Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided Cinema Sentries with a free copy of the DVD reviewed in this post. The opinions shared are those solely of the writer.
Much like Jurassic Park did with people’s fascination of living in the time of the dinosaurs, Westworld focuses on a theme park in which people can experience what it was like living in the Old West. The robots, a.k.a. hosts, of this theme park are so life-like in their speech and reaction, the setting so impeccably crafted, that people are immersed into the scenario the minute they step foot in the park. It’s a dream come true for many, a new experience that they are able to witness. For others, it’s a chance to be free, to live life without the limitations in the real world. If you want to go around guns-a-blazing, killing everything in sight, you can. If you want to sleep with a lady of the night, maybe have more than one at a time, you can.
Both Jurassic Park and Westworld were initially created by the late author and filmmaker Michael Crichton, and both focus on the corruption of corporate power and how man tries (and fails) to play God. With Westworld, though, creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (a real-life husband and wife team), along with executive producer J.J. Abrams, tackle the questions that Crichton and others have posed in regards to technology becoming so advanced to the point of having the same emotions and other characteristics as a human being, and the possibility of a robot uprising.
This is all familiar territory, and Westworld doesn’t necessarily break new ground with these theories, but, for the most part, the 10-episode first season is captivating, even though it takes a few episodes to get fully invested into it. It doesn’t quite have the edge that Black Mirror does with criticizing technology and humanity’s addiction to it, nor does it get as complex as Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 with its philosophical aspects about artificial intelligence having human-like characteristics. But it is still a relevant and effective entry in the science fiction genre.
Westworld is a theme park that has many different narratives for people to explore. The man who runs the whole park is Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Unlike Richard Attenborough’s Dr. Hammond in Jurassic Park, Hopkins’ character has more of a dark side, and he is certainly not someone who is well liked by the staff.
It almost seems too obvious to cast Hopkins in the role of a sinister character such as Ford, but he’s great at playing such a role. Each line of dialogue Hopkins delivers is met with a sense of fear and uncertainty as to what he’ll come up with next.
In a place like Westworld, the guests are given free reign over the hosts, but, in return, the hosts can’t retaliate. This leads to people such as Logan (Ben Barnes) running amok by killing everything he sees or sleeping with every whore that he can get. It upsets his soon-to-be brother-in-law, William (Jimmi Simpson), but Logan keeps pressuring him to just let loose, and he’ll feel better.
After each narrative is over, the hosts are rebuilt and their memories are erased, making it seem like each day is the same as it was before. The hosts aren’t supposed to remember what happens with each new guest encounter once the narrative is over. But some of them start developing memories that were supposed to have been wiped, and they soon figure out that their lives are like that of caged animals, and they plan to figure out a way to rebel.
During the first episode of Westworld, it felt like the show was going to have a Groundhog Day feel with Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores reliving the same narrative over and over. It doesn’t, thankfully. There was also this lingering suspicion early on that this may have worked best as a miniseries rather than a show with multiple seasons. But as the first season drew to a close, it became clear that those involved already have several ideas out there for another season, and those ideas are present in the finale.
Although it suffers in introducing new theories to the sci-fi genre, Westworld is elevated by an incredible cast. Wood gives an emotionally invested performance as Dolores, a host that loses a lot in the beginning and, as memories start to unexpectedly flood her memory, tries to figure out what is really going on. Ed Harris is terrific as the mysterious Man in Black, who is the park’s most frequent guest and is allowed to pretty much anything he pleases. Then there’s Jeffrey Wright, who excels as Bernard, the park’s head of programming.
Amongst the many actors that plays hosts, the two that stand out the most are Thandie Newton and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. Newton plays Maeve, the head madam. Like Dolores, she discovers that something isn’t right, and she tries to figure out a way to fight back. She’s got a mean side to her that is thrilling to watch. Berdal is Armistice, a bandit with a snake tattoo across her body that is colored in by the blood of her enemies. She’s vicious in her attacks, and when the rebellion comes, she does something with a man’s finger that is difficult for even those with strong stomachs to watch.
Ramin Djawadi composes the score for Westworld, and his pieces mostly consist of instrumental versions of popular songs such as The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” These are all fun, playful nods, and actually fit well in the show’s setting.
The Blu-ray set comes with more than 90 minutes of special features that is spread across all three discs. There’s the standard “Invitation to the Set” piece, the standard “About the Series” piece, and another behind-the-scenes look at “Welcome to Westworld.” Those are all somewhat disposable compared to the other features such as “Imagining the Main Title,” which looks at how show’s beautiful opening credits were conceived, and “The Key to the Chords,” which has Djawadi talk about how he composed the show’s score.
The Gag Reel had me worried at first, thinking it would be like others seen in the special features sections, but it’s different in showcasing a completed scene and adding the dramatic effect to it, only to be thrown off by an actor’s mistake. It works surprisingly well. What also works, even though it's somewhat brief, is a section on each disc called "The Big Moment," which explores the show's big revelations. All of these are less than five minutes a piece, and would have been perfect if they were a much longer discussion. But, as they are, they're satisfying.
Another feature worth mentioning, and the best of the whole set, is a nearly 30-minute discussion with Nolan and Joy about the season finale and what some of their favorite moments were during the episode. They also discuss the certain plot lines that will be key factors in Season Two.
I’m not ready to write off Westworld as great television, but there is a lot to recommend about it, namely the performances. There are also plenty of questions in regards to certain characters that kept me coming back to the series, and there were several twists that surprised me when they happened. I’ll be sure to check out Season Two when it airs.