without disrupting the fun for their guests, is ingenious: they simply have an outlaw gang come in and wipe out only the “infected” androids. But another ingenious scene afterwards, showing the simple act of someone swatting a fly, reveals that there’s still a problem. This version of Westworld has some forty years of advanced technology behind it, and the way the tech is handled is very smart. Unlike the original Westworld, which also had Roman and Medieval theme parks, there only seems to be the old west park in the new series (at least from what I saw in the first episode).

The cast is as exceptional as the writing: Anthony Hopkins plays the creator and owner of the theme park, with the always good Jeffery Wright starring as the chief programmer. Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Thandie Newton are also all superb. And Ed Harris is exceptional as a character known only as The Man In Black. He’s a visitor to the theme park who needs to be watched carefully, because it’s made clear that he’s not there strictly for fun. I’m still not sure how this will play out. Will we see this Westworld collapse into chaos like the original did? Who knows? But it looks like it will be a fascinating ride finding that out. –SF